Lord Roberts: We need to reach out and help migrant rough sleepers in London

Today Lord Roberts of Llandudno will question the Government on the arrangements it has in place to ensure the continuation of rehabilitation programmes for Polish rough sleepers in the UK. With two London boroughs slashing funding to one charity doing vital work, he says here, now is the time to reach out and help migrant homeless on the streets of London

Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Lord Roberts of Llandudno

As the debate on immigration looms large, with Nick Clegg’s speech on security bonds the latest to make the headlines, one group is forgotten in the point-scoring furor: migrant rough sleepers.

I learned from a recent written answer that foreign born rough sleepers account for 53% of London’s total homeless population. Bearing this in mind, I was very concerned to learn that two London councils, namely Lambeth and the City of London, are cutting funding of one of the most effective charities which deals with such issues: Barka UK.

And as President of Friends of Barka, I will question the Government today about their plans to continue funding rehabilitation and reconnection programmes for migrant rough sleepers.

The recent discourse on migration (and the Lib Dems’ evolving stance towards it) brings into play issues close to my heart. Indeed I recently founded the Setting the Record Straight campaign (find us @_only_the_facts on Twitter) to begin to challenge popular misconceptions about migration in the media. I’ve also recently raised the issue of the impractical and irrelevant Life in the UK test in the Chamber (read the Hansard record here or watch it here).

However my concern about the councils’ decisions to cut Barka’s funding is based on the evidence that the charity is one of the best-equipped to combat the notoriously complex issue of destitution amongst migrant Europeans. Barka’s innovative methods include taking on former rough sleepers as staff, rehabilitating people in self-sufficient projects in Poland and reconnecting individuals to their home communities.

Since its creation in 2009 it has helped almost 3,000 people return home, has worked in 14 London boroughs and has expanded its remit to run an employment programme helping clients to enter the UK labour market.  It also runs a pan-UK helpline which deals with housing and legal issues, as well as advising on health and family problems.

The secret of Barka UK’s success, according to its chief executive Ewa Sadowska, lies in its close cultural affinity with its client base. This, combined with the fact that many of its staff are former rough sleepers or reformed addicts, means that Barka can approach the problems faced by homeless migrants with in-depth knowledge, understanding and, most importantly, empathy.

Yet all of this vital work may now be undermined by the councils’ plans. Such decisions make little sense since migrants from countries such as Poland account for nearly a third of London’s homeless population, a figure which may rise when barriers to Romanian and Bulgarian workers are lifted next year.

Barka UK must be allowed to continue making a difference. London councils need to realise that organisations that know what they’re doing in this difficult area should be supported in these tough times. Now, more than ever, we need to reach out and help migrant rough-sleepers on the streets of our capital.

And we must ensure that inspirational groups such as Barka UK can continue to do their unsung and indispensable work.

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

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