I participated in a first anniversary protest in Erskine last Sunday. A hotel used to house asylum seekers by the UK Home Office has been targeted for a year by far-right protesters aiming to sow racial prejudice in local communities. I advocated against these far-right ideologies and supported the asylum seekers housed in this temporary accommodation.

The local community and trade union movement has taken a strong stand against racism, organising to protest against these divisive organisations. They deserve our support, but it is sad that this type of racist ideology is still being perpetuated.

Scotland now finds itself amid a housing emergency resulting from the UK Government's failure to process thousands of asylum claims by the end of 2023. The mishandling of asylum cases since 2010 has resulted in an overwhelming backlog, leaving local authorities ill-equipped to respond.

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The Home Office's lack of timely decisions, recent legislative reforms, and failure to collaborate with local authorities has compounded the housing crisis, leaving Glasgow struggling without adequate support from the UK Government.

The Home Office appoints private contractors to manage the dispersal and housing for asylum seekers, costing the taxpayers millions of pounds. After sacking the previous contractor, Serco, the Tory government appointed a new provider, Mears, which issued eviction notices to asylum seekers, forcing them into homelessness and placing an additional burden on Glasgow City Council to secure suitable housing at short notice.

Organisations like Govan Law Centre play a crucial role in challenging these evictions under Scotland’s housing legislation, emphasising the importance for refugees to remain in their accommodations until viable alternatives are secured.

Budget cuts for public services imposed by the UK Treasury and growing demands for housing has increased homelessness and destitution. However, instead of blaming the lack of funding for housing, the asylum seekers are blamed instead. The UK Government puts the blame on those fleeing persecution by seeking asylum rather than their own failure to provide funds and borrowing facilities to support the building of appropriate local housing.

Glasgow City Council has taken proactive measures to counteract the rising threat of homelessness. The city is known for its welcoming attitude towards asylum seekers, but is still facing the brunt of the crisis. This affects dedicated staff members working tirelessly to alleviate the pressures on the housing system.

The Herald: Campaigners mount a counter protest in support of asylum seekers at ErskineCampaigners mount a counter protest in support of asylum seekers at Erskine (Image: free)

Yet, the UK Government have not sought to learn from this crisis of their own making. The backlog in asylum decisions and the poor quality of initial decisions by the Home Office remain prominent issues. The UK Government claim to want to reduce the use of hotels as accommodation for asylum seekers but the continued use and failure to put alternatives in place show they remain committed to right-wing rhetoric and the scapegoating of those seeking safety in asylum in the UK.

Hotels have been demonstrated time and time again not only to be unsuitable but also raise legitimate safety and welfare concerns. In 2020, there was a tragic incident at the Park Inn Hotel in Glasgow when an asylum seeker, who had mental health issues, stabbed six people, before being shot dead by police.

An independent inquiry led by Baroness Helena Kennedy called it an ‘avoidable tragedy’.

The Government's pursuit of large-scale asylum accommodation centres and the use of barges and ex-military bases perpetuate inhumane living conditions. Institutional accommodation strips individuals of their personal identity and ability to look after themselves, leading to adverse mental and physical health outcomes for already vulnerable people.

The Government's dependence on private companies for asylum accommodation is flawed, lacking public accountability to local authorities, who should receive public funds instead. The private organisations used by the Home Office make huge profits from these contracts while their chief executives are paid enormous salaries. It’s a disgrace that these private companies are allowed to get away without any accountability to the public.

Further, the properties provided by private companies to asylum seekers often fall short, perpetuating a troubling slum housing system. Some would of course take the opportunity of this housing crisis to blame refugees for all of society’s ills - as the far right attempted do at Erskine. However, the housing crisis is not just about asylum. It has deeper roots - a widespread homelessness problem and the lack of available housing leads to a housing emergency for both the Scottish and UK governments.

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Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ wrecked social housing supply and relegated generations to poor housing with no opportunity. The late 90s’ property boom and the rapid evolution of housing from family homes to assets to be traded for profit left many behind. Successive UK Labour governments did nothing about the fundamentals.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found last year that England is now, per capita, “the most difficult place to find a home in the developed world” and that a greater proportion of people in England live in substandard properties than the EU average.

The Scottish Government has taken a different course of action; its long-term record of affordable housing delivery has been ambitious and steady - over 123,000 affordable homes completed since 2007 and a high completion rate per head of the population compared to other UK countries - 13.9 homes built per 10,000 population, compared with 8.0 in Wales, 9.7 in England and 13.0 in Northern Ireland.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recognised recently that “the Scottish Government has a pretty good record on housing - its record is much better than those of governments elsewhere in the UK - and that is to its credit”.

2022-23 was a good year for completions of new affordable homes with 10,462 completions, the highest number since 2000. While the real terms reduction of the UK block grant will make achieving this number in the current budget difficult, the determination and commitment to affordable housing is unchanged.

And here in Glasgow, we are as resolute and resourceful. Last week we approved the disposal of land, a former childcare unit and a car park to a developer and local housing associations - a decision that will bring more than 80 new homes to the city. Negotiations are also underway with multiple housing associations on the potential disposal of ten council sites across the city, delivering up to 250 new social homes.

The UK Government needs to think again. Its approach has failed, and reform is required. We need a fair vision, fostering an efficient asylum system that allows people who seek sanctuary to rebuild their lives safely as part of our communities, allowing them the opportunity to work and contribute taxes to alleviate the strain on public resources.

And the UK Government needs to commit to not just housing asylum seekers in communities, providing resources and tools to local governments for safe and dignified accommodation, but to turning its back on its laissez faire housing policies which sees affordable housing as a luxury.

Roza Salih is an SNP councillor in the Greater Pollok ward in Glasgow