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A candid response

May 18 2009
Field: would like to get rid of all soup runs Field: would like to get rid of all soup runs
The Conservative MP for the Cities of London & Westminster doesn‘t like people with very chaotic lifestyles - or soup runs Westminster's MP speaks out on immigration and, specifically, homeless migrants. Immigration is a contentious issue at the best of times, but when resources are tight the debate gets hotter. The wave of people heading over to Western Europe as countries from the former Communist bloc sign up to the EU has been greeted by some as positive, and others as a threat, with the media tracking, and even exacerbating, the arguments. A major concern is the number of people from A8 countries (most notably, Poland, Lithuania and Hungary) and more recently A2 (Bulgaria and Romania) who end up without a job, and without the wherewithal to support themselves - either to continue living in the UK or return home. While many of those who seek employment in the UK are successful, there is a huge number who aren't, and hostels and day centres have struggled to cope with the increasing demands put upon their organisations, with varying responses. While some, such as JobCentre Plus confront the problem by employing translators to mediate between new entrants to the country and potential employers, others have no alternative but to turn non-Brits away. In previous issues, as well as the very copy you are holding now, The Pavement has tracked a number of centres who have responded to the topic, but this street concern has now reached the radars of those in Parliament. Mark Field, Conservative MP for the Cities of London & Westminster, has also joined in the debate. He offered to speak to us, and so get his views across to our readership. He began by telling The Pavement that one in two of the rough sleepers in his constituency are A8 nationals; the true number is a less headline-grabbing 23 per cent, which is high, but not that high. (The last count revealed 108 rough sleepers, plus 33 A8 nationals.) Mr Field is in sympathy with many of the centres who have turned away new entrants to the country. His solution to the number of Poles, Lithuanians, and Hungarians sleeping rough on London streets is that they should sort out jobs and accommodation before they arrive: "If they don't have a job, don't have a prospect of getting job, they shouldn't be coming to this country." The MP, who lives in Victoria, doesn't like people "with very chaotic lifestyles littering all over the place, being disruptive to young women, old people and children." And this he partly blames on soup runs: "Soup runs encourage more and more people to stay on the streets, rather than gain some sort of accommodation. And also for the residential population, it's not a nice thing to have the soup runs, the noise and distraction." Mr Field said he would like to get rid of all soup runs within the borough, thus mirroring the wishes of the Conservative lead council. He has an equally straightforward views on the dearth of long-term temporary accommodation. According to charities such as Green Pastures (The Pavement, issue 18), bringing just a third of the UK's 750,000 empty houses back into service would solve the lack of accommodation problem. However, Mr Field makes the important observation that, "there are all these empty homes, but in parts of the country where people don't want to live. In London and South-East, there is a chronic housing shortage, because there is where all the growth is; the job opportunities are. A lot of people who are homeless want to live in London, particularly. Again, looking at Romanians and Bulgarians, there is no A2 population outside London." This latter point may not be accurate when one considers the 4,500 or so A2 workers employed in the agricultural and food processing sectors - presumably outside London - under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, and others who come here under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, but there's no doubt London has a special attraction. Mr Fields says that they, and other EU migrants, just want accommodation and benefits. "I speak to Westminster and City council, I speak to local police, and that is exactly what has been happening in the last six weeks since A2 have joined Europe." We already have unemployment in this country, he added: "The people who are suffering most by the large number of people coming to this country are the indigenous homeless." Hostels concur with this view, and have defended their prioritising of UK citizens by explaining that most migrant homeless do not correspond to the common 'roofless' profile marked by social exclusion, mental illness and breakdowns. For most people, the problems are work and the housing, rather than the marginalisation, though homelessness can obviously accelerate the fall into social exclusion. A8 nationals cannot go into London shelters because they must have worked one year before they can claim benefits. Many readers, across the political spectrum, will no doubt agree with Westminster's MP. But, regardless of whether you agree or disagree, there's no denying that his candid speaking will stir the debate.