Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Restrictions in force for Eastern European migrants

May 20 2009
Passage: restricting access Passage: restricting access
Will a Victoria day centre‘s new policy be replicated across Westminster? The Passage day centre (Victoria) is to restrict access of its services to immigrant settlers to the UK, a policy that looks likely to be replicated across Westminster. Job seekers from the European Union are stretching resources at temporary accommodation shelters in Westminster. Under European law, they are not obliged to help migrant workers without accommodation. The move comes as Romania and Bulgaria join the EU. The Passage has introduced twice-weekly assessment days to applicants to ensure that help is given to the most vulnerable service users. Mike Clarke, project manager for The Passage, said that this was an issue of priorities: "The position that we have is that our objective is to help extremely vulnerable people who face the problems associated with long-term homelessness, and our role is to help them move away from life on the streets." In 2004, when EU membership expanded by 10 to include Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, Mr Clarke said London's service centres saw a significant rise in the number of people from accession states trying to use their facilities. "The vast majority of these people are in the same situation as those who had been successful in finding work, but had simply not prepared," he said. "Their needs are less complex than our homeless clients at The Passage. If you are young, fit, healthy and ready for work, then you are not our clients. What we are seeing is that when people arrive in the UK, they are not ready to wait for employment." Assessment afternoons take place twice a week, and are designed to identify those who are in desperate need of the support The Passage can provide, and those who have simply turned up in the UK to find work without finding a place to stay. "If you are homeless, it does not matter where you are from, we will help you. But if you are young, fit and healthy and looking for work, this is not where you should be," said Mr Clarke, who added that the policy had nothing to do with nationality. "We passionately believe in helping extremely vulnerable people, but there is a real difference between the people of accession states who bring benefit to the UK and those that fall through the net," he explained. Mr Clarke said that it was the responsibility of central government to support those from EU states, and not that of charitable organisations. He said that the Job Centre Plus - which last year organised the first ever homeless job fair - should be equipped to provide this kind of information to new arrivals. "The government needs to act now to reduce the risk homelessness within this group," he said. "It is a statutory issue, not ours." Although Mr Clarke said that he could not speak on behalf of other service centres within London, he said he expected most in the industry would agree with their policy to prioritise vulnerable people, and estimated that other shelters would be introducing similar schemes. Westminster City Council issued a statement reiterating that they were committed to working with their partners in the charitable sector to provide services to the most vulnerable people in society. "This includes people from the UK, the rest of the original 15 European Union states, the Commonwealth, as well as refugees from elsewhere in the world," they added. However, like Mr Clarke, Councillor Angela Harvey, Westminster City Council's Cabinet Member for Housing, said that the priorities of shelters and hostels had to remain with the long-term homeless, or risk failing those most in need. "Our partners are helping current and ex-rough sleepers, those most in need," she said. "We would be failing in compassion for the most vulnerable people in Westminster if they were to be displaced in day centres and hostels by fit and job-ready people from the UK, or, indeed, any other country." Councillor Harvey explained that under the terms of the European Treaties of Accession, Westminster Council is unable to offer support for rough sleepers from new member states. "We have been lobbying the Government since 2004 to help us find ways to assist the most needy from accession countries," she added. "We continue to press the Department for Work and Pensions to give full and proper employment advice and support to newcomers from the Accession States, without which people new to the UK can be exploited." At present, the Home Office only requires EU citizens to register with their 'Worker Registration Scheme' once they have found work. As yet, no additional help is offered with regards accommodation.
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