The Greater Manchester Housing Justice Network

If you share our concerns about the myriad housing injustices faced by people of all backgrounds in our communities, and are fed up of the politics of division that divides us against each other, sign our statement here.

Housing injustice in asylum hotels

Across Greater Manchester, thousands of people who have fled war and persecution are being kept long-term in Home Office accommodation while waiting for a decision on their asylum application, many spending months or years in hotels. Banned from working, while in hotels they are forced to live off just £8.86 per week – while the multinational giant Serco, which manages the asylum accommodation in the north-west, siphons off millions of pounds of taxpayer money. The word ‘hotel’ might conjure up a life of leisure and luxury – and for many local communities, these hotels hold fond memories of family weddings or birthday celebrations.

But for those confined inside them, they are more like a prison than a home, where they are stripped of dignity and autonomy – segregated along racialised lines from communities; unable to cook or provide for themselves.

People have reported children losing weight and health conditions created by inedible food; people who have survived detention and torture in their countries of origin are being retraumatised by being confined in a small room with a stranger; children are punching the wall in frustration and declaring that they have lost significant periods of their life. Inside hotels people’s lives are governed by opaque rules with little privacy, as poorly trained subcontracted staff effectively become the faces of the state.

This is happening because the government has deliberately designed a system of cruelty, and its failings have made that cruel system even crueller. The Home Office’s delays in decision making on asylum claims have created a logjam in asylum housing, driving the use of institutional accommodation, where people were previously housed in communities.

The Illegal Migration Act 2023 goes further by effectively dismantling any system for processing asylum claims in the UK. It leaves large numbers of people in limbo in our communities facing homelessness, precarious housing or detention-like conditions in institutional accommodation. For people who desperately want to settle in our communities, provide for themselves, work, rebuild their lives and contribute to British society, this means being held in indefinite limbo, with total uncertainty over what their future might hold.

Being warehoused in hotels and institutional accommodation amidst all this is to inhabit an intensely hostile environment.

The housing crisis

Meanwhile, in the same communities across our city region, tens of thousands are facing multiple other forms of housing injustice. These injustices stem from a crisis that has been decades in the making: the decimation of social housing; the deregulation of the Private Rented Sector, leading to the introduction of ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions and the removal of rent control; the long-term failures of planning that have prioritised investor returns over affordable housing; and the last 13 years of austerity that have profoundly reshaped the state as punitive and neglectful.

Bearing the brunt of this crisis are demonised populations who deserve better – who deserve a place they can call home.

With escalating rents far outstripping wages, and austerity-driven restrictions on housing benefits, the private rented sector is increasingly inaccessible. Amidst the acute shortage of social housing, councils are dismissing people as ‘low priority’, forcing them into homelessness – whether the visible homelessness on the streets or the hidden homelessness of precarious sofa surfing. For those lucky enough to be housed, many are put up by local authorities for months on end in B&Bs or hotels – where, similar to residents of asylum hotels, they are unable to put down roots and cut off from communities, their lives on hold. Others are driven by local authorities on a no-choice basis into private tenancies. In the process, local authorities hand vast sums to unaccountable private providers.

Just as the likes of Serco are profiteering from the commodification of those seeking sanctuary, so too private landlords are exploiting the crisis to extract money from the increasingly depleted local state.

This housing crisis, engineered through decades of government policy that has cast housing as an asset rather than a social good, has spawned its own hostile environments, where dignity and autonomy are in short supply. In this crisis, the local state is increasingly absent, or present only as the punitive face of austerity – as, for example, when a family is told that rejecting a cramped B&B miles from their children’s school would make them ‘intentionally homeless’.

The social contract increasingly feels broken.

From divide-and-rule to housing justice for all

The intersection of these two crises provides fertile ground for far-right political opportunists both inside and outside government. Communities are shaken by the dissonance between the sense that the state that is no longer there to look after them, and the presence of asylum accommodation, especially hotels, with their fond local memories, where, to all intents and purposes, people seeking sanctuary are looked after.

Far-right actors are exploiting the hyper-visibility of asylum hotels to obscure the true causes of the housing crisis and pin the blame on the racialised ‘others’ who have dared to seek safety here. Why, people are encouraged to ask, are ‘they’ looked after, and ‘ours’ are not?

The pain of individuals and communities facing housing injustice is all too readily transformed into fear, resentment and anger.

We are all paying the price for this. People who have come to the UK seeking safety instead face racist abusescapegoated for a crisis that they played no part in causing. And for the wider publics, the root causes of the housing crisis go unaddressed amidst a politics that offers hate and lies, predating off despair.

It is time to unite these struggles for housing justice, for homes where everyone – no matter skin colour, class background, immigration status – is safe and secure to live their lives as part of thriving, flourishing communities.

If you share our concerns about the myriad housing injustices faced by people of all backgrounds in our communities, and are fed up of the politics of division that divides us against each other, sign our statement here.