The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration raises concerns about housing people seeking asylum in temporary accommodation

A report into hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum found residents suffering from poor nutrition and diet, leading to new presentations of type 2 diabetes in young patients, poorly controlled type 1 and type 2 diabetes resulting in hospital admissions for diabetic ketoacidosis. 

It added that children are missing development milestones because of problems with nutrition. and are failing to thrive. 

Third sector organisations told inspectors that people seeking asylum and housed in hotels were also demonstrating obesity and raised BMI, pre-diabetes and poor mental wellbeing, iron deficiency anaemia, B12 and Folate deficiencies, Vitamin D deficiencies.

The health challenges undermine the Home Secretary Priti Patel’s claim that people seeking asylum risk dangerous journeys across the Channel because they want to stay in hotels.

The report was compiled by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI). The inspectorate’s future is under threat after Patel instigated an independent review into the quango, as part of a push to slim down the number of public bodies.

The Chief Inspector looked at hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum between May 2021 and November 2021. It found that by November, a total of 21,500 people were housed in 181 hotels, double the number than in May. The contracts for those providing accommodation had a combined value of £4.5 billion over 10 years. People in hotel accommodation receive food and essentials, as well as an £8 weekly allowance.

Due to widespread understanding that long-term hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum is not ideal, the Home Office had set a target to end hotel accommodation by May 2021. The inspector explained that “we found little credible evidence that the target to end the use of hotels as asylum accommodation by May 2021 would be met; 12 months later nobody believes the revised target of March 2022 is achievable”. 

It added that “a clear understanding of the situation which allows the creation of an effective strategy is an essential first step to tackling the huge challenges the Home Office faces”. 

“All families should have access to the food and housing needed to live healthy and secure lives,Interim Director of Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants Paola Uccellari told Byline Times. “Yet this Government continues to house people in unsuitable hotels for months and months, where poor, innutritious meals are putting children’s health at risk. What we’re seeing is heart-breaking – children being driven into hospital because this Government has denied them a healthy diet”.

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While the inspector’s report acknowledges it is difficult to provide food in hotel accommodation that everyone would enjoy, interviews with third-sector organisations supporting residents raise the alarm on the health impact of a poor diet.

One response to the inspector explained how the hotel food was often “high in carbohydrates and low in vitamin content”. This led to people presenting with health conditions directly relating to poor nutrition, including type 2 diabetes, constipation and various vitamin deficiencies. People already living with diabetes were struggling to control their condition. 

The inspector also found that food was not always appropriate for children and babies, including food that was “overly spicy” and “unsuitable for children”. As such, they were “failing to thrive” and missing developmental milestones. Families were turning to food banks to ensure their children had enough to eat.

Other issues raised were the lack of culturally appropriate food, a lack of choice, and the disempowerment of not being able to cook for oneself. The report did note, however, that “menus that were on display at the sites appeared to be well balanced and showed that food options were rotated to create variety”. 85% of properties offered specialist meals, and 81% showed that different dietary needs were considered.   

Alongside the physical health impacts, inspectors were informed that people housed in hotels often struggled with the emotional impact of living in limbo – waiting to be moved from temporary accommodation to ‘dispersed accommodation’ such as a flat or a house. 

People housed in hotels told inspectors that the biggest challenge was “never knowing how long they will be in” the accommodation; that they are “worried” about how long they will be expected to stay before moving to a home; and that living in hotels is “not normal life”. 

This view was echoed by the accommodation providers, with one staff member telling the inspector that hotels are “not suitable for more than three months, especially for families”. 

While the pandemic had an impact on length of stay, even after restrictions were lifted the pace of moving people out of hotel accommodation and into flats or houses “continued to be slow”. One provider told the inspectors that “the problem isn’t with the place the people are in, it’s that we have to use hotels and it takes longer than it should to move them on”. 

Other issues raised in the report related to a lack of training for hotel staff, a lack of data sharing, and an unclear process when it came to setting up new sites for housing people seeking asylum. 

One stakeholder told the inspector: “Typically, no meetings between the Home Office and its contractors and local authorities were held to determine whether the health, wellbeing and social care needs of the households could be met at the locations in question before bookings of hotel rooms were made and placement of asylum seeker families undertaken”.

“It’s clear that Priti Patel’s asylum policy is failing families,” said Uccellari. What we need are fair and fast asylum processes that allow people to live as part of our communities, get support, and move on with their lives”.

In a statement published by the Home Office following the report’s publication, it accepted all the recommendations made by the ICIBI. A spokesperson told Byline Times: “The Chief Inspector positively concludes that asylum accommodation providers are delivering in line with contractual requirements. Work is already underway to address the report’s recommendations and reduce the use of hotels which are costing the taxpayer almost £5million a day. This includes creating a fairer asylum dispersal system and setting up reception centres as part of the New Plan for Immigration”. 

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