Blog post by Jessica Hodge, Chief Executive

Giving an unconditional welcome is a fundamental part of the Emmaus ethos. This means that many Emmaus communities welcome migrants.

In the UK the draconian and discriminatory ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) policy means that those who find themselves homeless or in desperate poverty when they are not from the UK, struggle to get support. It also affects the British children of migrant parents, such as the 5-year-old and 8-year-old children who won their cases in the High Court against the Home Office. The NRPF policy has been found to breach the human rights and equalities law.

The Unity Project, which supported both cases say that the NRPF policy should be permanently scrapped because it discriminates against women and ethnic minorities.

“In research published by The Unity Project last year, it found that 85% of those applying to have NRPF lifted are women, nearly all single mothers; 90% of them have British children; 95% of the children are black.”

This is why I’m writing about this issue for Race Equality Week. Sadly, we are a long way from having race equality in housing in the UK, as Joseph Rowntree Foundation has evidenced. While Race Equality Week is primarily about equality in the workplace, I feel equality in housing is linked to that. It’s hard to find, maintain and progress in work if your housing situation is precarious, and therefore race inequality in housing can exacerbate race inequality at work.

Our four family houses are home to migrant families from BAME communities, who were unable to find decent housing through the private sector or social housing.

Emmaus Bristol offers up to three rooms for companions who are unable to get housing benefit. We fund these through our social enterprises. In the first lockdown I was really worried that we’d be unable to sustain this, as our shops closed and that income dried up. We were grateful for a year-long Crisis grant which allowed us to continue this vital service.

However, it is not sustainable for charities to support all homeless people with NRPF. Homeless Link | 404 is calling for the inclusivity demonstrated in the “Everyone In” programme at the start of the pandemic to be continued.

“Everyone In prompted new ways of doing things. Homelessness organisations reported impressive progress in helping previously excluded people to regularise their status, unlock their entitlements, and move on from homelessness. Now local authorities must learn from this and, alongside the sector, show leadership by integrating provision for non-UK nationals into their strategies and Rough Sleeping Initiative plans for 2022-25.”  

I’m not writing from personal experience, and I think it’s important that the voices of those who have experienced racism in housing are heard. However, much as we love sharing interviews with the people Emmaus Bristol supports, some people don’t want to share their stories, even anonymously, and that must also be respected. These are my observations but please share your observations and experiences too.

Don’t assume that your organisation is not racist in some shape or form. Emmaus has an inclusive ethos, yes, but that needs to be consistently reiterated, explained and demonstrated. Reflect, listen and change when needed. We introduced an anti-racist group comprised of companions, employees and a trustee to steer our anti-racist work, and to investigate and make decisions on reports of racism in the community.

If someone asks about race equality in your workplace, or raises a concern about racism, don’t be defensive especially if you, like me, are white. Read, listen to and recognise that “White women crying is racist” | 404. I listened to this Reni Eddo-Lodge podcast while I was running and it’s great – entertaining, challenging, informative. Think about what you can do and don’t be that fragile white ego referred to! I like the message of Race Equality Week to “Be part of the solution that creates the change we all want to see”.

Don’t assume racist and anti-migrant housing policies aren’t happening in your area. I went to a conference about homeless migrant people which included a report detailing cases all over the country where local authorities had threatened to house the children of migrants but not the parent(s).

“Voluntary sector organisations reported a range of issues encountered by families with NRPF trying to access support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 during the pandemic. These included delays in support provision, threats to take children into care, attacks on credibility, and aggression on the part of council workers.”

When I shared this with our support team, I was told we’d just had a referral from a family this had happened to. Doesn’t this breach the Human Rights of the parent and child? Specifically article 8 – right to family life.

If you become aware of incidents like this, you need to find out who you can report to in your area. I raised this with Bristol Refugee Rights as they are logging incidents like these in order to highlight issues and advocate for people with NRPF and campaign for change.

Supporting migrant homeless people is definitely an area where partnerships really matter. Read up on what is possible within the NRPF policy – I find JCWI and Homeless Link are useful sources of information. Centre for Homelessness Impact has a good evidence paper on homelessness and immigration status and Crisis has a Best Practice Forum. We are lucky in Bristol to have support from an OISC registered advisor. Without these contacts and partnerships, we couldn’t do what we do, which is to welcome those most in need. Without equality in housing we can’t achieve equality in the workplace.

Race Equality Week 7-13 February 2022