One of the most interesting things about my job as a local councillor in Glasgow is that you never know what kind of day it’s going to be. One of the worst things, in these austere times, is picking through the wreckage wrought by policies sent down from above.
I didn’t know, last Wednesday, what kind of day it was going to be. I had received a late-night phone call from a church minister frantic with worry because one of her congregation had received a letter saying that she had 24 hours to vacate her accommodation as her asylum support was being cut off.
Her support - £37.75 a week, plus accommodation - was being immediately removed because the Home Office reportedly did not believe she was destitute. I was told one of their reasons was that she had toys in her house (hand-me-downs from a kind neighbour) and money in her account - money she had received from the Home Office. So because she could not “prove” her destitution, they reportedly decided to make her and her four children homeless. The letter from the Home Office allegedly had no email address, no phone number, no way of contacting except to send said appeal by post - which would be impossible within 24 hours. She was advised to fax (fax!) an appeal to a number that was not on the letter.
When I arrived at her home, I found a single parent out of her mind with worry, surrounded by an older child, and a five year-old with profound autism who is incredibly sensitive to disruption - like say, strangers coming into his home and making his mummy cry - and twin toddlers. Having survived horrendous violence before fleeing her country of origin and leaving her ex-husband just months ago, she said: “Kim, I really thought I would be getting my life together and now this”.
She’s also incredibly resilient, strong, hospitable, kind, with serious parenting skills. You don’t have to be kind to deserve basic human rights, but it was a pleasure to spend my day with her. I wanted to be there to work out a support plan; to ensure that if her landlord showed up they would have a councillor observing their behaviour; and so that if the family were made homeless I could ensure immediate social work support.
After a frantic morning of calls and emails - the landlords insisted they were merely enforcing Home Office decisions and it was in their contract to do so. Social workers insisted that the charity Migrant Help were the contracted advice providers. The Migrant Help helpline rang out then placed me 64th in the queue. With the kids literally climbing the walls, a wonderful lady from the church looked after most of the kids while I took this lady and her distressed son to local charity Govan Community Project, who were just incredible. The director met with us, applied for a crisis grant and made an appointment for the next day for her to meet with a caseworker and assemble all the documentation to fight the wrongful cessation of support.
We went home via Aldi and the foodbank for essentials, to find that nobody had showed up. I think all their bluster was scare tactics today. This lady has been through hell, but having had someone meet her face-to-face, take her seriously, and explain her next steps, plus the promise of further support, means she thinks she will now be able to eat something, and get some sleep. Then she’s back to normal - the resumption of her six-year wait for a decision on her asylum claim.
So that was Wednesday.