Lord Roger Roberts writes…Don’t cut funding for charities which help homeless migrants
Homelessness among Central and Eastern European migrants in London is a notoriously difficult issue to tackle. Success stories are few and far between. For this reason, I was extremely concerned to learn that two London councils are cutting their funding to one of the most effective charities that deals with this issue. The charity is Barka UK.
I am President of Friends of Barka UK. Today in the Lords I will question the Government about their plans to continue funding reconnection programmes, such as those offered by Barka UK. I have recently founded the ‘Setting the Record Straight’ campaign to challenge popular misconceptions about migration, and have raised the topic of the revised Life in the UK test in the Chamber, (read the Hansard record here or watch it here).
Barka UK was established in 2009 after its Polish parent organisation, The Barka Foundation, was contacted by Hammersmith and Fulham council to assist with the issues faced by European migrants who had ended up on the streets of London.
To this day, it remains a resounding success. Barka’s innovative methods include taking on former rough-sleepers as staff, rehabilitating people in self-sufficient projects in Poland and, most importantly, reconnecting individuals to their home communities. Since its creation, it has helped almost 3,000 people return home, has worked in fourteen London boroughs, and has expanded its work to run an employment programme helping homeless migrants to enter the UK labour market. Crucially, it runs a pan-UK helpline which deals with housing and legal issues, as well advising on health and family problems.
The secret of Barka UK’s success, according to its Chief Executive Ewa Sadowska, lies in its close cultural affinity with its client base. This, combined with the fact that many of its staff are former rough-sleepers or reformed addicts, means that Barka can approach the problems faced by homeless migrants with in-depth knowledge, understanding, and, most importantly, empathy. That said, Ewa rejects any suggestion that Barka’s work is exceptional. For her, they are ‘simply trying to responsibly and honestly respond to the challenges we’re faced with: mass migration and the dangers that come with it.’
However, Barka’s vital work may now be undermined by the news that both Lambeth and the City of London councils are planning to cut their funding. Such decisions makes little sense since migrants from countries such as Poland make up nearly a third of London’s homeless population. Indeed, this may sadly rise when barriers to Romanian and Bulgarian workers are lifted in 2014.
Barka UK must be allowed to continue making a difference. London councils need to realise that organisations that know what they’re doing in this difficult area should be supported in these tough times. Now, more than ever, we need to reach out and help migrant rough-sleepers on the streets of our capital. And we must ensure that inspirational groups such as Barka UK can continue to do their unsung and indispensable work.
* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords