- Created: Thursday, 21 May 2009 13:02
- Written by Mark Tzameti
Shelter is a basic necessity for survival, yet in Britain where profit ranks above the needs of the majority, many people are homeless or housed in terrible conditions. In 1999 the British Labour government introduced a system to disperse and house asylum seekers across the country. It had not yet brought in sufficient draconian anti-immigration provisions to prevent the entrance of and easily deport as many asylum seekers as it wished and was still bound by laws against leaving people homeless and destitute. It therefore had to institute some method of providing minimum housing and support at the least cost. The dispersal system was designed to isolate and discourage asylum seekers, with the added bonus for the racist state of ensuring that local people in poor housing would still consider that the provision of any housing, no matter how sub-standard, to asylum seekers, was a slap in the face to them, and instead of blaming the state, would blame the immigrants.
The Home Office’s National Asylum Support Service (NASS) then contracted with local councils and private companies to provide housing for asylum seekers. This proved to be a massive business opportunity for one particular company called Angel Group.
Angel started housing refugees in Kent in 1999 and is now the biggest asylum seeker landlord in Britain; by the end of 2003 it was a multi-million pound business, making its owner, Julia Davey, Britain’s 15th richest woman, paying herself a salary of £458,000 and collecting nearly £1m in dividends.
In 1999 Angel Group bought an old nurses’ home in Newcastle, calling it Angel Heights. Its first occupants were Iraqi and Iranian asylum seekers who soon began to protest over poor conditions, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of their spokesmen. In its first two years Angel Heights generated £700,000 profit. With a five-year contract with NASS amounting to £20m a year, Angel Group started acquiring and renting properties across Yorkshire and the north east. At its busiest the company was providing more than 3,600 bed spaces to NASS, earning a fee of £102 a week for each space.
Angel Group’s properties are often overcrowded, with multiple single-parent families in the same house, without locks on each family’s part of the house, and adults, some of whom are strangers, together in the same room. Tenants have reported being kept for months without gas and electricity and waiting weeks for repairs. Angel Group employees routinely let themselves into people’s homes without any notice, inspect belongings and threaten to throw people out of their accommodation for complaining about the conditions. Areas of Scotswood in Newcastle that have been boarded up for years, were scheduled for demolition and are infested with rats and cockroaches, have been opened up by Angel Group to house asylum seekers.
Angel Group claims to provide ‘high quality accommodation and support services to vulnerable people’, yet because it is a private company its priority is to a make profit. With fewer council homes being built every year and more and more unaffordable private homes taking their place, the interests of the working class in Britain have blatantly been written off by the state in favour of those of big business and a minority of rich people. This clearly shows us who our real enemy is and how it is not immigrants who are to blame for housing shortages.
Tyneside Community Action for Refugees and other groups have been holding demonstrations against Angel Group. In Newcastle there have also been campaigns to save people’s homes from demolition to make way for luxury river front apartments and groups are organising to demand better living standards in tower blocks. It is only when we realise these struggles are the same that we will be able to effect any kind of real change.
FRFI 204 August / September 2008