Birmingham city councillors have come together to pledge to re home 500 Syrians within the city over the next five years, despite having 30,000 local people already registered on their books for social housing in the area. The waiting lists include approximately 500 homeless families.
The British government has pledged to relocate 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps in the Middle East over the next five years; in a recent video message, Birmingham’s council leader Cllr John Clancy said that taking a share of the migrants “is the Birmingham way”.
To confirm the Council’s intentions on the matter, councillors from the Conservative and Labour parties came together in Birmingham earlier this week to assure more than 400 people gathered at a local church that they would indeed seek to house 500 Syrians under the government’s resettlement scheme.
The locals were gathered under the banner of ‘Citizens UK Birmingham’, which draws members from local faith groups, residents groups, schools, unions and community groups. Local newspaper the Birmingham Mail also claimed credit for the policy, through its support for a campaign to make Birmingham a “City of Sanctuary” for Syrian migrants.
Addressing the group, Cllr Clancy said: “The answer is yes. This city will put its arms out to welcome refugees from those UN camps, 500 of them over this next few years. We will welcome them, it’s a sign of strength as a city that we can do that.”
— LeaderofBirmingham (@BrumLeader) April 15, 2016
But the councillors – and the Birmingham Mail – have conveniently forgotten the tens of thousands of local people already on the social housing waiting list in the area who will necessarily be queue-jumped when Syrian migrants are awarded homes.
A 2009 Freedom of Information Act request put the number of homeless families on the list at 464, while noting that there were 18,834 individual applicants on the council’s homeless register. These numbers are unlikely to have reduced in the intervening years, as overall social housing demand doubled in England from one million in 2001 to two million by 2013.
The Mail itself reported on the plight of “desperate” local families facing a 99-year wait for larger houses in the city three years ago. At the time, there were 30,000 people on its social housing waiting list, and a further 28,000 receiving housing benefit to rent privately.
It quoted mum-of-three Gabriella Sinclair who had been on the waiting list for six years without being offered a property: “I log on every week to bid, but I think the highest I ever got on the list was two hundred and something. I cannot get enough points, which means I am forced to rent a two-bedroom maisonette privately,” she said.
Roger Harding of housing charity Shelter said: “we’re seeing rising numbers of people pushed into private rented accommodation, with the increase in demand forcing up rents.”