Homeless A8 nationals – are they better off after May?

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Ewa Duda-Mikulin

When the economic downturn took its toll, many Eastern Europeans from the new Accession (A8) countries found themselves living on the streets. I spoke to advice workers from Manchester and tried to find out if, two months after all the restrictions were lifted, there were any positive changes in that respect

The Guardian recently reported that “the number of homeless people in England has risen – for the first time in four years.” Moreover, Homeless Link draws attention to an increasing number of homeless A8 nationals sleeping rough on the streets of major cities in England.

Homeless Link surveyed CEE migrants in London back in 2007. They repeated this research in November 2008 to provide an updated picture of rough sleepers amongst their client group. “The findings of the Repeat Survey suggest that the proportion of rough sleepers who are from Central and Eastern European countries is increasing, from 18% to 25%”.

This is presumably due to the fact that many of them lost their jobs as a result of many local businesses going into administration (e.g. 1 in 4 small businesses have gone bust since the recession started in 2008 as Granada Reports informed earlier this year) or are being forced to make redundancies as part of reducing the workforce.

On top of that, if an A8 migrant lost their job in the first 12 months of coming to work in England, they had no access to public funds and many ended up sleeping rough as Don Flynn, the Director of MRN highlighted in August last year.

When on the streets, some were mugged and lost their documents. Without an ID or a passport, it is incredibly difficult and time-consuming to prove their identity or nationality. In the meantime they have to rely on homeless shelters for help with getting new documents and meeting their everyday needs. This is what it looked like before the 1st May 2011.

Have the changes to access to welfare changed the situation of homeless A8 migrants? In theory they should have, as MRN’s Policy Office, Ruth Grove-White covered in May this year when the rights of the A8 nationals were brought in line with those of other EEA citizens.

Although the UK has enabled A8 nationals to work here since 2004, it has maintained certain key restrictions on A8 migrant workers until this year. Workers from A8 countries needed to be registered under the government’s Worker Registration Scheme (WRS), unless they were self-employed, during their first 12 months in the UK. Access to income-related benefits such as income-based jobseekers allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit was dependent upon remaining compliant with the conditions of the WRS. As a result, A8 workers who were not registered on the WRS, or those who lost their employment during this initial period, could not access state support. Growing levels of destitution, including homelessness, among people from A8 countries who have fallen outside the net has been reported across the UK since 2004.

The 1st May change is significant for A8 nationals coming to the UK. A8 nationals are now no longer required to register under the WRS if they want to work here. Broadly speaking, if they lose their job, subject to various conditions they are still entitled to housing and welfare benefits. They should also be able to more widely access out of work benefits during their initial period in the UK, enjoying the same entitlements as other EU nationals.

It can be said that in theory the regulations above constitute a positive change when it comes to homelessness among A8 nationals. However, after speaking to colleagues who offer front line services to homeless people in Manchester, from a practical point of view these changes are having only a minimal effect, if any, on many of those who are homeless.

One trained volunteer advice worker told me that when an A8 migrant “is homeless and has no address, it is much more difficult to access any benefits and then his/her situation becomes a vicious circle”. A common but not the easisest way around this is to use the address of the shelter/homeless charity that is offering them assistance.

As such the situation of A8 migrants who are homeless don’t have formal documentation or a permanent address, will remain the same and it seems that the lifted restrictions will have little effect.

On the other hand though, for newly arrived A8 migrants, the changes to welfare make a huge difference. The same advice worker told me about a single mother who came to the UK only recently and was able to access Jobseeker Allowance straight away while looking for work

Ewa is a 2009 MA graduate in Human Rights from the University of Manchester, and received an MA in Sociology from the University of Zielona Gora, Poland. She has been living in England since March 2008, and has worked previously with asylum seekers and refugees, but is currently researcher at Europia – Forum for Central and East European (CCE) Migrants. She will shortly be starting a PhD at the University of Salford on social policy and European migrants.

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