Housing shortage for refugees

A September march in Cambridge in support of welcoming refugees
Image credit: John Sutton

As part of the Government’s plan to accept 20,000 refugees over the next five years, refugees have begun to be settled in Cambridge. 50 Syrian forced migrants will be settled in the city by the end of the year. 

The Cambridgeshire county council is working closely with district councils and the local housing authorities to ensure that any families placed in Cambridgeshire have access to education and other services it provides.

So far, the Cambridge city council has teamed up with the Cambridge Refugees Resettlement Campaign to help house the refugees in the city.

The leader of the Cambridge city council, Lewis Herbert, says: “Working with private landlords and citizens through the resettlement campaign, to offer accommodation to refugees, is a welcome and important way to expand the numbers of people that Cambridge can rehome.”

However, speaking to the BBC, Camilla Ittura of the Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign revealed that: “The council have got very few houses available.”

Cambridge has a shortage of social housing, with 1,600 people currently on its housing waiting list. In 2014/15, there were also 262 cases of people or families reporting as homeless to the city council.

Councillor Lewis had previously stated that refugees will not be offered the most in-demand one or two bedroom properties. He went on to say: “We have limited what we are putting together as an offer, because we know we have a problem of people needing property in the city.”

Cambridge’s MP, Daniel Zeichner, said that he is looking into alternative housing arrangements for refugees, commenting: “I’m proud that Cambridge has started to house some very vulnerable Syrian people.”

Zeichner continued by saying: “I have called for innovative solutions to house refugees including...a Voluntary National Homes Register for those people able and willing to accommodate the most vulnerable refugees.”

At the same time, perhaps a more significant concern is the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) in Cambridge. These include those under the age of 18 looking to become permanent refugees.

It has been revealed to The Cambridge Student that the number of asylum applications from UASC to the Cambridgeshire county is increasing. In 2013/14, 19 UASC were referred to Cambridgeshire county council, compared with 55 in 2014/15.

This has led to an increase in the number of UASC being looked after by Cambridgeshire county council, rising from 14 in 2012/13 to 27 in 2014/15. 31 UASC are currently being looked after. The county council offers a range of support to these children. If not in foster care, support hours per week that the county provides is dependent on the children, their needs, and the accommodation that they are residing in.

For example, the children could be living in a hostel with staff present 24 hours a day, or a shared house with floating support.

Cambridge county council currently claims £750 per week for under 16s, £350 per week for 16-17 year olds and £250 per week for adults, as long as they are claiming for more than 25. The rise in UASCs, alongside those who have been successful in their claims, has lead to an increase in costs for the council. In 2013/14, they spent £168,815 as a whole on UASCs, while between April and August alone 2015, they spent £206,736.

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