“The government and the right wing media have disunited the working class by scapegoating the rise of the cost of living crisis on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They often use terms like ‘swarm’, ‘failure’, ‘mass’ or ‘floods’ when talking about people escaping violence and war.”
By Nasrin Warsame, Migrants Organise
In 2020, Mercy Baguma, a young mother originally from Uganda, was found malnourished and dead next to her son, who narrowly survived. Mercy had lost her job after her right to work in Britain expired, and because she had ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’, Mercy was unable to claim benefits. This is Britain’s Hostile Environment.
A year prior, Channel 4 Dispatches aired a show titled ‘Growing up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids.’ This show investigated child poverty in Britain, in which a viral clip of a young boy called Cameron confesses: “We try not to eat very much in one day… even though most of us are very hungry.” Cameron’s family was forced to rely on food banks to survive.
Mercy and Cameron’s stories highlight the failures of our society, and should have created a turning point to a more care driven politics. But since then, the cost of living has risen even more, without a real pay rise to accompany it. This injustice has been met with neoliberal platitudes which centre individual accountability, erases the structures and systems that plunge people into poverty and destitution, and strips responsibility from the government to care about the crises facing our communities.
Recently, the Safeguarding Minister in the Home Office, Rachel Maclean commented that people should ‘work longer hours or get better paying jobs’ to ‘protect themselves’ from soaring costs. For migrant communities in Britain, these insouciant comments are particularly insulting.
The cruel logic of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ goes hand-in-hand with inadequate Universal Credit allowance and punitive fit to work assessments: a logic that says money is scarce, and you shouldn’t ‘scrounge off the state’. This happens whilst private companies are making millions in profits from government contracts to conduct these assessments, or to place asylum seekers in inhumane housing accommodations.
The government and the right wing media have disunited the working class by scapegoating the rise of the cost of living crisis on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They often use terms like ‘swarm’, ‘failure’, ‘mass’ or ‘floods’ when talking about people escaping violence and war. This makes it seem like migrants and asylum seekers are overwhelming the UK, and to divert attention away from their own failings of our socio-economic situation by giving them a face to vent frustrations. This is both untrue and morally reprehensible.
This year marks ten years since the official announcement of the Hostile Environment, which aims to make life as difficult as possible for migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, anyone with precarious immigration status, and anyone who can be racialized as ‘foreign’. The process of applying for visas is extortionate – with many migrants having to pay thousands for the ability to access the NHS, a racist double tax as they pay through national insurance too, private landlords refuse to rent to people without the right immigration papers, pushing many people into exploitative working and living conditions, legal aid has been slashed, and people are kept in unacceptable housing accommodations and detention centres. It encompasses all facets of life and is deliberately made to induce stress, traumatise and isolate people from communities of care.
The Nationality and Borders Act is an expansion of the Hostile Environment, which is one part of the multitude of assaults on our ability to live a life free from poverty and oppression. This Act, which has paved the way for the Government to send people to off-shore detention centres in Rwanda, is a culmination of decades of fascist pandering that both the left and the right have partaken in. Priti Patel often uses the cover of smugglers and criminality to push more cruel policies and legislation, but if that really is her intention, the only real way to stop smugglers is by ensuring safe routes and access for people seeking asylum. We must not be divided or limited in our imagination to build a better world.
When the rich and the powerful choose their own interests, they are working in solidarity. So should we. We know that connecting struggles, strong communities and collaborative movements are a force for change. The Solidarity Knows No Borders network is a community of individuals, groups and migrant organisations working together and acting in solidarity to demand a humane immigration system. There is no greater time to take action with groups near you to call on the government for the end of the Hostile Environment and to tackle the cost of living.
The tragic story of Mercy Baguma warns us that a cost of living is a cost of life itself, and an inability to pay results in death. But it does not have to be like this – another world is possible. It relies on all of us.
- Nasrin Warsame is an organiser at Migrants Organise, and works with the West London Resistance Collective, an abolitionist group organising against the Hostile Environment.
- You can follow Nasrin on twitter here; Migrants Organise on Facebook, Instagram and twitter; and West London Resistance Collective on twitter here.
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