On 20 November Hackney Migrant Centre held our Annual General Meeting (AGM) to approve our Annual Accounts and elect Trustees for the coming year.
Supporting Families Experiencing Destitution
The formal part of our AGM was followed by a discussion on Supporting Families Experiencing Destitution. The discussion featured Nick Watts (Director of Together with Migrant Children) and Lou Crisfield (Housing Caseworker at Miles & Partners LLP), who spoke about Section 17 of the Children Act 1989.
Section 17 gives a general duty to local authorities to promote the welfare of children within their families. Support can include accommodation and living costs for families who are facing destitution. However, for migrant families there are many hurdles to accessing support. Assessments can take up to 45 days. Many are asked intrusive questions and treated with suspicion. Even when support is granted, accommodation provided may be inadequate and subsistence is generally very low.
Claiming Section 17 Support
These presentations were followed by a roundtable discussion with three former Hackney Migrant Centre visitors. They spoke powerfully about their experiences trying to claim Section 17 support. TA told the audience that experiencing destitution can lead to low self-esteem and depression for children and parents without access to the necessary food or clothing. The Right to Rent law means it is difficult to find housing and some people are forced into prostitution. BA went to Hackney Council to request support three years ago, but was rejected. Social services did not listen to her. Instead, they kept asking the same questions and threatened to call the police to get her to leave.
YE explained that many migrants are afraid to go to the local authority for support, because they are afraid of the Home Office. They need support from charities and other organisations to help them access their entitlements. YE said that it was only after coming to Hackney Migrant Centre that she understood her rights. She is now studying social work and hopes to promote diversity, equality and inclusion through her work.
A Guide for Families
They welcomed the 2019 publication Section 17 Support: A Guide for Families. The Guide was produced collaboratively by families with experience of requesting Section 17 Support from social services, and groups supporting families to access support from social services.
Anna Rudd (Hackney Migrant Centre’s Destitution Support Coordinator) concluded that local authorities’ culture of disbelief and gate-keeping needs to change. However, we have recently seen some positive developments. The stories of the three visitors and how they were able to advocate on their own behalf give cause for hope.