Pressure mounts on Children’s Commissioner to intervene in the deplorable housing conditions of asylum seeking pregnant women and new mothers
14 October 2022
Below is a letter to the Children's Commissioner to ask him to intervene to force Mears group to accommodate asylum-seeking mothers in their own accommodation, not hotels. The names of clients have been changed to protect identities, as people are fearful of the accommodation contractor and of its connection to the Home Office, which decides their asylum claim.
Dear Mr Adamson,
I am writing to ask you to urgently investigate the deplorable conditions inflicted by the Home Office contractor Mears Group on pregnant women and new mothers at the McLay’s Hotel in Renfrew Street, Glasgow, since the closure in May 2022 of the “mother and baby unit” operated by the same contractor.
We support several women – pregnant and new mothers – at the McLay’s hotel. We understand there are ten expectant and new mothers; they are taken to have their babies in the hospital and then returned to the same cramped room instead of being accommodated in their own homes. They receive between £0 and £8.24 a week and have made no preparations for their babies, except for the hospital bags and items made up by our volunteers.
Mears Group says it follows the “NHS Eat Well” guidelines. As you can see from the photos, the women receive food in cartons. There is not a plate in sight—day in, day out. The conditions of mothers and babies have not improved, as you can see. The same meals are served, often dry and poorly cooked, day in and day out. Amongst the women is a severely diabetic, pregnant woman who is expected to eat carb-ridden meals when she and the other women are desperate to cook basic meals and clean their accommodation.
In any other circumstances, a landlord would be shut down by the local authority for these deplorable housing conditions. But Mears Group acts with impunity under cover of reserved powers. As Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, please investigate the conditions photographed and described and ensure that women are rehoused in their accommodation so that their babies can be nurtured in a home environment in the most critical period of their young lives. Otherwise, as has happened before, the Mears group will, once exposed, simply shift its disgraceful and abusive accommodation practices from one place to another.
As you can see in the photographs of one of the rooms taken by one of our volunteers Elaine who is supporting Soraya*and her new-born, the room is a crowded fire hazard, and boiling kettles are crammed next to food and washing tabs and open cartons of food on Soraya’s table. The mother’s condition has deteriorated considerably, especially her mental health, and the baby cries continuously. She has nowhere to put the baby’s items and has refused a pram as there is nowhere to put it and is therefore confined to the room 24/7.
Visitors are scrutinised with suspicion by staff at the hotel and are not allowed to go to their rooms. Here is testimony from Fiona, our volunteer coordinator:
“Elaine and Anne were able to deliver crisis support to 3 women in McLay’s last week together. However, after delivering these grants, both Elaine and Anne reported that the Mears staff did not allow them any privacy to ask the women how they were or have any real interaction with them. They were asked to deliver in front of three staff members in the reception area. Anne reported this incident as intimidating and compared it to a prison visit. Anne disclosed this to Namatullah and me yesterday. Elaine disclosed to me this morning that three men stood and watched as they gave the women their support. However, both volunteers felt the treatment of the women in McLay’s is inappropriate and made them uncomfortable, comparing it to a prison system.”
Our volunteer Elaine was allowed to enter Soraya's room by a new staff member. Food is given to the women in cartons, not plates. In Soraya's room, Elaine noticed cold rice on top of a packet of clothes-washing tabs. See photographs. Soraya* washes the baby’s clothes in the toilet. A hot water kettle sits crowded with fresh fruit and orange juice brought by our volunteers; you can see an accident will happen. There isn’t a square foot of space to move because the room is tiny. Soraya has grown depressed with her condition.
We have written to Mears to move her. Mears responded that they were getting new properties in “Scotland”. We replied that Soraya needs accommodation in Glasgow. We have seen the deteriorating condition of refugees placed in isolation away from the city they arrived in. Soraya is alone and needs to be near culturally sensitive facilities to meet her diet, faith, and culture.
In any other circumstances, a landlord would be shut down by the local authority for these deplorable housing conditions. But Mears Group acts with impunity under cover of reserved powers. As Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, please investigate the conditions photographed and described and ensure that women are rehoused in their accommodation so that their babies can be nurtured in a home environment in the most critical period of their young lives. Otherwise, as has happened here, the Mears group will simply shift its disgraceful and abusive accommodation practices, once exposed, from one place to another.
I await your reply.
Positive Action in Housing