Asylum Housing Tycoon Is Among The UK's Wealthiest Here's What Conditions Are Like Inside The Properties His Company Runs

Author: Melanie Griffiths

(MENAFN- The Conversation) The Sunday Times rich list is a stark symbol of the growing inequality in the UK. As many people face worsening living conditions , a small few are becoming ever richer. Among them for the first time this year is Graham King, an Essex businessman who has accumulated a £750 million fortune , partly through taxpayer-funded government contracts.

King's business empire includes Clearsprings Ready Homes , which has provided asylum accommodation to the Home Office since 2000. Clearsprings currently receives a whopping £3.5 million a day for asylum housing and transportation, even though the company has long been accused of providing substandard and unsafe accommodation.

The Guardian reported in 2019 that hundreds of asylum seekers were crammed into Clearsprings accommodation which was overrun by cockroaches, rats and mice . Lawyers described the sites as“depraved” and likely unfit for human habitation. One said the conditions appeared to breach environmental health laws as well as statutory rules on overcrowding.

Two years later, the Guardian exposed similarly squalid conditions in Clearsprings-managed asylum flats and hotels. They described cramped rooms with damp and mould, rodents and cockroaches, broken appliances, intermittent power and hot water, and water leaking through the walls and ceilings. At the time, Clearsprings said:“Clearsprings Ready Homes works closely with its delivery partners to ensure that safe, habitable and correctly equipped accommodation is provided. Whenever issues are raised, or defects are identified, Ready Homes will undertake a full investigation and ensure that those issues are addressed.”

Clearsprings also runs the notorious Napier Barracks, a former military barracks in Kent that began housing asylum seekers in 2020. The site has faced concerns over unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, and reports of intimidation and mistreatment of residents. There have also been many incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts.

The independent immigration watchdog found multiple problems at Napier, including a“decrepit” isolation block unfit for habitation . The watchdog concluded that the site was unsuitable for long-term use . The conditions were so bad that former Conservative immigration minister Caroline Nokes accused the government of using such barracks to make the UK “as difficult and inhospitable as possible” for asylum seekers.

The high court found in 2021 that the conditions at Napier were inadequate and put people at risk of fire and contracting COVID, and that the Home Office employed unlawful practices in housing asylum seekers there. The court heard from public health experts who described a lack of ventilation, run-down buildings, fire risks and filthy conditions .

Despite these findings, the site continues to be used to house asylum seekers. A re-inspection in March 2022 found improvements, but still highlighted the“the poor condition” of the dormitories.

Read more: Deaths and abuse in UK immigration detention – my research shows extent of mental health problem

Clearsprings also runs Wethersfield asylum centre, which opened in July 2023 on the site of a former RAF airfield in Essex. The site has been criticised for detention-like settings, lack of privacy, inadequate healthcare and causing mental distress . The site also poses risks of unexploded ordnance, radiological contamination, inadequate storage of hazardous substances and contamination from poisonous gases.

There have been multiple incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts at Wethersfield. In February, the immigration watchdog warned of immediate risk of criminality, arson and violence .

Last month , 70 asylum seekers were moved out of Wethersfield due to safety concerns.

The Conversation has approached Clearsprings for comment on these issues, but it did not provide a response.

The privatisation of asylum accommodation

These problems are serious, but not unique to Clearsprings. Allegations of unsafe conditions are evident across asylum accommodation sites . They are also not new. Concerns of poor standards of dwellings were also made when local authorities were responsible for housing asylum seekers. But the seriousness of concerns appear to have worsened since asylum housing was subcontracted out to private companies.

Before 2012, asylum accommodation was managed by local authorities and housing associations . When Theresa May as home secretary announced her intention to create a“hostile environment for illegal migration”, the Home Office outsourced numerous immigration functions, including accommodation. They enlisted just three contractors to house people: Clearel (a joint venture between Clearsprings and Reliance) and the security giants G4S and Serco.

These often-criticised security companies also run immigration detention centres and deportations. It was in the course of a botched G4S deportation in 2010 that Jimmy Mubenga's death occurred: he died of a cardiac arrest after being restrained on the plane deporting him.

In the 12 years since asylum accommodation was privatised, there have been numerous reports by parliament , the National Audit Office , non-governmental organisations and researchers into asylum accommodation failings.

Recurring problems include poor performance, delays and spiralling costs by subcontractors, substandard levels of housing and squalid and unsanitary conditions .

RAF Wethersfield is one of the Clearsprings accommodations that has come under scrutiny. Joe Giddens/Shutterstock

Moreover, privatisation has led to a lack of accountability. Private contractors are not answerable to local authorities, and there has been a lack of transparency from the Home Office and inaction over complaints .

Worryingly, these companies receive few repercussions for their failings. They rarely receive fines and almost never have their contracts terminated. Indeed, the same handful of companies – including Clearsprings and Serco – tend to be repeatedly awarded huge Home Office contracts, even when they have a poor delivery record. Clearsprings' current contract lasts until 2029 .

Profiting from human misery

As the growing fortune of a so-called “asylum housing tycoon” shows, asylum accommodation has proved to be a goldmine for companies and their owners. And yet, the conditions for people living in this accommodation are appallingly substandard, driving some residents to the point of suicide.

Clearsprings Ready Homes' operating profit has skyrocketed from under £800,000 in 2020 to £28 million by 2022 and £62.5 million the following year.

This level of profit made in part from unsafe and squalid asylum accommodation raises moral questions about the design of the UK's asylum system and the spending of UK taxpayer money.

We are seeing political neglect and shrinking accountability towards people seeking safety on the UK's shores. The asylum system is increasingly geared towards making money rather than ensuring people's protection or dignity. Housing is more than basic shelter. We need to treat people on the move as fellow human beings, not business opportunities.

The Conversation


The Conversation

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