New work restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants could lead to an “explosion” of rough sleeping in London, a council warned today.
Westminster city council was already predicting that 300 Romanians and Bulgarians would end up on the streets next year after their countries join the EU in January.
But they are now warning the figure could be “much higher” following the announcement today by the home secretary, John Reid, of a scheme to control the level of unskilled work available to people coming to the UK from those countries.
Under the plan, low-skilled work will only be available in food processing and agriculture. Employers outside these industries will have to prove they need workers before visas are awarded. But there will be no restrictions on self-employed workers.
Conservative-controlled Westminster says that despite the rules, thousands of people will still travel to the UK, but will quickly end up destitute because of the restrictions. The rules will lead to “an explosion of rough sleeping” it said in a statement.
Its leader, Sir Simon Milton, said: “The government hopes that the lack of visas will discourage people from coming to the UK but in our experience this isn’t realistic. The fear is that thousands will arrive in the hope of gaining employment only to end up jobless and on the streets.”
His concerns echo a warning from John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue magazine. Writing in the Daily Mail in August, Mr Bird said: “As the EU expands, we shall import even more poverty. I would be astonished if we did not see a vast increase of the needy and helpless taking the chances on our streets.”
The charity Homeless Link warned that immigration from eastern Europe could reverse progress made under a government scheme to reduce rough sleeping by two thirds.
Jenny Edwards, its chief executive, said: “If this is not dealt with urgently, we could quickly find increasing numbers of people with deep-seated problems. At worst we could push back all the progress we have made in cutting rough sleeping.”
She urged the government to launch an information campaign in Bulgaria and Romania about the dangers of destitution in Britain.
Last month Homeless Link, which is an umbrella body for homelessness agencies, warned that immigrants from eastern Europe are already putting an intolerable strain on hostels and night shelters.
It found that 15% of homeless people turning up at night shelters in London are from EU accession states.
At the time Ms Edwards said: “Homelessness charities are not equipped to meet the needs of eastern European nationals seeking work and advice about the UK system.”
Westminster is campaigning for continuing funding for its scheme to help destitute east Europeans to find work or free travel back to their countries. The funding is due to run out at the end of the year.