Christmas celebrations for some British Asians are as important as the Diwali festivities, including exchanging gifts, hosting dinners and parties. But for many families this year, the spirit is marred with the cost of living crisis, as they contemplate giving the usual festivities a miss, in order to save for what they need versus what they want. Adding fuel to the fire, is the recent Autumn Statement released by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. What a small family might spend on one dinner, is now the currency of the monthly allowance of a disabled person, in a heart-rending situation. As the UK enters recession, it does not make it easy for most Britons, especially those who are exceptionally underprivileged, for example, the rough sleepers and homeless.
A recent study by academics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that ethnic minority people are more at risk of homelessness. The study comes days after the parents of two-year-old Awaab Ishak blamed a social landlord’s racism for his death from black mould in a rented flat in Rochdale that was not treated despite complaints.
The British Asian community has since time immemorial come forward to help the needy. Many continue to do their bit via charity and offerings, but the data still looks grim. Asian Voice has learnt that while community efforts continue to support rough sleepers and feed the hungry during the ongoing winter, there is still much to be done by the government and this calls for more contributions from Britons.
Fatemah (36), a Samaritans volunteer at the Blackburn branch, said, “I will volunteer again this Christmas. Some callers rang over Christmas because they were lonely and felt they had no one to turn to, including those calling from prison. Although calls ended well, they did have an impact on me and made me think about how I’ve struggled in the past.
“Losing our Queen will also have an impact on our calls this year, as many look forward to the Queen’s speech every Christmas. During the festive period some people find it’s a time when they remember loved ones and those dearest to them. With all the changes we have all been through in the past year, I feel Christmas will be somewhat overwhelming for many, including myself!
“I’m a Muslim and although my religion is Islam, my children and I still mark Christmas. Islam teaches us to be accepting, respect others and to create peace not divisions! I cover my head but it doesn’t make me who I am – this is just one element. For me, Christmas is a time to spend with my children. I respect this special time of year, I think everyone should do this no matter what their background is. I have two children and my youngest is born on Christmas Day so we will celebrate Christmas and his birthday. This Christmas will be a tough one for me personally as my brother passed away recently. I was very close to him and this will be the first Christmas without him.
“Being there for people this Christmas is really rewarding. I want to do my bit to help others, that’s why I am volunteering with Samaritans at Christmas.”
People this year are therefore resorting to e-Christmas cards in order to save money to buy tents for rough sleepers, socks, and food donations.
A city night shelter has opened its doors early because of a rise in the number of people sleeping on the streets. The annual headcount of rough sleepers has not been published, but the Gloucester church running the shelter expects it to be higher than in 2021.
BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Temple London led its community food drive recently in which Mandir and other BAPS Mandirs around the country donated food items to local food banks and shelters supporting those adversely affected by the cost-of-living crisis. The Mandir also partnered with The Felix Project to support the provision of free fresh fruit and vegetables to the local community in London.
In a previous interview with Asian Voice, Abdullah Rehman MBE, Community Engagement Manager Bahu Trust told us that Foodbank Drive has developed a Community Support Surgery which is based next to the Mosque offering support and advice to people who are struggling with issues that impact their lives often causing extreme poverty. According to them, many young married Asian couples are now leaving home. So, the Trust is witnessing many more vulnerable elderly Asians living alone who in the past would have had family support around them. Now a small but worrying percentage are unable to make ends meet with their pensions as food, and energy bills become unaffordable. The team is finding more and more people staying longer in the mosque just so they can stay warm and the pressure on pensioners is really showing.
Rough sleepers in Brent up by more than a third
The number of people sleeping rough in Brent has increased by 37%, a new Greater London Authority (GLA) analysis shows. Local London Assembly Member, Cllr Krupesh Hirani AM, has warned of “real hardship” spreading across the capital as the cost-of-living crisis continues to push people into homelessness. Hirani is urging the government to “act now” to tackle increases in rents, food prices and energy bills before more Londoners are forced to spend winter on the streets.
London’s services are working at capacity, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has revealed. The Mayor committed £36.6 million from this year’s budget to tackling homelessness. Around 13,500 people have been supported by City Hall's rough sleeping services since 2016. During the pandemic, more than 10,000 people were helped off the streets and into hotels by City Hall and London boroughs.
Brent is home to many communities and is one of the most diverse boroughs in London. Almost two-thirds of the population (64%) are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, the third highest in London. According to data from 2018, 26.4% of Harrow’s residents are of Indian origin – the largest minority ethnic group in the borough.
Speaking to Asian Voice,Cllr Krupesh Hirani AM, said, “Spiralling inflation, bills, rents and mortgage costs are pushing more people towards poverty and homelessness. Real-time wages are falling, and unemployment is rising, but Londoners face higher taxes, cuts to public services and a delay to the social care cap. During winter it is very likely that without further support, many people who are only just managing to scrape by will no longer be able to. City Hall, outreach workers, charities and councils are doing their bit, it is time the government did theirs. Ministers must act now to prevent more people from ending up homeless this winter.”
London Assembly Labour’s Housing spokesperson, Sem Moema AM, told us, “Despite sustained efforts by City Hall, councils and charities across the capital, there are still far too many people sleeping on our streets. The cost-of-living crisis is causing a spike in evictions, as well as acting as a barrier to long-term homeless people accessing housing. Extreme financial pressures and public service cuts are putting more Londoners at risk of homelessness with the number of people sleeping rough in London up by a quarter, year on year. The Government must properly fund rough sleeper support services, reform the private-rented sector and invest in more genuinely affordable homes and new social and council homes for rent.”
Charan Sekhon is the Founder & Chairman - of SEVA Trust UK - a Bedford-based charity working on education, health, environment & social welfare. Speaking to Asian Voice, he said, “Huge rise in the cost of living is causing major issues for all but the low-earning individuals and families, elderly and retired, homeless and rough-sleepers are hardest hit. Our charity is receiving a lot of calls for help. After the Covid crisis, things started to improve but we are now heading towards a similar crisis faced during Covid. In recent months SEVA Trust UK team has been supporting over 50 homeless under the care of a local charity SMART CJS that supports homeless and rough sleepers in Bedford. We have been providing staple food and other daily-use essentials. Our volunteers are also delivering regular hot meals to elderly and vulnerable people who got no family support or are unable to cook. Raising costs are pushing more people to approach food banks and charities for help and we will continue to support our local communities and individuals to ensure they do not sleep hungry.”
Meanwhile, Britons to support rough sleepers are participating in The Big Sleepout on Friday 25 November, in partnership with St Basils (https://stbasils.org.uk/), a Birmingham-based homelessness prevention charity. St Basils works with young people aged 16-25 who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, to enable them to find and keep a home, develop their employability skills, increase opportunities, and prevent homelessness.
Cost of living WARM BANK
Sangat Centre, a registered charity based at Sancroft Road, Harrow, primarily serves the Asians and other minority communities living in Harrow and neighbouring Boroughs. They work closely with statutory services, Housing Associations, Benefits Agencies, and a number of other voluntary organisations.
In order to overcome the immediate impact of the cost-of-living crisis Sangat Centre has opened its doors and provided safe and warm space to the most vulnerable people in our neighbourhood. They are also giving the advice to support people so that they do not miss out on income support measures. The centre also provides warm drinks and hot lunches to help the needy.
A new report from Heriot-Watt University, and Matt Rayment from ICF, under the ‘Housing First Pathfinder Programme’ have set out to scale up Housing First delivery across Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling. It housed and supported 579 people. Homelessness charity, Social Bite, catalysed the programme by securing pledges from housing providers to make one-bedroom flats available for rough sleepers with complex support needs. Social Bite committed £2m towards the programme through mass participation in fundraising events like Sleep in the Park, with £5m investment by the Scottish Government and £150k from Merchants House of Glasgow.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the British Asian community, there’s always been an attempt to have enough resources, solutions and help in every form for the needy and homeless. However, it is high time that the government devices a plan of action that just doesn’t rest on the morals of a community that has been taken for granted for years. History has it, that Homeless people's belongings have been whisked off the streets for celebrations at the national level, but what has the government done to give them shelter and rehabilitation? No one knows.