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Revealed: The scale of Greater Manchester's challenge in supporting asylum seekers
Our analysis reveals Manchester, Rochdale, Oldham and Wigan are all accommodating more than twice the average number of asylum seekers per population
Good evening Millers, all 33,802 of you. Welcome to this week’s Mill briefing.
We’re a little late today because we were waiting for a response from the Home Office about some data analysis we’ve done on asylum figures. What does it show? That Greater Manchester is having to support many more asylum seekers relative to its population than the national average — and in the case of four boroughs, more than twice the average. Scroll down to read more in our Big Story, which is the work of our new data reporter Daniel Timms.
Also in today’s briefing, we have a three bedroom barn conversion in Bolton with an “impressive man cave” (for the uninitiated, we recommend this very funny VICE piece about the man cave trend), recommendations of things to do this week from our readers and a restaurant review that finds a slice of Hong Kong life in Salford.
Big congrats to our sister newsletter in Liverpool The Post, which has just reached 1,000 paying members. The Post launched its paid subscriptions just over a year ago and it’s been publishing some phenomenal journalism recently, including this weekend’s piece about a man who designed a cult video game and then disappeared; a very evocative recent profile of disgraced former mayor Joe Anderson; and this stunning investigation into what happened to the Eldonian Village, a social housing project that was once held up as an example to the nation and where residents are now wondering why key assets are controlled by offshore companies. If you’ve got links to Liverpool or you know someone who does, please do join the mailing list or send on the link.
In case you missed it, Fiona Whitty’s long read over the weekend was a corker. She told the story of how a gallery in Rochdale, backed by a local socialist council, tried to fight back against the male-heavy, white-dominated mainstream in the 1980s art world — and the backlash it received from some locals. “They seemed to be there because they were black and women, not because of anything special,” one local artist told her of the exhibits, an uncomfortable moment in a very carefully reported piece.
If you have the good sense to be a Mill member, you’ll be getting a great Editor’s Edition from Joshi tomorrow, leading with an interview with a leading Ukrainian journalist, who told him about her experiences reporting on the past year of Russia’s invasion. Then on Thursday we head to Oldham to find out whether the conspiracy theories about grooming gangs and council cover-ups that we’ve written so much about are going to influence next month’s local elections. Remember, voters in the borough have kicked out two council leaders in the past two elections, and some Labour figures are nervous about more carnage on May 4th. Join as a member now to read those stories, get invited to our Mill Members Clubs, comment under our stories and support the renaissance of great journalism in the North.
A reminder that if you want to vote in the elections next month, which are taking place across Greater Manchester and the country, you will need to bring a photo ID with you to polling stations for the first time. The BBC thinks that around 2 million registered voters will need to acquire a form of ID that they don’t currently have in order to vote.
🌤️ This week’s weather
This weather forecast comes from our local weatherman Martin Miles, who says we will finally feel the sunshine this week, but it will feel chilly and breezy, especially on the weekend.
Tuesday 🌤️ Mostly sunny and breezy. Max 15C.
Wednesday 🌤️ After a dull and chilly morning, skies will gradually brighten during the afternoon. Windy. Max 14C.
Thursday ☀️ Mostly dry with plenty of warm sunny spells, although temperatures will be on the cool side. Breezy. Max 13C.
Friday 🌦️ Cloudy and cool with showery periods of rain. Max 11C.
Weekend ☁️ Chilly for the time of year with unsettled weather conditions.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: An asylum support system struggling to cope
Top line: We’ve mentioned some concerning local stories about asylum seekers in our newsletters recently. But data analysis we’ve done in recent days shows that behind these incidents is a blunt numerical fact: Greater Manchester is having to support many more asylum seekers relative to its population than elsewhere.
Context: We’ve reported before about issues arising in one hotel for housing asylum seekers, with concerns raised about the quality of food, harassment and mental health. Other stories about scabies outbreaks and abuse have also come to light. Then in the last week one family disappeared from their Stockport hotel due to safety concerns, in an incident which mirrors another story we reported on last week.
The numbers: We’ve been looking at the numbers provided by the Home Office. They show that across the UK, there are roughly 16 asylum seekers receiving support per 10,000 population. But in Rochdale, Oldham, Manchester and Wigan, the figures are double that. Only Trafford is supporting a lower rate of asylum seekers than the national average. This appears to be a direct result of the government’s policy of housing asylum seekers in low-cost hotels in less affluent areas.
For the first time, we’re seeing the true number of asylum seekers in any given area due to a data update, which now includes those receiving support under “Section 98”. Section 98 (of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999) is explicitly a temporary measure — for providing “initial accommodation” for those deemed to be destitute. The inclusion of those on Section 98 has seen the reported figures for Stockport almost double, and those for Manchester go up 80%.
A long-term pattern: The increases look set to exacerbate a difference noted in Guardian analysis several years ago — that poorer parts of the country are given many more asylum seekers to manage, with more than half of asylum seekers housed in the poorest third of the country at the time. Authorities who are having to deal with higher levels of deprivation are therefore facing additional challenges, while those seeking asylum are struggling to get the support they need.
Who is in charge? Councils have little say over where asylum seekers are placed, and the Home Office contracts directly with the provider Serco. Last week, after protestors stormed Stockport Council’s offices to protest about the issue, the council’s Head of Safeguarding, Nuala O’Rourke said: “As a local authority, we want to help people that need our support but are bound by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, with the duty to provide accommodation for Asylum seeking families lying with the Home Office.” Similarly, in response to a request for comment, Manchester City Council simply directed us to the Home Office.
Nonetheless, local authorities are clearly impacted by the housing of many more hundreds of people in their boroughs. In January, it was reported that several letters had been sent by Stockport Council to the Home Office without reply. The recent reports of poor conditions that have come to light would suggest the system as a whole is struggling to cope.
In response to our analysis, a Home Office spokesperson said:
“We are dealing with an unprecedented increase in asylum cases but despite this we continue to ensure asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with support whilst we consider their claim for international protection. We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable — there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day. The Home Office is committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and limit the burden on the taxpayer.”
Home of the week
This gaudily-decorated three bedroom barn conversion in Bolton has a balcony, a large garden, a hot tub and an “impressive man cave” (from what we can tell, that consists of a microwave, a sofa, a pool table and precisely two plants). It's on the market for £620,000.
Your Mill briefing
Andy Burnham is objecting to the renewal of First Group’s contract to run the spectacularly unreliable TransPennine Express service. In a joint statement with other northern mayors, addressed to the transport secretary, Burnham said: “We vehemently believe such a decision would be rewarding failure and be a betrayal of passengers in the North.” From the 5th to the 31st of March, 1,437 services that should have operated were cancelled, making up roughly 20.5% of the contracted train plan, which Burnham says “is holding us back”.
Umar Kamani, the 35-year-old CEO and co-founder of fast fashion empire PrettyLittleThing is stepping down after 12 years, explaining he is “at the stage in my life where I need to set myself new challenges and goals.” PLT, which is based in Manchester, is now owned by Boohoo, the very similar fast fashion site founded by Kamani’s father Mahmud. In a weird Instagram post this weeked, Kamani wrote: “If you know me, you’ll know Disneyland and all the magic surrounding it has always been one of my biggest inspirations. This is what I wanted to create with PrettyLittleThing, a fairytale-like world where unicorns exist, and anything is possible.” When our sister publication The Tribune reported on the company’s “super warehouse” in Sheffield, it didn’t exactly sound like a fairytale for Kamani’s workers.
Local elections latest: Fezan Khalid, a Liberal Democrat council candidate for the Smallbridge and Firgrove ward in Rochdale, has been suspended from the party after the Guido Fawkes blog found posts on his Facebook page that claimed anti-semitism “is a complete fraud”. Khalid also shared a post saying Suella Braveman’s mixed Hindi, Buddhist and Jewish ancestry made for “a cocktail of hatred” and accused the Board of Deputies of British Jews of orchestrating Jeremy Corbyn’s demise. The Lib Dems apologised and indicated Khalid would undergo anti-semitism training while an investigation was carried out.
Meanwhile, Chris Twells, the Ordsall Lib Dem councillor best known for his slogan “the local choice for Ordsall Ward”, who encouraged voters to back him because he was a “councillor who lives locally, not six miles away in Irlam”, has been discovered to be living in the Cotswolds… Got any great local elections gossip? Hit up email@example.com.
Our favourite reads
Sakura, Salford: ‘It’s all delightful’ — The Guardian
Jay Rayner visits a Hong Kong style cafe in Salford which serves a growing community of Chinese students. The small, intimate cafe is found on an open housing estate beneath a block of flats, a short shopping parade with a laundrette and a mini-mart. A particular highlight is on the sweet menu: a crisply toasted barm cake coated in butter, “the kind of joyous thing your nan might have given you when you came in from playing footie on a cold winter’s afternoon”.
When community came first — Prospect
We enjoyed this review of Different Times: Growing Up in Postwar England, by James Walvin, an account of an industrial working-class childhood in Failsworth, which reflects the “world of the factory village, of harsh poverty, of tight bonds of mutual dependence.” David Goodhart writes: “He has dredged from his remarkable memory a wonderful memoir of a family, a young man growing up and a corner of British society that has left possibly too big a mark on our thinking.”
What will contraception look like in the future? — Cosmopolitan
Could men be responsible for contraception in the future? A team of researchers in Manchester are part of a huge international effort to develop a male contraceptive that might level the playing field when it comes to sexual health. Dr Cheryl Fitzgerald, who is leading the research, says the new drug “could basically work in the same way the pill does” by switching off the testes rather than the ovaries. Among the couples testing the drugs, there have been no pregnancies and side effects were well tolerated.
Our to do list
📸 There’s a rock photography exhibition curated by Noel Gallagher and the photo historian Gail Buckland on the first floor of Manchester Central Library this week. It features Jill Furmanovsky’s portraits of Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Stormzy and Billie Eilish. It’s free to visit.
✏️ Material Source, a group of interior designers and architects based in Manchester city centre, are offering free life drawing sessions in their studio. Reserve a spot here.
🎶 Sound Baths, immersive, meditative experiences where you lie down and listen to resonant sounds, are ever popular, and there are now sunset sessions in Bollin Woods each month. Bring warm clothes, blankets, and get ready to relax. Tickets are £22.50.
🎸 Fenne Lily, a singer songwriter from Dorset, is performing at YES. She became a name in the folk scene thanks to her first album and her latest record, Big Picture, is supposed to be even better. A recent review of her new album says “her storytelling is still making us feel big, big emotions, wiggling its way into the vulnerable crevices of our hearts”. Tickets here.
🎭 The Manchester Shakespeare Company’s productions are filled with references to Marxist literature and annoying university students. This month, they’re showing Summer Dreaming, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the Empty Space in Salford. All of their performances feature neurodiverse actors and performers, and tickets are £14.
🧋 Hope Mill Theatre, a great indie arts venue tucked away on an industrial estate in Ancoats, is showing the iconic Grease this week. Premium tickets include a seat in a booth, plus a milkshake. Book here.
For an insider’s guide on where to be and what to see this Manchester weekend — which we send out every Thursday — hit the button below to join us as a member.