Half Of Central London Homeless Are Eastern Europeans

Half of Central London Homeless are Eastern European (Update1)

By Kitty Donaldson

Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) — Half of the homeless people in central London come from Eastern Europe after immigration from the former communist bloc jumped 54 percent last year, reports show today.

The Westminster Council Rough Sleeping Unit said that of 119 homeless on the streets, 60 are from the eight former communist nations that joined the European Union in 2004. The number of people from those countries arriving to live in the U.K. rose to 80,000 in 2005 from 52,000 in 2004, a separate report from the Office for National Statistics shows.

“Many of them are exploited, their money and passports are taken by people when they arrive, who promise them work,'' Angela Harvey, housing spokeswoman for Westminster Council, said in a telephone interview. “The overwhelming majority just want to work'' and are unable to claim financial support under rules restricting benefits.

Britain's government, responding to concern that immigration is straining public services and depressing wages, said last week they will restrict the flow of workers from Bulgaria and Romania when those nations join the EU in January. Unemployment in the U.K. touched a six-year high after more than 400,000 Eastern Europeans received work permits since 2004.

Rising Migration

In all, Britain's net inward migration fell to 185,000 last year from a record 223,000 the year before. An estimated 380,000 people left the U.K. in 2005, equivalent to an average 1,000 a day of people a day moving abroad. More than half were British citizens, the statistics office report says.

Danny Sriskandarajah, associate director of the London-based Institute for Public Policy Research, said the challenge for policy makers “will be to make the most of increased mobility, not pander to reactionary opinion by trying to curb flows.''

Today's figures from the statistics office are based on Home Office immigration data and the government's survey of passengers arriving and departing from ports and airports. They showed the net level of inward migration from countries that joined to the EU in 2004, which subtracts those who returned home, rose to 64,000 in 2005 from 49,000 in 2004.

According to a separate report conducted by British Library researchers for Westminster Council, the areas worst affected reported a 10 percent increase in crime committed by Eastern Europeans.

Drink and Drugs

International rail and bus termini, particularly Victoria coach station, “make Westminster the arrival point for many low- income people coming to London,'' according to the report. It found London hosts an “active drugs market'' and there are “high levels of street handouts or soup runs.''

The report said that one third of all homeless interviewed were regular drinkers and one sixth of them are drugs users.

Last week the U.K. home office announced restrictions on work visas to Bulgarians and Romanians, signaling a partial reversal of its open-door immigration policy. Visas will be issued as they are now for people from outside the EU. People who are highly-skilled, self-employed, and up to 19,750 agricultural workers from the two nations will be allowed in each year.

Romanian gangs commit 80 percent to 85 percent of all crime at cash machines, the Sun newspaper reported yesterday, citing a memo compiled by immigration minister Liam Byrne and Europe minister Geoff Hoon, shown to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary John Reid.

Three-quarters of British voters want tougher immigration controls while 23 percent want the rules relaxed or maintained, according to a survey of 975 adults conducted by Ipsos Mori Ltd. on Aug. 13.

The government defended its immigration policy, saying the influx of migrant workers had boosted the economy and helped to hold down wages.

“People have to ask themselves what the impact would be if we didn't have the contribution that migration is making to inflation and to the jobs market, where there are still 600,000 vacancies,'' Tom Kelly, Blair's spokesman, told reporters in London.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at Kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net .