Friday 6 July 2012

Homeless charities respond to 'misleading' claim hostels are 'full of Somalis and Poles'

Last month, a blogpost by Allan Mallinson in the RightMinds section of MailOnline appeared under the headline:

He said:

I had known that perhaps up to 25% of the homeless were veterans, a disturbing enough statistic.

He told the story of Stephen, who had been in the army for 17 years. Mallinson wrote:

He had been to SSAFA, to Citizens Advice etc, who signposted him on, and then to ‘Shelter’. And here’s where the story really begins to disgust – to say the least.

He said that all the civilian shelters were full of Somalis and Poles – which my friend tells me, according to her colleagues in the charity sector, is true, except that in rural areas it is more Somalis than Poles.

Jeremy Swain, chief executive of the homelessness charity Thames Reach, left a comment under the post calling it 'grossly misleading'. He then wrote to the PCC to complain:

"I wish to put in a complaint concerning a Daily Mail article headlined ‘As thousands of servicemen are made redundant, how many will be turned away from homeless shelters that are packed full of immigrants’.

I believe this article breaches both section 1 on accuracy and section 12 on discrimination of the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice for Editors. These stipulate that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information and that the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to people’s race or nationality.

I strongly support efforts to help British armed services veterans to escape homelessness, but this article misrepresents and distorts what is really happening in respect to the total number of homeless veterans and who is entitled to live in hostels for the homeless, whilst inciting racial hatred.

The article is inaccurate on a number of different points:

It suggests that up to 25 per cent of the homeless were armed forces veterans – the latest data for London compiled by outreach workers across the capital indicates that 6%, not 25% of rough sleepers have a background in the armed forces. Furthermore, approximately half of these rough sleepers actually served in the armed forces of Central and Eastern European countries.

See link for details of the rough sleeping Chain data for London’s rough sleepers which contains this information.

Elsewhere, the article suggests 'the civilian shelters were full of Somalis and Poles'. This is inaccurate as whilst many people from overseas end up sleeping rough, they cannot access homeless hostel bed spaces as they have no rights to the benefits which would pay their rent. Quite simply, unless someone has paid national insurance contributions for over a year, they won't be found accommodation in hostels and other ways of helping them are being sought within the homelessness sector. Hostels are not 'full of Somalis and Poles' as the article’s author states. Indeed they make up a very tiny minority of the hostel population.

The article then states that 'unless you have an address you cannot receive benefits' which adds to the impression that veterans are doubly disadvantaged as they are left on the street and unable to claim benefit. This is an urban myth. People sleeping rough are entitled to benefits if they are UK citizens and can provide appropriate identification.

The article then suggests 'charities are being overwhelmed by immigrant need to the exclusion of our own'. This is simply not the case. Homeless hostels only cater for those entitled to benefits which include British army veterans. Additionally some local authorities such as Southwark, Edinburgh, Wandsworth and Westminster are introducing or have introduced additional clauses to give priority to ex-services personnel which gives them priority to housing.

This article is wholly inaccurate and in my view is intended to create an impression of entitlement to services which benefit some national groups (Somalis and Poles) at the expense of services personal from the UK. As such it is likely to lead to racial discrimination against non-UK nationals and possibly assaults on people from central and eastern Europe and other parts of the world who are vulnerable through living destitute on our streets."

Inside Housing reports that five complaints have been sent to the PCC, and:

Forty homelessness organisations signed a letter to Daily Mail Online refuting the blog’s claims.

Their letter stated:

‘To imply that veterans are being denied help because hostels are “overwhelmed by immigrant need” is misleading’.

The RightMinds blog has already published an article from Matt Harrison, director of the charity Homeless Link, challenging Mallinson. Will the PCC regard that as sufficient remedy?

(Hat-tip to Ivan)

UPDATE (14 July): Mallinson's article was updated yesterday, and two bullet point corrections were added to the end. They say:

  • An earlier version of this article stated that an address is required to claim benefits. We are happy to point out that this is, in fact, incorrect. Homeless people can claim benefits without having a formal residence.
  • We are also happy to point out that a 2008 report by the Royal British Legion puts the estimate of homeless people with armed services' backgrounds at 6%.

Meanwhile, the sentence that originally read:

He said that all the civilian shelters were full of Somalis and Poles – which my friend tells me, according to her colleagues in the charity sector, is true, except that in rural areas it is more Somalis than Poles.

Has suddenly become:

He said that in all the civilian shelters there were Somalis and Poles – which my friend tells me, according to her colleagues in the charity sector, is true. 

This has been very quietly changed - but surely this change should be noted in a bullet point at the end too. Moreover, why has the MailOnline not also changed the claim in the headline that homeless shelters are 'packed full of immigrants'?


  1. The rephrasing of that paragraph is now even odder, why does it matter that there are some Somalis or Poles in homeless shelters?

  2. They spread hatred with a megaphone then retract it with a whisper to cover their backs. Well done Jeremy for calling them on it. Maff Potts, PeopleCan

  3. Hopefully after Leveson the Daily Heil will no longer be able to get away with this blatant bullshit.

  4. Indeed. By the same token why not note that 'in all shelters, there are white people of UK descent'? It's just as 'valid' a point to make after all, as one which states that Poles and Somalis can be found in "all" shelters [presumably each was checked].

  5. Drip Drip Drip. Like Winterval it is now out there as accepted fact for the Mad Mels and Richard Littlejohns to repeat ad nauseum. The edits and possible bottom of page two correction will mean nothing.

  6. The greatest achievement of our wonderful, wonderful free press - creating its own reality, regardless of observed facts.


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