Jay Kramer reports on the Lift the Ban Coalition Gathering meeting, London on 3rd March 2020.
From Jay Kramer, Lead member for Hastings Community of Sanctuary Lift the Ban campaign.
On 3rd March, as our Hastings Community of Sanctuary representative, I attended the national Lift the Ban
Coalition Gathering, held at Amnesty International UK in London. The day started with a delicious vegan lunch,
networking, and a very amusing stand-up performance by an asylum seeker who has leave to remain giving a
satirical view of his experience. This set the tone for the day very effectively. It was a well attended meeting with
representatives from all over the country.
Update on 2019 Lift the Ban Campaign
A recent survey of coalition members confirmed ongoing commitment to continuing the campaign and its ongoing development. Everyone wanted to be part of formulating the next part of the strategy.
Panel discussion: “Voices from the Coalition”
Five panellists discussed their actions and experiences within the campaign. From Glasgow, we had a
description of a video on the Right to Work, and a discussion of the connection between not being able to work,
and homelessness and destitution. Diverse organisations have met together at Glasgow City Chambers to
develop the campaign.
Sisters United in Halifax is an organisation of women who have lived experience of claiming asylum. They tell
their stories and last year met with twelve Councillors, which resulted in a motion of support for the campaign
being agreed by the council. The speaker from this group was powerful in describing the loss of dignity and
confidence resulting from not being able to work as a person seeking asylum, and the difficulty in explaining this
when you do finally get your status and apply for jobs.
A Councillor from Lewisham described the process of passing the motion to support Lift the Ban, via their Labour
Group and then the (strongly Labour) council’s own agreement to the motion – a similar path to our own in
Hastings with Hastings Borough Council.
A speaker from the North East described getting motions through five different authorities including Stockton,
Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.
The final panellist was a policy adviser to Kate Green, MP, who is strongly supportive of the campaign. She
described Parliament as dysfunctional at the moment, although the coalition had been really helpful in raising the
profile of the campaign. Parliamentary questions have been asked and discussions have taken place with Yvette
Cooper, but there remains uncertainty as to where the campaign sits with the current Immigration Bill.
During questions to the panel, points were made concerning the social side of working, seen as a compelling
argument in terms of mental health; and also, that the new points-based system is unlikely to be enforced if there
are labour shortages in certain industries. I asked the panel what responses they had had to their motions. In
Lewisham, the Mayor wrote to the Home Secretary. In Calderdale, they lobbied all the councillors before the
motion was passed.
I would add here that I recently contacted both Hastings Borough Council (Labour majority), who voted in
summer 2019 to join the coalition, and East Sussex County Council (Tory majority), who voted in Autumn 2019 to
support the right to work after 6 months for people seeking asylum, to see what action had been taken. Neither
authority had actioned the motion; they have both now written to the Home Secretary.
Panel discussion: “The Political Context for Lifting the Ban”
Before the election, cross-party work was essential and effective. Now that the Government has such a large
majority, it no longer needs to listen. It was suggested that we build relationships with MPs, and to make local
connections in the constituency. It may be appropriate to approach other departments in Government, such as
the Treasury and the DWP. We also need to engage with opposition MPs, possibly via their researchers and
advisers. However, we need to be aware that the Home Office is currently bogged down with the post-Brexit
One of the panellists was from The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents 3,000
recruitment agencies in the UK, and which has signed up to the Lift the Ban coalition. Since 2013, agencies have
been struggling to find people for jobs across various sectors; for example, more men are needed in childcare
and more women going into engineering. In the ensuing discussion/questions, the link was made between
seeking asylum and modern slavery, which current immigration policy in fact facilitates.
Interactive workshop: “Parliamentary Engagement”
The workshop leaders Seb Klier from Refugee Council and Leo Verity from Refugee Action reinforced the fact
that the Home Secretary could change the right to work policy tomorrow by simply signing a form, and with no
new legislation. All the opposition parties supported right to work in their 2019 manifestos. The Home Office is
“reviewing” the policy, but no one understands what that means. The majority that the Conservative Government
has is comparable to 1987 under Thatcher, but there are 154 newly elected MPs, and this provides an
opportunity for fresh lobbying. We need to reach out to them at some point. The MP for Croydon is also the new
Asylum Minister under the Ministry of Justice. There was much discussion on the best way to contact your MP
and how to deal with ones who don’t respond. It was suggested turning up at surgeries and contacting MPs’
researchers and administrators.
After considering several suggestions for a final case study for the remaining part of the workshop, it was decided
to focus upon our own (new) MP for Hastings & Rye, Sally Ann Hart, to look at the various aspects of trying to engage an MP.
Conclusion and my recommendations arising from this national Lift the Ban Coalition meeting
The meeting was both positive and energetic, rather than ‘doom and gloom’. The view of the coalition is that we
carry on with the petitions and postcards. However, this issue is clearly now overshadowed by our current global
health crisis, and MPs will be focussing on this, so I suggest we put any further local action on hold at least until
the summer. We can plan for picking up our campaign at a time when MPs resume face-to-face meetings (which
I think are essential) and when they can give their attention to other matters than Covid-19.
However, one thing I have done, as our representative on the Lift the Ban campaign, is to check that measures
are in place for the mental and physical wellbeing of our asylum seeker community here in Hastings & St
Leonards. The Links project, which serves that community, has been completely closed, but is now contacting
people online and by phone and taking constant steps to ensure their survival and safety in the current crisis.
Thank you for reading my report. If you have any comments or questions, or want additional information, please
contact me on [email protected].
Jay Kramer, Hastings Community of Sanctuary National Campaign Team, Lead member for Lift the Ban.