Why I can't (won't) tell the Home Office what to do
To quote: "UKBA have agreed to respond to the key points which will emerge from the conference – and has asked that we include how we as practitioners can be involved in the solutions."
So, the general objective is for organisations working with refugees is to tell the Home Office what we want it to do, whilst also pointing out how we can help them do it.
Two problems here. For a start, these organisations are doing a chunk of their work on Home Office funds. Both the Refugee Council and TimeBank hold contracts that pay them to deliver Home Office prescribed services using Home Office money. Now I'm not saying these services are bad, or that they are delivered badly (although let me be clear, I'm not saying they are good either). But there has to be a question of independence. How keen are they really going to be to tell the Home Office what they're doing wrong? How concerned are they going to be about keeping their contracts in the future?
Second, with even the 'supported rate' for voluntary organisations at £133 plus VAT, not to mention the cost of the travel down to London, there aren't going to be all that many regional organisations present who are working with refugees. In Newcastle alone, we have, off the top of my head, 7 organisations that work exclusively with refugees and asylum seekers (with many more targeting them amongst other groups). Two of them are under significant risk of going under in the next few weeks, due to lack of funding. Two of them are supported massively by church congregations, one is a branch of a major national charity, another holds a bunch of Home Office contracts. I'm fairly certain that at this conference, there will be no significant representation from Newcastle's refugee serving VCS. I imagine this will be similar for other regions.
Why? Because on what little money I have to run my organisation, I can justify neither the time nor the money to go and tell the Home Office how to do their job, so that they in turn can use that to try and tell me how to do mine. And to be frank, why I should pay to do this is beyond me. (I should add, that even if I thought it the most important thing to go to that conference, I would still be unable to finance it from our ever dwindling budget. And also, that they would never fund my organisation even if I wanted them to. Probably this rather bumps me down the list of people that they'd want there anyway - I am, after all, not very important at all!)
We seem to have lost sight of the fact that our job is to address social inequalities, to stop them, to work ourselves out of a job. We can't do that if we are in the pockets of the system that is compounding those problems. I find it harder and harder to defend the claim that Phil Woolas made all those weeks back that enraged me, regarding NGOs 'playing the system'.
I know that these organisations like the Refugee Council and TimeBank and those working in them, actually care. I know that they want to support refugees and asylum seekers and to promote their interests. But are they willing and able to truly defend those interests? Sooner or later, we are going to have to look at them and ask, are they really in the best position to hold our government to account for the way they treat asylum seekers? And if not, then who is going to step up to the plate and do it instead?