UK government deletes report showing discriminatory policy on residential barge for asylum seekers News
Ashley Smith, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
UK government deletes report showing discriminatory policy on residential barge for asylum seekers

A UK government report released Wednesday detailing the discriminatory policy used to decide which asylum seekers can be housed on the Bibby Stockholm barge was subsequently deleted from the government website. Although the policy discriminated against asylum seekers on the grounds of age and sex, the government stated this discrimination was justified under provisions in the Equality Act 2010, which allows discrimination in certain situations.

Bibby Stockholm, a residential barge in Portland, is used to house a maximum of 500 asylum seekers while they go through the formal asylum-seeking process in the UK, a policy that has received criticism from human rights groups. A now-deleted report, “Portland Port: equality impact assessment,” assessed the policy used to decide who can be accommodated on the barge and how they are accommodated, in line with the government’s obligations under the Equality Act. This act states that public authorities must have due regard to “Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and any other conduct prohibited by the 2010 Act.”

The report analysed its approach to each protected characteristic under the Equality Act: age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race and gender reassignment. The two characteristics found to be approached in a discriminatory manner were age and sex.

Regarding age, the barge only accommodates single adult males between the ages of 18 and 65. While this is direct age discrimination as it treats those under 18 and over 65 less favourably because of a protected characteristic (age), this can be justified under Section 13(2) of the Equality Act if there is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This means the discriminatory effect of the policy must be balanced against the aim the government is trying to achieve. The report claimed their discriminatory approach was therefore justified as “There is a greater need to accommodate male asylum seekers in the 18-65 age range, therefore we are achieving a clear and legitimate aim.” Further, the report stated that the policy “ensur[ed] we meet our legal obligations to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute and to enable the move away from accommodating individuals in hotels, which is expensive and unsustainable.”

Following this, regarding sex, the barge only accommodates men, meaning women are directly discriminated against. The government justified this discrimination under Schedule 23(3) of the Equality Act, which allows sex discrimination in relation to communal accommodation. Communal accommodation is defined as “residential accommodation which includes dormitories or other shared sleeping accommodation which for reasons of privacy should be used only by persons of the same sex.” As the Bibby Stockholm barge falls under this definition, the government argued that their discriminatory policy was justified under these provisions. The report ensured that “female asylum seekers with the same need for accommodation and support will be provided with equivalent assistance at an alternative initial asylum accommodation or hotel.

The report concluded that the government was sufficiently complying with its obligations under the Equality Act. These assessments will be repeated quarterly unless there is a need to do so sooner.

Earlier this month, an asylum-seeker on board the Bibby Stockholm died. In response, several human rights organizations expressed their outrage over the use of the barge for asylum seekers.