Police “alarm bells are ringing” over a benefits squeeze which could see as many as 40,000 people from the East Riding migrate to cheaper housing in Hull, potentially re-igniting racial tensions in the city.
There are fears the influx of new residents could swamp vital services, increase crime, and cause those without jobs to turn on ethnic minorities.
Experts said that key organisations such as the NHS are not geared up for the increased demand for services for what police are calling a “hidden community” growing within the city. Concern was also growing that because of its empty council houses and cheap private rents, Hull was already becoming a popular selection for asylum seekers from all over the North.
Humberside Police want to draw up a policing strategy to deal with the changing demographics and population, brought about in part by the Government as it seeks to encourage people back to work by clamping down on housing benefit and other payments.
The force is planning a regular series of meetings with community leaders to help it stay on top of policing the city, which saw notable examples of asylum seekers becoming targets of hate crime in the past decade.
Hull Council has a team looking at the possible fall-out from the cuts – which the authority estimates could also lead to people flocking into the city from the East Riding.
Officials have said that capping housing benefit could force 40,000 living in the private rented sector to hand in the keys and move to cheaper homes in Hull.
Humberside Police head of youth and community cohesion Adil Khan said: “We are a city which has always suffered in terms of deprivation.
“This really does set the alarm bells ringing in terms of policing.
“People will ask ‘Where do we turn?’.”
Newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Grove said that while there had been no repeat so far of previous incidents of migrants being targeted in hate crimes there was a need “to confront bigotry at a very early stage”.
But he insisted there was also an upside to the changes – including the fact there was a lot of under-occupied housing and the shake-up would free up rooms for rent that would not have been available to young people before.
He also underlined that the Government approach was designed to wean people off benefits and encourage a more positive attitude to work.
“The welfare system has trapped far too many people in poverty for far too long.
“The aim is to encourage people to become more aspirational.
“There are definite risks – but there are also opportunities.”
However, Divisional Commander Rick Procter said they needed a tactical response to rising crime which included mapping of various communities including the “refugees” created by the benefit changes.
Pastor Isaac Aleshinloye, who runs the Amazing Grace Chapel, in Beverley Road said asylum seekers were being “dumped” on Hull from areas as diverse as London, Birmingham and Bradford.
He continued: “Some of the refugees we have in the city are asylum seekers and more and more have been coming to our church over the past six months than seven or eight years ago.
“It is a very cheap area to live and they are being dumped here and spread across the city.”
He knew of one woman with children, for example, who did not even have access to a doctor’s surgery and she was being passed from pillar to post by the authorities every time she tried to sign up for one.
“I don’t think the police have a clue what they’re going through,” he added.