Food provided to asylum seekers accommodated in a hotel near Cranbrook is so poor that children are going hungry and some residents are suffering from malnutrition.

A number of families, many with children, have been placed at the Hampton by Hilton hotel while awaiting asylum or residency applications to be determined. A contractor for the Home Office is providing their meals.

What councillors' visit found

Three local councillors who have visited the hotel reported back to East Devon District Council’s Cabinet on Wednesday, July 12. They said the food was ‘woefully unappetising’ and in particular the residents will not eat the chicken: ‘according to all those that we spoke to the meat stinks and they do not believe it is safe or good to eat’. There was ‘a lack variety and no provision of fresh vegetables or salads to ensure a healthy and balanced diet’.

The councillors – Kevin Blakey and Kim Bloxham (both Cranbrook) and Jess Bailey (county councillor for the Otter Valley) also said there was no provision for people with special dietary needs or those whose culture or religion forbids them from eating meat.

Their report to the Cabinet said: “Some of those we spoke to reported increasing illness and weight loss. In short, many are suffering from malnutrition. This is not about quantity, it is about the quality, nutritional balance and cultural acceptability of what is offered.”

They questioned why the food is being shipped in from a supplier believed to be in the Midlands, rather than being sourced from a local provider at the same cost.

Medical and transport concerns

The meeting also heard from Aynsley Jones, Cranbrook Community Hub Manager, who agreed that the food was substandard, and raised additional concerns about medical care and transport. She said ‘Untrained hotel staff were still triaging medical appointments resulting in residents suffering and not getting the medical attention they required. Multiple hotel management changes resulted in misinformation or fear. There was no shuttle bus to Exeter or Pinhoe surgery and no provision of over the counter medication. The taxi company used was ineffective with an average waiting time of four hours. There was no chaperone on the school bus even with some children being as young as four years old. There was no transport for residents to leave the hotel.”

School is feeding hungry asylum seekers' children

The headteacher of Cranbrook Education Campus, where 48 pupils are asylum seekers, said the children are arriving at school hungry.

Stephen Farmer said the school is part of the Ted Wragg Trust, which is funding free school meals for the asylum seekers.

He told the Herald: “We’re also giving them extra breakfast and extra snacks at the end of the day and they’re eating everything they’re given, so they’re clearly hungry. They are being offered food at the hotel, but it’s a question of what’s on offer and it being similar all the time.”

He also expressed concern about the isolation of the hotel, the lack of access to green spaces and the transport problems. However, he said both school staff and the wider local community have been ‘brilliant’ at welcoming the asylum seekers, providing donations and other support, and that there has been excellent partnership work between local organisations including Devon County Council.

Council to raise concerns with Home Office

At the EDDC Cabinet meeting councillors agreed to write to the Home Office expressing their concerns about the conditions at the Hampton by Hilton Hotel. They also resolved to use up to £217,000 provided by the Government to meet asylum seekers’ local needs on ‘welfare support, transport, kitchens, food contract, healthcare and medication, fridges, hotel management, safeguarding, insurance concerning the use of kitchens and infant food’.

Cllr Jess Bailey told the Herald: “I am ashamed of the way the Conservative Government is treating people seeking asylum in the hotel. The Home Office is fully aware of the problems - which shockingly includes children going hungry - yet are not fixing the problems. I think people would be horrified if they knew what was actually happening on their own doorstep.”

What the Home Office said

A spokesperson for the Home Office told the Herald: “We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day.

“We engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation and work to ensure arrangements are safe for hotel residents and local people. 

“We are working closely to listen to the local communities’ views and reduce the impact of sites, including through providing onsite security and financial support.”

The Home Office added that it does not comment on commercial arrangements for individual sites used for asylum accommodation. But it said:

“All asylum seekers in hotels are provided with full board accommodation with three meals a day served as well as all other essentials, including cash payments where eligible. Asylum seekers are not detained at hotels and are free to leave their accommodation.

“Our current asylum system is under extreme pressure and costing the country £3 billion a year and rising, including around £6 million a day on hotel accommodation. 

“The 51,000 figure includes all asylum seekers in temporary accommodation, including hotels as well as initial accommodation. 

“We continue to ensure the accommodation provided is safe, secure, leaves no one destitute and is appropriate for an individual’s needs.”