Dealing with piss stained old men and blind people can be disconcerting. Someone else should have to do with that. Perhaps a nurse or a social worker. For many this is a common reaction. For us in legal aid it can be another day at the office.'
Bruce is Australian and has been living here for 30 years. His father was born in County Down then emigrated. He's 80 now, and the house he lives in is falling to pieces around his ears.
Claude is legally blind and his kidney's packing up. He too has lived here off and on for 30 years, and has many children living in this country, who rarely visit him.
Ole was an accountant in Lagos, who came to London and married, and fathered children. The relationship broke down. Shortly afterwards he had a massive stroke.
All have a common legal problems, for all have no papers or have exceeded their leave to remain.
All lived in horrible conditions. Bathtubs filled with piss? No problem. Kitchens like a bomb site? What else. Stairs falling to pieces, basements filled with junk, I went and looked. No water, no electricity. It all stacked up. These places were worse than third world slums.
As a decent society we have doctors, social workers and housing officers to assist the infirm and the disabled. Unfortunately these three old men have allowed their immigration status to lapse decades ago, and although two have paid tax and national insurance, and one had an English grandfather, they are not entitled to any benefits, housing or, in Claude's case, renal dialysis that he was on the point of receiving.
What they do have at present is a right to receive free legal advice helping them to apply for leave to remain in the country, which may also be their right, or which might be granted on discretionary compassionate grounds. However under government proposals this right to advice will be removed, on the grounds that the procedures are transparent and simple. This of an immigration ministry compared recently by a senior Judge to a poorly run whelk stall.
Readers may have varying levels of tolerance in the abstract for foreigners who come here and then find themselves in a mess for whatever reason. But surely we can agree that when three people who between them have lived here almost a century need help, we should give it to them.
I explain to Claude that the reason he won't have a lawyer any more is that the system is so easy to deal with. His sightless eyes bulge in outrage. “That's rubbish!” he bellows, and signs our petition.