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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 September 2006, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
London: A flawed policy
Zia Trench
Zia Trench
Politics Show London

A man sleeping rough
Dreams of wealth can shatter in depravation

When the government opened the doors to people from other countries in Europe, to work here, they imposed a condition.

People could work, but could not claim any benefits, or access public services until they had worked here for at least 12 months.

It seems fair enough.

The government did not want people from central and Eastern Europe having any impact on the public purse.

So, we have done pretty well out of this policy - benefiting greatly, as charities estimate economic migrants have added 240m to our economy.

This is fantastic - both for the migrants and us.

Only there is a sizeable (and growing) minority that are not able to find work and because of the government policy of "no help" are then destitute and relying on charity for survival.

To get an idea of how many people are coming to London, I went to Victoria coach station.

False paradise

This is where 67 coaches arrive each week from Poland alone.

In the half hour I was there, four coaches arrived from towns in Poland.

There was a young man at a hotel booking desk, sitting behind signs in Polish.

He said that, each day, he deals with eastern European migrants who do not speak a single word of English.

Ewa, who works for the Barka Foundation, a charity in Poland that helps alleviate poverty, told me she was not surprised.

She said that since Poland joined Europe in May 2004, the press had been writing all these success stories about Poles going to London and becoming rich. "We think England will be paradise," she says.

Obviously it is not. Certainly not, when you cannot speak a word of English.

High church, high hopes

That night, an interpreter and I visited the rear of Westminster Cathedral where the Simon Community was giving out free food and hot drinks.

More than half the people there were from the former Soviet block countries.

Westminster Cathedral
The Cathedral is a stark contrast to the deprivation on its doorstep each night

Most would not be filmed because they had told friends and family back home, that they were working and did not want to be seen living on the streets.

But we did find one guy from the Czech Republic, Marek, who said that he would love to work, but could not even fill out forms for jobs.

I could not help asking him, if he really thought it would be easy to come here and work without speaking the language.

He said, he had nothing at home and nothing to go back to, and quite frankly, it was better to be homeless on the streets here, than where he came from.

Poet in motion

One man who will really stick in my mind, was an elderly Englishman called Mark.

He said he was a poet and had taken on a fatherly role in the homeless community.

I watched the way he joked and chatted to these migrants, worked through the language barrier and thought he set an example of open-minded, decency.

These guys - even the intimidating-looking ones, are vulnerable and scared.

Would you not be in a foreign land, out on the streets, with a back-pack to your name and not even speaking the language?

Short-term, the Barka Foundation and other charities want and help and advice desk for economic migrants set up at Victoria Coach Station.

But long-term, local authorities want one government department to take on this issue and a national action plan to prevent these migrants becoming destitute.

Also in the programme...

On the buses

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Single fares, for buses, will be double if paid in cash rather than if paid by Oyster.

We look at whether the success of the Oyster card scheme in London, has meant that London's poor are being unfairly hit.

The Politics Show London

Join the Politics Show team on Sunday 17 September 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

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