SCOTLAND'S Children's Commissioner has waded into a row with the Home Office over the housing of pregnant asylum seekers in "dehumanising" conditions in Glasgow.

The UK government and its housing contractor Mears has been accused of "violating children’s human rights" by accommodating pregnant women and new mothers in hotel accommodation in the city.

As told by our sister title The Herald last month, some 10 women had been placed in McLays Guest House without, it was alleged by charities, adequate food or space to tend to their newborns.

Conditions in the B&B were first raised by the charity Positive Action in Housing, which has been lobbying for long term housing to be found for the women.

Glasgow Times: Positive Action in HousingPositive Action in Housing (Image: Positive Action in Housing)

Now the office of the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland has taken up the cause, calling the conditions in the hotel "gravely concerning".

Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said: "Human rights are universal. 

"They apply to all children without exception, and regardless of immigration status. 

"It is gravely concerning that there are reports of pregnant mothers and infants being housed in hotel rooms and without the financial support they need. 

READ MORE: Pregnant women housed in 'dehumanising' Glasgow asylum accommodation

"Hotel accommodation is completely unsuitable for children and families and should only be used on a short-term basis in an emergency."

Mr Hobbs stressed the urgency of the situation, adding: "The Mears Group must act immediately to move these families out of this precarious, vulnerable situation and into suitable accommodation. 

"Failure to do so would violate the children’s human rights with severe impacts on health, education and development that can last throughout childhood and into adulthood."

Glasgow Times: Positive Action in HousingPositive Action in Housing (Image: Positive Action in Housing)

Pregnant women and new mothers had previously been housed in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Glasgow's Southside, but this was closed in May following a campaign by a coalition of charities backed by the children's commissioner.

The intention had been for women and children to be moved to flatted accommodation but Mears said a lack of suitable homes in the community had forced the use of hotels.

As with Positive Action in Housing, the charity Amma Birth Companions has been working directly with women in McLays Guest House and in other hotels across the city.

Beti Brown, Peer Support Coordinator, and Helen Sheriff, Perinatal Service Manager, described conditions in the hotel as wholly unsuitable and designed to be used for emergencies only, rather than long term accommodation.

They said the issue is growing rapidly and they have concerns about the long term impact on those they support.

READ MORE: Glasgow charity launches 'warm room' with homemade blankets

Ms Brown said: "You cannot live comfortably and safety in institutionalised accommodation, which is what this is.

"I think people hear the word 'hotel' and they think it's fancy; it's not that kind of hotel and, actually, the reality is that even if it was a really lovely hotel, having no control over your environment or autonomy or control over your living situation is actually deeply dehumanising at any point in your life let alone when people are pregnant.

"You're living in chronic uncertainty that's bad for every part of your life. 

"You can't live like that comfortably while also trying to keep this tiny new creature alive that you've just given birth to.

"It's just a deeply dehumanising situation to keep anyone in, particularly a new parent who's going through this transitional phase in their life."

Ms Brown and Ms Sheriff described families they support with more than one child living in a hotel room, leaving no personal space for older children to have privacy or to study.

While living in fully catered accommodation, people seeking asylum are given £1 a day to live on with new mothers entitled to an additional £8.24 a week - doubling their budget to just over £2 a day to provide for their babies. 

Ms Brown said that increasing the payment would give women more dignity and choice, and that access to cooking equipment would be an important improvement.

In hotels, residents have no access to kitchens, which means women expressing breast milk have nowhere to store it.

Ms Brown said: "You can make formula in the rooms but it's not cheap and we shouldn't be encouraging situations where it's safer for you to make formula than it is to breastfeed." 

Issues have also been raised about the quality of food during pregnancy and the lack of space in hotel rooms.

Ms Sheriff spoke of a mum bathing her newborn in a baby bath balanced on a lavatory as it was the only available space while a new mother The Herald spoke to said she was co-sleeping with her infant only because there was no room for a cot.

Robina Qureshi, CEO of Positive Action in Housing, described the conditions of one of the women her charity is supporting.

She said: "The room is a crowded fire hazard, and boiling kettles are crammed next to food and washing tabs and open cartons of food on Soraya's table. 

"The mother’s condition has deteriorated considerably, especially her mental health, and the baby cries continuously. 

"She has nowhere to put the baby’s items and has refused a pram as there is nowhere to put it and is therefore confined to the room 24/7." 

The hotels are a mixed-sex environment and the charity said many of its clients have experienced sexual violence or human trafficking, making housing with unknown men further unsuitable. 

Glasgow Times: Positive Action in HousingPositive Action in Housing (Image: Positive Action in Housing)

Ms Brown added: "This situation is not an accident. 

"It's part of a pattern of behaviour, a pattern of policy designed to make people miserable. It's designed to tell people, not only you are not welcome here, but to get them to tell other people that it's awful here and not to come."

A Home Office spokesperson said the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is "unacceptable" while Mears said that a property shortage made finding appropriate accommodation difficult.

The Home Office representative said: "The use of hotels to house asylum seekers, including pregnant women and mothers of newborns, is unacceptable and we are working closely with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation across the United Kingdom."

A Mears spokesperson described hotel use as "contingency accommodation" being used by the Home Office across the UK but said pregnant service users are prioritised for moves. Glasgow Times: Positive Action in HousingPositive Action in Housing (Image: Positive Action in Housing)

He added: "Due to the rise in the number of people seeking asylum and an acute shortage of suitable accommodation in the community, hotels are being used as contingency accommodation by the Home Office across the UK.    

"This includes accommodation for pregnant service users where this is needed, while we arrange suitable alternative accommodation.    

"All rooms being used meet Home Office requirements and families also have access to communal areas."