Author: Bill Tanner
The voluntary system for housing asylum seekers is close to collapse as a key Commons committee warns of councils pulling out because they can’t carry the cost.
Issues identified by the Home Affairs Select Committee indicate local government as having lost confidence in the scheme – with many councils weighing up whether to stop participating on the basis of disproportionate costs and pressures.
The committee concedes that if such support be lost, government would find itself in “severe difficulties”.
And the resulting report presses the Home Office to show “greater urgency” in dealing with the “degrading conditions” in which asylum seekers are housed.
Under the dispersal scheme, councils sign up voluntarily to house asylum seekers.
“The government must therefore accept that it is not unreasonable for authorities who have, in many cases, supported dispersal for the best part of two decades and have carried a disproportionate share of the unfunded costs and pressures, to request more equitable treatment,” the committee’s report said.
“It has reached the point where local authorities are contemplating withdrawal.”
A report from the same committee last year found asylum seekers are concentrated in a small number of areas, placing pressure on local schools and healthcare services.
The latest assessment said the number of asylum seekers accommodated under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 at any one time has increased steadily since 2012 – without a corresponding increase in the number of participating councils.
Stats in the previous report showed that in September 2016, 121 authorities out of 453 (27%) had section 95 asylum accommodation within their boundaries.
As of last month, 150 authorities had come forward offering to take part, with 129 participating, according to figures given to the committee.
The report also said the Home Office needs to show “greater urgency” about the “degrading conditions” in which vulnerable people are being housed.
SNP MP Stuart McDonald, a member of the committee, said: “Two years on from the last home affairs report into asylum accommodation, there has been very little evidence of improvement.
“Local authorities have lost confidence in the system because the government has failed to listen and respond to their concerns.
“Glasgow, Manchester, Wolverhampton and communities across the UK have done so much to support those seeking asylum in the UK.
“Yet, the government has done little to support them,” he said.
The Home Office said it is engaging with areas that to date have not participated in asylum dispersal, with a view to negotiating agreements to do so – many areas make contributions to other schemes such as refugee resettlement.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We also monitor contractors and their accommodation closely and take action – including financial penalties – where issues are not addressed within certain timescales.
“We continue to work closely with local authorities on asylum dispersal and have committed to comprehensive engagement with the Local Government Association and local authority chief executives to review the process.”