Councils facing 100m bill to care for sick and destitute migrants
'Tens of thousands' left in limbo without state aid
Home Office should pay, authorities tell Reid
Diane Taylor and Hugh Muir
Thursday March 8, 2007
Councils across England and Wales have been left with a 100m bill because they are for caring for sick and destitute migrants left unsupported by the state.
The home secretary, John Reid, is facing demands from more than 100 councils who blame “chaotic” government immigration procedures for leaving them to support migrants assessed as having “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF). These include thousands of failed asylum seekers, migrants sponsored to enter the UK, some overseas students and others in ill health, including many who have HIV.
Twenty-four hours after Mr Reid announced another crackdown on illegal immigrants – tightening the system to deny them benefits and urging them to leave by sending them text messages – it emerged that his officials have no idea how many have NRPF. Voluntary agencies estimate that the figure runs into tens of thousands and accuse the Home Office of parading a tough line on rejecting asylum claims while failing to mention this “statistically invisible” group.
Though the government can wash its hands of NRPF migrants, the councils fear that the human rights of the needy migrants are being breached and that they will face costly legal challenges if they do not get help. They cite eight pieces of legislation which oblige them to act as a safety net, paying for accommodation, social care and education costs without any mechanism to recover that expenditure. Some have been asking for reimbursement for three years.
Officials say that rather than just rejecting asylum claims and then leaving people in limbo, the Home Office should give leave to remain to those who have a right to be here – thereby entitling them to services from the public purse – and remove those who do not. “This is the unacceptable impact of a government policy that seeks to place the onus on people to leave the UK on a voluntary basis and to use destitution to encourage people to leave,” says a document produced by the councils.
One official, who declined to be named, said they are seeing “destitution on a mass scale”. He added: “It is all the result of the Home Office's immigration policies. We feel we have to help but it is the government that should be picking up the tab. For a borough to lose 2m or more from an average social care budget of 6m is significant. This could be resolved if the Home Office acknowledged the mess it has caused and gave councils a specific grant.” Merrick Cockell, chair of the umbrella group London Councils, said: “Substantial amounts of money are coming from the pockets of local council taxpayers. This is a national government problem.”
The Home Office has pledged to increase removals from the UK but last night a spokeswoman said it would also address the funding issue. “The Home Office has recently agreed to establish a working group with local authorities to discuss a range of issues including the cost of supporting this group who are destitute.”
Immigration, asylum and refugees
Immigration, asylum and refugees: archived articles
Home Office: Immigration and Nationality Directorate
Human Rights Watch: refugees
International Committee of the Red Cross: refugees
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants