Immigration Bill

Written evidence submitted by Migration Yorkshire (IB 26)

Introduction

1. Migration Yorkshire is the strategic migration partnership for Yorkshire and the Humber. Migration Yorkshire works with national government, local government, and others to ensure that Yorkshire and Humber can deal with, and benefit from, migration. We work with agencies across the statutory, voluntary, community and private sectors to help support the delivery of high quality services to migrants in a way that benefits everyone living in local communities.

2. Our submission concerns ‘Support for certain categories of migrant’ (Clause 34 and Schedule 6 of the Immigration Bill 2015-16) which repeals Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (provision of accommodation for failed asylum-seekers, etc) and introduces Section 95a ‘Support for failed asylum-seekers, etc who are unable to leave UK’ in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

3. We welcome the opportunity to comment on the potential implications of the clauses in the Immigration Bill 2015-16 to reform support for refused asylum seekers at a local level and for our partner organisations in Yorkshire and Humber. We have drawn on our recent consultation with these partner agencies in relation to the Home Office consultation on this proposed policy.

4. Migration Yorkshire is disappointed that the Immigration Bill 2015-16 includes the policy change in relation to support for refused asylum seekers in exactly the same way as it was presented in the Home Office consultation ‘Reforming support for failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants.’ [1] The Home Office consultation closed on 9 September 2015 and has not published any results or response to the consultation to date; we infer that the Bill introduced just 6 working days later was not influenced by the results of this consultation. Clearly we are disappointed that a Home Office consultation process involving many organisations who responded quickly to the unusually short timescale (5 weeks over a holiday period) does not appear to have any genuine bearing upon the introduction of the policy into legislation, despite Cabinet Office guidance that states ‘Engagement should begin early in policy development when the policy is still under consideration and views can genuinely be taken into account.’ [2]

Summary

5. Migration Yorkshire does not support the repeal of Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the introduction of Section 95a in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 as its replacement, as proposed under Clause 34 and Schedule 6 of the Immigration Bill 2015-16 ‘Support for certain categories of migrant’. Migration Yorkshire and our partners are convinced that removing support from refused asylum seekers will force people into desperate situations and result in indirect costs to local authorities and other services. It will not result in any significant increased returns.

6. We are also concerned about the impacts of these changes in our region that will be felt in particular by refused asylum seekers, local host communities, statutory and voluntary organisations. Key issues of concern apparent in Yorkshire and the Humber include the following:

· Local impacts of withdrawing support for refused asylum seekers such as increased destitution, severing of contact between refused asylum seekers and public authorities, preventable health problems, an increase in the use of illegal accommodation, illegal working, and subsequent exploitation.

· Specific concerns around changing support arrangements for refused asylum seeking families. There will inevitably be an exacerbation of the tension between different statutory duties performed by local authorities which is particularly disheartening in relation to the duties of safeguarding vulnerable children which should take precedent over immigration status. Ultimately this could lead to missed opportunities to safeguard the vulnerable and to prevent potential tragedy in individual cases. There will be additional costs for local authorities in relation to assessment and legal challenges, more looked after children, and more children missing education.

· Localised, uneven and disproportionate effects of withdrawing support from refused asylum seekers upon local communities, particularly in the larger towns and cities of those areas in the North of England participating in the asylum dispersal scheme. We are concerned about the added pressure on the voluntary and community sector at a time where austerity has brought immense pressure upon services dealing with their existing client groups, and the potential for increased tensions within and between local communities due to resource competition and misunderstandings about refused asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.

· The broader strategic impact upon the relationship between central and local government in relation to current and future participation in asylum and refugee schemes, since in practice the withdrawal of support for refused asylum seekers is expected to be merely a transfer from central to local government costs, experienced disproportionally among those local authorities already hosting asylum seekers in their respective areas.

7. As a partnership organisation, Migration Yorkshire has consistently worked constructively with the Home Office as well as our other partners and stakeholders, and we intend to do so in the future. In the spirit of constructive dialogue, we strongly encourage government to consider alternative options that provide a front-loaded asylum process and to adopt realistic expectations about the unwillingness of many refused asylum seekers to return to their country of origin regardless of their living conditions in the UK.

8. Ultimately, Migration Yorkshire believes that it is in everyone’s interest that refused asylum seekers should be left in their Home Office accommodation until they are removed from the UK. Only in this way will local statutory and voluntary services, alongside the Home Office, know where people are and so be able to respond to them to achieve effective outcomes.

Detailed response

Removing support for failed asylum seekers by repealing Section 4

9. Migration Yorkshire and our partners are convinced that removing support from refused asylum seekers will force people into desperate situations and result in indirect costs to local authorities and other public services. It is unlikely to result in any significant increased returns as per the apparent aim of the policy.

10. We anticipate that the impacts of removing support are likely to include the following:

· Most refused asylum seekers will prefer to remain in the UK even without support, than return to the situations from which they fled. Many new asylum seekers in this region are from unstable and dangerous states such as Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria. [3]

· More refused asylum seekers will become destitute.

· An increase in the number of destitute individuals in the towns and cities of the region - with all the attendant health and cohesion issues this will bring - is likely to disproportionately affect the larger cities (such as Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford) that already have numbers of destitute people sleeping rough and presenting challenges to local statutory and voluntary services.

· Local agencies will lose contact with these refused asylum seekers, who will have very little incentive to stay in touch with the authorities once support is withdrawn.

· Unsupported refused asylum seekers will feel compelled to use illegal forms of accommodation, stay in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions or on friends’ floors potentially putting these friends in breach of their tenancy agreements.

· Unsupported refused asylum seekers will feel compelled to undertake illegal forms of employment to survive where the risks of exploitation and abuse are high, and even turn to minor crime in order to support themselves.

11. There is no evidence that ‘behaviour change’ is likely, and indeed previous evidence suggests that it is unlikely. To risk street homelessness and exploitation on an unfounded proposition is dangerous and irresponsible with profound risks.

12. Under the present system, appeals against Home Office refusals to provide Section 4 support are often successful. We believe that whatever reforms to the provision of asylum support may be made, the right of appeal against a refusal to grant support must be upheld.

Changes to support arrangements for refused asylum seekers with children

13. Changes to support arrangements for refused asylum seekers with children have generated more concern and comment from our partners than any other.

14. The implications of these proposals for families, and particularly for the children, are immense. Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 requires the Home Office to carry out its existing functions in a way that takes into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK. It is difficult to see how the current proposals do this.

15. As expected in relation to refused asylum seekers more generally, we believe removing support from refused asylum seeking families will not encourage many of those families to leave the UK (nor are they likely to be removed by the Home Office, assuming the removals system will remain the same). No matter how difficult living conditions are made for asylum seekers here, it will not overcome their real or their perceived fears about what would happen to them if they return to their country of origin. This point is well evidenced by the ‘Section 9’ pilot, which did not result in greater voluntary returns, forced removals or engagement with the authorities to make steps to return home. Instead, it increased absconding among the families involved in the pilot to avoid the risk of being returned to their country of origin, as acknowledged by the Home Office evaluation of the pilot.

16. We anticipate that the impacts of removing support from refused asylum seeking families in particular are likely to include the following:

· An immediate increase in homelessness and poverty among families, including women and children, who would be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. This would occur if local children’s services agree with the Home Office that they do not have any duty to intervene. This would inevitably increase panic and distress among family members.

· Further tension for local statutory services between immigration and safeguarding legislation. There is much legislation asserting the primacy of the best interests of the child e.g. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children’s Act 1989. DfE statutory guidance declares that ‘local authorities have overarching responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children and young people in their area.’ [4] The Home Office has a duty to regard the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 requires Government to reduce health inequalities yet families falling into destitution will negatively affect the health and wellbeing of both parents and children. A practical example was clear in the Barnardo’s evaluation of the Section 9 pilot where local authorities interviewed were clear that it ran counter to their established duties under the Children Act 1989. [5] Our partner local authorities believe that they will continue to have a responsibility to safeguard refused asylum seeking families with children. Ultimately they feel that their first duty will remain to safeguard vulnerable children and no changes to immigration law will affect that.

· A shift in costs from central to local government if local authorities determine that a refused asylum seeking family do require support, rather than a reduction in public expenditure on this client group. Local government also may face legal challenges if it does not provide support.

· An increase in looked-after children if local children’s services conclude their obligations under the Children Act override Home office guidance. Separating families in this situation is not only costly it is also not in the child’s best interests.

· Children may be removed from school, increased unauthorised absences and numbers of children missing education. This will not only diminish children and young people’s life chances, but also for example increase the burden on education services who will still be required to track the whereabouts of children.

· Unmet safeguarding needs if the threat of having children taken into care encourages families to go underground and off the radar of statutory safeguarding services, rather than leave the country. Similarly with the case of education, if neither central nor local government know where children are, this is likely to give rise to safeguarding concerns, with no agency or organisation able to own responsibility for children whose whereabouts are unknown. Resources would need to be spent on trying to locate and re-engage with these individuals. Ultimately, there could be missed opportunities for safeguarding children and preventing potential tragedy.

· Further pressure particularly on voluntary organisations that support refugees and asylum seekers, for example to support refused asylum seeking families to make the ‘concrete steps’ to return as a condition of continued support under Section 95a. This will occur in a broader context of increasing demands yet decreasing resources upon these organisations.

Further impacts on local areas

17. The changes will impact disproportionately on regions such as Yorkshire and Humber which have above average numbers of asylum seekers. The North of England with around a third of the UK’s population is likely to be faced with half of the costs in the UK and half of the impacts on society. This won’t just affect asylum seekers, but cost and societal impact will affect potentially all people living in the North of England.

18. Significant indirect financial and social costs to local authorities which result from leaving asylum seekers without any form of support. This includes costs to the NHS and public health budgets, policing, and the voluntary sector. For example, those who are of no fixed abode seek help at a much later stage in an illness than the general population, usually through A&E departments, rather than seeking (cheaper) preventative care. If additional refused asylum seekers and their dependents become destitute it could lead to significant additional secondary healthcare costs. Costs will not be spread evenly throughout the NHS but will be borne by hospitals and trusts in local authorities to which asylum seekers are dispersed.

19. Redirected resources leaving other client groups with reduced support. Reducing support to refused asylum seekers means that the voluntary sector’s resources will be redirected and could leave other client groups without support. The present refugee sector does not have the capacity to meet this potential demand.

20. Potential increases in far-right activity, aggravating community tensions. There has been an increase in far-right activity in relation to asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in dispersal cities across the UK- and this has included a number of towns and cities in our Yorkshire and Humber region. Forcing refused asylum seeking families into homelessness and to compete for limited statutory support has the potential to exacerbate this. This may well have knock-on costs for community policing and negative impacts on local community relations.

Strategic impacts

21. Changes will impact disproportionately on local authorities participating in the asylum dispersal system. It is inevitable that local authorities who participate in the asylum dispersal programme will see higher presentations at social services from destitute asylum seekers than those which do not host people seeking asylum. In Yorkshire and Humberside only 10 council areas host asylum seekers. These local authorities will be faced with ethical, financial and societal challenges with withdrawal of national support for refused asylum seekers. To shift the cost of supporting vulnerable refused asylum seeking families to local authorities in this economic climate will put practitioners and service providers in difficult ethical dilemmas around limited resources and increased need.

22. Local authorities could be discouraged from considering participation in asylum dispersal and refugee support schemes in future. Only a limited number of local authorities currently host asylum seekers and resettled refugees around the country. It is unlikely any council will want to participate if the implications of doing so are that they may have to pay for the support of refused asylum families and children.

Conclusion

23. We believe ending support for refused asylum seekers will be ineffective and inhumane. There is evidence that removing support from refused asylum seeking families will not result in higher rates of return but greater absconding, with a host of negative consequences. It is in everyone’s interest for refused asylum seekers to be left in Home Office accommodation until they are removed from the UK. Only in this way will local services and the Home Office know where people are and so be able to respond to them.

24. If Government wishes to minimise costs to the taxpayer and ensure refused asylum seekers do leave the UK then it should review all stages of the asylum system and consider commonly understood improvements such as front loading legal aid (a pilot not introduced), more holistic caseowners and recommendations of the Independent Asylum Commission some years ago. There is evidence that suggests more holistic caseowner support after a refusal is effective at increasing update of voluntary return.

25. We fear that rather than minimising the burdens on the public purse, ending Section 4 support will merely transfer the financial cost from central government to local government. It is almost certain that local children’s services will feel they have no choice other than to pay for the care of potentially destitute children. If they decide not to then they will almost certainly be challenged in the courts - and we believe such a challenge would be successful. There will also be secondary costs to local communities, the health sector and the voluntary sector.

26. If families and children are not cared for by local authorities or if those families chose to go ‘underground’ we have major concerns for the safety and welfare of those children and families. The impacts of destitution on vulnerable children are huge, including worsening physical and mental health, alongside an increased risk of exploitation and abuse. Policies that put children at risk run counter to multiple government duties and commitments to safeguard the rights of all children in the UK.

October 2015


[1] UK Visas and Immigration (2015) Reforming support for failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants. www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reform-of-support-for-failed-asylum-seekers-and-other-illegal-migrants

[2] Page 1 of: Cabinet Office (2013) Consultation Principles: Guidance. www.gov.uk/government/publications/consultation-principles-guidance

[3] Based on figures for new asylum applicants moving into the Yorkshire and Humber region during 2014. Source: G4S’ Compass update to the Yorkshire and Humber Strategic Migration Group, March 2015.

[4] Page 6 in: DfE (2015) Working Together to Safeguard Children. A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Statutory guidance. www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-together-to-safeguard-children--2

[5] Page 2 in: Barnardo’s (2005) The end of the road: The impact on families of section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004. Summary Report. www.barnardos.org.uk/resources/research_and_publications/the-end-of-the-road--report-on-asylum-and-immigration/publication-view.jsp?pid=PUB-1464

Prepared 3rd November 2015