UK government under fire for failing to help Scottish councils deal with ‘unprecedented pressures’ caused by asylum policy

SNP criticises Tory ministers over lack of response to growing crisis
A view from Queen's Park across the city of Glasgow. Picture: Jane BarlowA view from Queen's Park across the city of Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow
A view from Queen's Park across the city of Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow

The UK government has been criticised for failing to “step up” and help struggling Scottish councils deal with “unprecedented pressures” caused by a huge spike in the number of asylum seekers requiring support.

Migration Minister Emma Roddick accused the Tory administration at Westminster of a “disappointing” lack of action to mitigate the impact of its policies, while senior SNP councillor Christina Cannon said Glasgow’s pleas for assistance had fallen on deaf ears.

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The Home Office has been facing calls to intervene with additional financial support since introducing a new streamlined system for dealing with asylum applications last year in order to deal with a large backlog of cases, which have since fallen from 88,440 to 3,902.

Emma RoddickEmma Roddick
Emma Roddick

When an asylum seeker is given approval to remain in the UK, they have 28 days to leave special accommodation managed for the government by Mears, and they can ask a local council for help under homelessness laws.

Since the change last summer, Glasgow City Council has reported a surge in the number of asylum seekers presenting, from a monthly average of fewer than 60 in the first half of last year, to 111 in August, 156 in September, and 176 in October.

In a separate issue, Edinburgh City Council has witnessed a “spike” in unaccompanied children of asylum seekers asking for help from services, with seven youngsters turning up unexpectedly in one week recently.

Local authority officials said many of the accounts from the children were “similar”, giving the impression they may be “organised”.

The Home OfficeThe Home Office
The Home Office

Previously, up to five under-18s were thought to arrive in Scotland each month, some of whom may have been trafficked.

The vast majority of asylum seekers receiving local authority support in Scotland are in Glasgow, with the city being the main asylum dispersal location in the country.

It was home to 4,520 supported asylum seekers last year, or almost 89 per cent of the total in Scotland. The proportion is reported to be higher than any other city in the UK.

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The increases are exacerbating existing pressures on housing services and local authority budgets.

The UK government said it provides support in various ways, but ultimately powers over housing and homelessness are devolved to Holyrood.

However, Ms Roddick said: “The Scottish Government is committed to supporting those fleeing trauma and violence, providing them with safety and security and helping them and their families integrate into communities.

“Scotland has consistently played its part in supporting asylum dispersal since it was introduced over two decades ago. We are committed to supporting people to integrate into our communities and to providing the safety and security they need as they begin to rebuild their lives.

"The UK government must recognise the impact of asylum policy on local authorities, public services and communities.

“Despite Scottish ministers’ calls, it is disappointing that the UK government hasn’t provided any additional resources to local authorities in light of the significant increase in asylum approvals over a short timescale through the streamlined asylum process.

“The UK government needs to ensure appropriate coordination and funding are provided to ensure people can be supported at all stages.”

The Scottish Government on Friday announced £3.6 million in funding to support the Scottish Refugee Council’s Refugee Support Service, to help people access health, housing, welfare and employment services.

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Councillors in Glasgow previously heard that the increase in presentations had resulted in a rise in the use of hotel and B&B placements, with more than 200 asylum seeking households in such accommodation in November.

Meanwhile, there had also been a 33 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers from outside Glasgow, some of whom are also from outside Scotland, making applications to homelessness services in the city, as is their right.

Councillor Cannon, Glasgow’s education and early years convener, called for help from Westminster.

“The reality is that it is the UK government and Home Office in particular which bear responsibility for asylum policy,” the SNP councillor said.

“They have continually relied upon both our welcome and the fact that Glasgow has the highest proportion of asylum seekers in the UK.

“Meanwhile, we have repeatedly made the case to them to better support the public services which help ensure the successful integration Glasgow is known for.

“Yet they have failed to step up to meet those asks. Indeed, the approach they are currently taking with the batch processing of asylum applications is creating unprecedented pressures.”

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh councillors have been told of “further significant increases in arrivals” of unaccompanied young asylum seekers.

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A report said: “Many presented the same account, seeking support in the early hours of the morning, reporting to be of Vietnamese origin, having escaped from some ‘garden’/’workplace’.

"Others have been assessed through the Home Office and determined as over 18 years then presented in Edinburgh as younger, therefore requiring full age assessment and appropriate accommodation, with potential need to come into care.

"There is a clear level of organisation around these young people, and their accounts refer to exploitation, harm and abuse. These all require dedicated support.”

Kathy Henwood, Edinburgh’s director of children’s and justice services, told the authority’s education committee last week: "Seven is a lot in one week, and we certainly felt it across services. More children and young people have presented up to date than they did for the whole of the last year.

"But I think other local authorities are also seeing a significant increase as well. So we’re working with the Home Office and Cosla on what has got to be a strategic response to this as local authorities.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delays and once someone is informed that their asylum claim has been granted, they get at least 28 days notice to move on from their asylum accommodation.

“While we offer ample support once claims have been granted through Migrant Help, access to the labour market and advice on applying for Universal Credit, homelessness in Scotland is ultimately a devolved matter for the Scottish Government.”



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