LGA furious over amendment to asylum bill

1 Aug 02
Local authority leaders have denounced as 'unnecessary and cruel' the provision in a Home Office Bill that will ban councils from assisting destitute asylum seekers.

02 August 2002

The Local Government Association has protested furiously to David Blunkett over a government amendment to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, which will remove councils' powers to offer assistance to 'ineligible persons'.

As a result of clause 48 and schedule three, this category will encompass asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected, illegal immigrants and those with refugee status in another country.

An LGA Parliamentary briefing seen by Public Finance makes clear the organisation's staunch opposition. 'Asylum seekers, failed or not, constitute some of the most vulnerable and desperate people in our society,' it says. 'Effectively, the doors of the town hall will be shut as far as these people are concerned, regardless of their circumstances.'

It goes on: 'Even people who should not be in Britain require the fundamental means of subsistence and they should be entitled to that support pending their removal… We believe schedule three is unnecessary and cruel in its treatment of failed asylum seekers.'

Authorities currently have room for manoeuvre because of powers to promote the 'economic, social and environmental well-being' of their areas, as outlined in the Local Government Act 2000. But Blunkett is concerned that the assistance offered by some is encouraging failed asylum applicants to stay.

The home secretary is keen to push the Bill through Parliament during the 'overspill' session, between MPs' return in October and the Queen's Speech. As a result, councils have little time to change his mind, and a meeting last week failed to produce an agreement.

John Street, the LGA's asylum policy officer, told PF that authorities believed having destitute asylum seekers in their areas would lead to serious problems.

'Once you have cut off all avenues of support for people they might well get involved in activities that cause problems, such as the black economy, or worse. This schedule means that, no matter how horrendous the circumstances, councils have to say no,' he said.

A Home Office spokesman said the amendment was intended to protect councils' limited resources. 'We will of course continue to offer asylum to those genuinely fleeing persecution, but we are not in the business of spending taxpayers' money on those who already have protection,' he added. 'At the same time, we are curtailing support to other categories of individuals who remain in the UK unlawfully.'


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