English council spending on lone asylum-seeking children ‘doubles’

21 Feb 19

Local authority spending on unaccompanied asylum seeker children has doubled over the four years, analysis of government figures has revealed.  

Councils spent £152m in 2017-18 - an increase of 95% from the £77m spent in 2014-15 - on providing care for unaccompanied children, the Local Government Association found. 

“These rising costs and challenges are contributing to the soaring demand pressures on councils’ children’s services, which face a £3.1bn funding gap by 2025 just to continue operating at current levels,” the group said.

The number of asylum-seeking children and young people in care in England under 18 ballooned from 2,760 in 2014-15 to 4,480 in 2017-18, the research found.

The LGA said children and councils needed “quick and accurate decisions on asylum claims” and for there to be more work on supporting children and those in care.

David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s asylum, migration and refugee task group, said: “Councils have a strong track record supporting those resettling in the UK and are committed to providing the best support possible.

“However, given the significant financial pressures councils are under as they set local budgets and council tax in the coming weeks, achieving the level of support new arrivals are legally entitled to is becoming more and more challenging.”

Simmonds called for the government to complete a “long overdue” review into the cost to councils of looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Councils saw an increase of more than 50% in two years in all unaccompanied children leaving care when they turn 18 but remaining the responsibility of the local authority, the LGA said. There were 4,660 unaccompanied children leaving care in 2016, which went up to 7,130 in 2018, the umbrella-group highlighted. 

Simmonds added: “We also need to see the government tackle the wider funding shortfall facing children’s services in the forthcoming Spending Review.”

Paul Hook, head of campaigns at the charity Refugee Action, said: “It’s heartening that we see so much enthusiasm from local councils to welcome people who have fled persecution.

“Yet the difficulties they are experiencing in maintaining their vital support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is symptomatic of an entire system which is poorly designed, underfunded, and all too often fails those in desperate need.

“We need better investment across the board along with wider reforms so that a system currently not fit for purpose can become a high quality, high functioning service that supports and empowers people seeking asylum and helps them rebuild their lives.”

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.

A think-tank survey recently found that children’s services was the top immediate financial pressure for 36% of councils in England.

Analysis by the County Councils Network last year found that English councils overspent by £800m on children’s services in 2017-18.

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