Written evidence submitted from London School of Economics and Political Science
This is a submission from the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, at the London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2A 2AE. It has been prepared by Dr Bert Provan, Senior Policy Fellow. CASE is a multi-disciplinary research centre exploring social disadvantage and the role of social and public policies in preventing, mitigating or exacerbating it. Social disadvantage is taken to be multidimensional, and often best understood in a dynamic or lifecourse perspective, and with individual, family, local, national and international aspects. Our work includes understanding disadvantage experienced by refugees and asylum seekers, and amongst other work related to this have recently undertaken a project for the British Red Cross the length of time households recently awarded Leave to remain are given to move on from asylum accommodation https://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/CASE/_NEW/PUBLICATIONS/abstract/?index=6871 )
The LSE report cited above considers the evidence around the position of asylum seekers who are in asylum accommodation and who receive notification that they have been awarded Leave to Remain. It focuses specifically on assessing the social and economic impact of allowing the households in that group either the current 28 days to leave their asylum accommodation, compared to a longer period of 56 days which British Red Cross and other agencies have advocated for. The LSE report provides evidence of the impact on public expenditure and the welfare of households with Leave of extending the period. It does not expressly advocate any policy change, although the British Red Cross did advocate change on the basis of the LSE findings.
The PAC report is focused on the findings of the NAO report on asylum accommodation and support, and in particular that it is not clear whether the new, more costly £4 billion contracts will give value for money, with some providers initially failing to meet Home Office standards. This submission focuses on two areas from that NAO report and recommendations, which are informed by the LSE report.
1. Performance of the AIRE service (NAO section 3)
The AIRE service is a key element of the provision within asylum accommodation, and is explored in detail in the NAO report. One important aspect of the AIRE service is the support of asylum seekers awarded Leave to Remain. As is explored in LSE report cited above, and as has been the subject of much parliamentary interest (noted in the LSE report) there is concern that the current 28 day period is insufficient to allow these households to make appropriate arrangements to find housing, and secure benefit or other income. Failure to do so can result in their becoming destitute, homeless or sleeping rough, and at high risk of mental health problems occurring, in addition to a loss of wellbeing and difficulty in integrating into the community in line with the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy. It is also a barrier to them securing work. In order to migrate this risk, the Government has included within AIRE services the task of assisting these households with Leave to Remain to move smoothly into the community. This is a Government mitigation approach to avoid needing to extend the period from 28 days to 56 days.
While considering the wider performance of the AIRE as a whole it is essential, in our view, to also consider this aspect of their service provision. Clearly from the NAO report there are significant problems which AIRE has in delivering their core functions, but we would suggest that this AIRE support for households with Leave should be subject to the Committee’s scrutiny alongside the other aspect of the AIRE service, as a discrete and highly important element to be explored. How well are AIRE discharging this function, what evidence do they have of improving service leading to better outcomes for this group with Leave to Remain, and what further improvement are they making to ensure this group avoids being left destitute? The LSE report cited above explored the deprivation impact of this group being left without accommodation and income, and the public expenditure impact of such destitution. This is why we recommend a specific focus on this issue.
2. Redistributing supported asylum seekers – “Rebalancing” between regions (NAO Section 4)
This NAO proposal is to “redistribute supported asylum seekers in line with the general UK population distribution”. While the NAO report explores a range of important issues around this, such as the additional costs in some of the areas where redistribution is recommended to take place, we wish to make a separate point, again in relation to the position of households with Leave to Remain.
There is an issue for those households in this group who have children, or who have other vulnerabilities which could entitle them for Priority Needs assistance with housing from the Local Authority in which they live at the point of the award of Leave to Remain. The issue is that in the past local authorities dealing with these households have been unclear about how they should be treated, and what the legal position is in relation to their eligibility for re-housing – particularly in relation to the “local connection” issues (which local authority may be responsible for providing housing). To address this, the Government also has already put into place mitigating arrangements through putting in place Local Authority Asylum Liaison Officers (LAASLO) in many authorities. The LAASLO teams also assist all households with Leave to Remain in relation to how to access other essential mainstream services such as health, employment and language skills. This is intended to assist new refugees towards self-sufficiency and integration in a way that benefits the whole community.
New local authorities to whose area asylum housing was “redistributed” will, in our submission, need to have similar assistance from new teams of LAASLOs. They can ease the process of moving households with Leave out of asylum accommodation and into longer term accommodation more quickly, freeing up places. They may also be able to reduce the use of local authority temporary accommodation by establishing the right to a home under the priority needs provisions of the Housing acts, as well as reducing the risk of destitution and harm. We therefore would suggest that the Committee explore the likely provision of these essential LAASLO services as part of the consideration of the “redistribution” recommendation.
This note has highlighted two specific aspects of the NAO report relevant to the Commission’s investigation. The underlying issue, explored in the cited LSE report above, is that the subgroup of households granted Leave to Remain have had to demonstrate a history of persecution, and have often suffered trauma of many kinds during their journey to the UK. They are at high risk of mental health problems, often have low language skills, and have specifically not been prepared to integrate into the UK community as this does not happen until Leave to Remain has been granted.
In considering the issues in relation to the performance of the various contractors involved in delivering asylum accommodation services, it is very important to also consider the services provided to those households living in asylum accommodation who are granted Leave to Remain. They are in the process of being welcomed into a local UK community and their welfare, and there are likely cost to public services of not assisting with this transfer, and clear benefits of making a smooth transition. We therefore suggest that as part of the Commission’s investigation it is essential to also consider the services provided to this group within the asylum accommodation setting, during this short interim period prior to their leaving that asylum accommodation.