London Councils has expressed concern that updates to the UK scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) will still not reduce the strain on local authorities.
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced yesterday increased funding and new updates to the National Transfer Scheme which was set up in 2016 to encourage all UK local authorities to volunteer to support UASC.
London Councils is pleased the new updates will provide UK local authorities with increased funding that considers local pressures – a £20m funding package allocated for this purpose – but it is disappointed the program will still be voluntary.
London Councils’ executive member for Schools and Children’s services Cllr Damian White said: “London boroughs have a long and proud history of looking after vulnerable children fleeing difficult and traumatic circumstances.
“We are pleased that today’s announcement recognises the need for more funding in this area. This is an important improvement in the overall package of support. We will take time to understand the extent to which it meets all the cost to boroughs, so that we are able to provide quality care and support for children and young people.
“We are concerned the scheme is still on a voluntary basis. The previous voluntary scheme did not succeed in creating a fair and equitable national process, putting significant pressure on many councils – in particular, but not solely, in areas where UASC are most likely to present themselves, including several London boroughs. There is an urgent need for the new scheme to show that it can work.
“We will continue to ask the Home Office and the Department for Education to work with councils across the country to help us deliver high quality care for UASC.”
According to official statistics from March 2018 London boroughs were looking after 1,500 UASC – a third of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in England.
This places particular strain on London boroughs, for example in April Croydon Council was considering whether they could continue to take on more UASCs after a 2020 Children’s and Adults Social Care overspend of £8.7mil.
Patel’s announcement of the changes to the National Transfer Scheme came soon after Kent County Council issued legal proceedings against the Home Secretary for the pressures on their services due to high levels of UASC arriving on their shores.
The new scheme will introduce a rota system giving clarity on the amount of children expected and when they will arrive for local authorities and regions to plan in advance.
UK Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon commented: “Children who come to the UK alone seeking asylum are some of the most vulnerable in our society who have experienced unimaginable trauma and been forced to flee on utterly terrifying journeys to find safety. It is vital these children are given the specialist care and support they need to start new lives in our communities.
“The National Transfer Scheme is an important part of enabling councils to provide care fairly and adequately but has long been in need of reform. We welcome this government’s changes to the scheme and hope it leads to it being able to work in the way it needs to. New funding is a positive change, as is the introduction of a ‘rota’ format, which we hope will reduce delays and make the transfer of children to local authorities better able to support them, more straightforward.
“However, the Government must address the barriers that still exist around children being able to access the specialist services they need to recover and rebuild their lives. It is also important that the new scheme is kept under review to ensure it is having the desired effect and, if necessary, making the system mandatory should not be ruled out in the future.”
Main Image Credit: London Councils