People Granted Asylum: Government Support Debate

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People Granted Asylum: Government Support

Michael Tomlinson Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Michael Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Countering Illegal Migration (Michael Tomlinson)
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It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris, and to respond to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron); I congratulate him on securing this debate. I also welcome the interventions by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and the ever-present hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). He always makes meaningful contributions to these debates, as did the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton.

I will start by challenging the tone of the remarks from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. He started well, by rightly acknowledging that this is a welcoming country, and I agree: it is welcoming and generous. He will know that one of the challenges of my job relates to illegal migration. One reason why I am passionate about this role is that to ensure that we remain generous as a country and to ensure that all our constituents recognise the need for us to continue to be welcoming, we must crack down on illegal migration. However, that is not the subject of today’s debate.

Let me make it clear that when someone is granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, they are not simply left to fend for themselves. In the hon. Gentleman’s words, that would not be in keeping with the values of our country—the values that we share—and it would be at odds with our long tradition of welcoming and helping people who have fled tyranny, oppression or persecution.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the asylum backlog, and I join him in welcoming the Prime Minister’s commitment to clearing the legacy asylum backlog. That has been delivered, with 74,000 initial decisions made. I know that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that and recognises it as important, as do I. At the time, however, the Prime Minister made sure that the backlog cannot be cleared at the expense of our security and necessary detailed background checks, as I know the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge. We have taken steps to speed up asylum processing while maintaining the important integrity of our security at the border.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the move-on period, and it is important to understand the context when we look at that. He is right that following the service of an asylum decision, an individual continues to be an asylum seeker for the purpose of asylum support until the end of the prescribed period. That period is 28 calendar days from when an individual is notified of a decision to accept their asylum claim and grant them leave.

Let me tackle directly the hon. Gentleman’s challenge about extending the prescribed period to 56 days. There are no current plans to do that, but I hope to reassure him in my next few sentences about what is happening, some of which he has already touched on. Although 28 days is the legislative period, in practice, support extends beyond that time. Measures are in place to ensure that an individual granted asylum can remain on asylum support and in accommodation, so individuals already have longer than 28 days.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the point at which the 28 days begin. He is right that the process was temporarily amended in August to use the date of service, in line with secondary legislation. As he knows, a decision was made to pause that in September, and consideration of that practice is ongoing. I take his points on board and I will consider them alongside that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned homelessness and move-on support. Of course, the Home Office is aware of the potential challenges that newly recognised refugees can face. He was right to highlight homelessness, as was the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton. There is support available. For example, move-on support is granted through Migrant Help and its partner organisations. That includes providing advice on accessing the labour market—I will come back to the point from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale about accessing the labour market more widely—and applying for universal credit, as well as signposting to local authorities for assistance with housing.

On housing, it is recognised that the number of individuals moving on from asylum support is placing pressure on local authorities, as was implicit in the hon. Gentleman’s speech. He noted that the clearance of the backlog may have something to do with that, but it is right that the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are working closely together on that and regularly engaging with local authorities to ensure that they are supported. Following the notification of an asylum decision being made, we expect accommodation providers to notify local authorities within two working days, and we are working with providers to ensure that that practice is applied consistently across all areas.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan
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The Minister touched on the difficulties with moving on. The difficulty seems to be that there is no proper co-ordination when people are actually granted asylum, and then they move. I gave the figure of the more than 500% increase in Manchester. Considering the difficulties that we already have with housing shortages, perhaps better co-ordination and asking those who have been granted asylum where they would like to move to would help local authorities.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive point. He is right that co-ordination in this area is important, as it is in any area of Government business. That is why my point about the Home Office working closely with DLUHC is so important. Also, I just made a point about notifying local authorities within two working days, and that is part of the better working relationship that is needed. That is happening on the ground, but I take on board his point that that there need to be good working relationships between Departments.

I will briefly mention biometric residence permits, because they are important in obtaining onward support and allowing newly recognised refugees to integrate and establish themselves. It is right that there have been concerns about this, but a dedicated support function is in place, which will help to address any issues with the BRP process at speed and ensure that there are improvements right across the system. That perhaps also addresses the hon. Gentleman’s point.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale closed with the important subject of the right to work. I disagree with him on the pull factors. Unrestricted access to employment could act as an incentive for more migrants to choose to come here illegally. Only last week, there was an exchange in the Chamber on this subject when we debated the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. The provision about asylum seekers’ right to work was also debated during the Committee stage of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, when an amendment was tabled to that effect. We do not want to encourage the pull factor of employment.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I appreciate the Minister’s response, and I am not surprised by it. He will know that many of his Conservative colleagues agree with me. To put it bluntly, there is a very good right-wing and left-wing argument for this to happen. First of all, there is absolutely no evidence from any comparable country that employment creates a pull factor. As well as the moral argument that allowing people to work in order to integrate is good for them when they remain as refugees, as most of them will, it also saves the taxpayer a fortune to allow people to earn a living—and my goodness, we have a massive workforce crisis in our neck of the woods, with massively too small a workforce to be able to sustain our economy—because they then have the opportunity to contribute to the cost of the system and to pay for their own. Surely the fiscal Conservative within the Minister should want to say yes to that.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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These debates have happened, including recently, during the passage of the 2022 Act, where a specific amendment was tabled to that effect. The hon. Member is right that we disagree on this issue. There is no permission to work unless—this is the caveat—someone’s asylum claim has been outstanding for 12 months or more through no fault of their own. He knows that about the system, but on his point, we do encourage asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their claim to undertake volunteering activities, for example, so long as it does not amount to unpaid work or a job substitution.

I thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale for securing this debate; he is right that this is an important issue. We have debated many of these subjects either directly, in relation to the 2022 Act, or tangentially, in relation to the more recent Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. None the less, they are important, and this short debate has given us the opportunity to exchange ideas and differing views. Perhaps ultimately, we can all agree that the aim should be for people who have been granted sanctuary in the United Kingdom to be led on a path to a happy and rewarding life here, because that is not only in their interests, but in all of our interests as well.

Question put and agreed to.