COUNCILLOR SIMON HALL on how the government has cut funding from Croydon towards looking after some of the most vulnerable new arrivals
The refugee crisis across Europe has been making international headlines, with footage of human misery being shown nightly on our TV news. Here in Croydon, the impact of the crisis is also being felt with a £4 million reduction in government funding which we as a council receive towards the costs of fulfilling our duties to some of the most vulnerable and youngest new arrivals in Britain.
The government’s funding for Croydon was already unfair, with too little allocated for the borough’s large and rapidly growing population. If all of that wasn’t bad enough, there have now been decisions made by central government on funding with little or no notice. And little or no consideration to the impact it could have.
As the council cabinet member for finance since last June, one of the massive challenges has been in dealing with the increasingly unfair funding to Croydon, leading to all sorts of tough choices. I fear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s spending review later this month will make things only worse for the people of Croydon.
There has already been government-imposed cuts which have affected areas including public health and adult education, but the biggest single challenge we are facing now relates to unaccompanied asylum seeker children.
Adult asylum seekers and asylum seeker families who arrive in this country are “dispersed”, that is they are spread around the country with each area sharing the responsibilities. But the system is different with children. Because of the government offices at Lunar House, Croydon is a “Gateway” authority, along with Kent (for arrivals at Dover) and Hillingdon (Heathrow). We three councils carry the main burden. This is funded by the Home Office.
In fact, last year, Croydon received more than £17 million, a quarter of all the money paid out by the Home Office for this task; Croydon received nearly double the amount that was paid for the purpose to Kent, which is the next highest recipient.
Croydon has real expertise in the way it cares for these children and has a proven track record of delivery for those who have had so much to deal with in their young lives.
The funding for these children has often been a bone of contention between the Home Office and the council, and there have been a series of tough negotiations and stand-offs over many, many years. In addition to the direct costs of caring for the children, which the grant covers, there are other costs incurred by the council which are not covered by the government.
So, imagine our shock and disappointment when, without any discussion with Croydon Council officers or councillors, and well after we had agreed the council’s budget, we got a unilateral cut of more than 20 per cent to the amount we receive. This is at a time when the numbers of refugees arriving are increasing.
Obviously, we cannot abandon our duty of care to these poor, vulnerable children who need help on arrival in a strange land. The government decision to cut our funding for this important national responsibility leaves Croydon residents to pick up this huge bill.
What this has also brought to the fore is the issue of “No Recourse to Public Funds” families and young adults. This is where someone’s immigration status is unclear, often because they are waiting for the Home Office to make a decision. It leaves Croydon, as the local authority, with duties towards them. As a Gateway authority, and because the Home Office is so slow to make decisions and even slower at implementing those decisions, the number of people in this category is high in Croydon and growing.
This has been an issue for many years and it now costs Croydon around £5 million per year.
So, the Council has been pushing hard to get a resolution that is fair – for the refugees and for the people of Croydon. All three of Croydon’s MPs, Conservative as well as Labour’s Steve Reed, have been making representations to ministers at the Home Office, and there has recently been a meeting between the leader of the council and the relevant Minister.
Our view on this issue is quite simple: we want fair funding for the vulnerable refugees, and for the people of Croydon.
- Simon Hall, pictured right, is a Labour councillor for Fieldway ward and a Croydon Council cabinet member
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