Asylum Seekers: Support Payments — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 15th March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for the Home Office 3:00 pm, 15th March 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the reductions in support payments to asylum seekers while they are awaiting a decision on their application.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, on 5 October 2009, we removed the distinction between rates of asylum support provided to single adults aged 18 to 24 and those aged 25 and over. The new unified rate was based on the lower rate provided to 18 to 24 year-olds, uplifted by 5.2 per cent. The rates paid to children and couples were also increased by 5.2 per cent. We continue to provide the over-25 rate to those who were in receipt of it prior to 5 October 2009, so no individual saw a reduction in their rate of support.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for the Home Office

Is it still the Government's policy to provide for the essential living needs of asylum seekers awaiting their decisions? Can the Government give the calculation on which the reduction from £42 to £35 for an adult over 25 was based? Would the noble Lord agree that following the consultation on asylum support, the unfettered discretion of the Secretary of State to decide these amounts should be replaced by a process of scrutiny by Parliament to make sure that they are adequate to meet essential living needs?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the reasoning behind the change was that asylum seekers who otherwise would be destitute are given access to rent-free accommodation, plus all utilities paid and council tax included. Therefore, we felt that the difference between being 24 and 25 was nothing-it was exactly the same. All of those things are provided, and this is an addition of money on top of that.

As regards the other point, it is fair to say that it is something that needs to be looked at. I cannot give a promise that we will do that, but I certainly believe it is something that should possibly be looked at.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale - Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister

Will the Minister confirm that by the end of next year, 2011, the UK Border Agency aims to conclude 90 per cent of new asylum cases within six months of application-in other words, to try and make this subvention as short as possible? There have been criticisms by the UNHCR and the Centre for Social Justice that six months is far too long. What is the noble Lord's response and what guarantees are in place to ensure that this target will be met?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, as the noble Lord says, our aim is that we will conclude all such cases within the six-month target. At the moment we have reached about 60 per cent, and we are marching towards achieving the target. Also, we are doing very well getting rid of the backlog that we had in these cases. It is very important that we look at these people very carefully and accurately, and I think we do that. The tightening of our borders has reduced the number of asylum seekers who are not real asylum seekers-people who are coming here because they want to work here and for other reasons-to about 24,000 in 2009 compared with 84,000 in 2002. This is a dramatic reduction in numbers. We have a very fair system. Real asylum seekers who deserve asylum are looked at very thoroughly and carefully and get asylum in this country. Those who come here for other reasons do not, as is appropriate.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Minister, in answering my noble friend Lord Avebury, justified increases for all categories by 5.2 per cent but not for people aged over 25. He did so on the basis that utilities costs did not apply to this category. Do they not apply to other categories as well? In other words, he can uprate for all other categories but this category. His explanation does not work.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, perhaps I did not make myself clear. The reasoning behind it was that it made no real difference whether a single asylum seeker, who was already getting his accommodation, council tax and all utilities paid, was 21 or 22, or 26 or 27. It made sense to have that as one amount of money. That was the basis on which it was done.

Photo of The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds Bishop

My Lords, does the Minister support the sanctuary pledge, promoted by Citizens for Sanctuary and based on the findings of the Independent Asylum Commission, so that people seeking sanctuary can have access to essential support and public services?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I have to admit to being not absolutely au fait with that specific issue. I think I can promise that we always make sure that we look after people who come here to try to gain asylum. We give asylum to genuine asylum seekers. That is something that we can be proud of in this country. I will write to the right reverend Prelate on the specifics of his question.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the tragic case of the three failed asylum seekers in Glasgow, who committed suicide? Can he confirm that Glasgow is the only local authority taking on the huge burden and responsibility of looking after asylum seekers in Scotland? Will his department now reopen discussions with other Scottish local authorities to make sure that that responsibility is spread more widely?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I cannot speak in detail on that case because what exactly happened is still being looked at. It is incumbent on all parties to make sure that these things are looked at closely and are dealt with. It is necessary for all of us to look at these things closely to make sure that such horrible events do not happen.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, of the figures given by the noble Lord, how many applicants are successful every year and how many applicants are returned overseas?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I do not have that specific figure at my fingertips, but I think around 13 per cent were being returned and around 30 per cent were successful. Any expert in mathematics can work out that that is not 100 per cent. That is because many of these cases involve dual counting, duplication, wrong names and so on. There are a huge number of those. We have to take into account all of the backlog as well as the people currently coming in. If I have a specific figure for those coming in now, I will write to the noble Lord.