[Philip Davies in the Chair] — Asylum Support (Children and Young People)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:22 am on 27th February 2013.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:22 am, 27th February 2013

The evidence was there in terms of the risk that children were facing. We have a regime that does not work to the imperative of the protection of children and their rights. It is a system that, in many ways, possibly by ensuring the degree of destitution for parents and children, puts parents—mothers—at risk of ending up in undue transactional circumstances, including prostitution. It creates many degrees and levels of risk for children, which we should, of course, be at pains to prevent.

We have heard from the hon. Members for Brent Central, for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) that the system is unfair and cruel and creates inequity. I know that the Minister is a reasonable, sensible and sensitive person. He will see the inequity to which other hon. Members have referred, but if his officials cannot be moved by the inequity, will they not at least be moved by the inefficiency that has been brought out so strongly by the hon. Members and which is demonstrated so strongly in the panel’s report?

There seems to be a naive assumption that a cashless system, as in section 4, is somehow a costless system, but, as we can see in the report and as we have heard from the hon. Member for Brent Central and other hon. Members today, that system is not costless. It is an inefficient as well as a cruel system, because it denies people not just adequate means but the choice to make proper and cost-efficient provision for themselves. A cash system, with a fair application of section 95, would be much better.

There seems to be a mantra on the part of those making decisions in Government that there should be “No more for section 4,” but the mantra should actually be “No more of section 4”. It simply does not work in any way that is fair. It results in severe destitution for many people and intense risk exposure for very vulnerable families. It is the point about vulnerability that seems to be missing.

It seems to me that the system has a tendency to see suspects rather than the vulnerable. Its treating of families and children as suspect rather than vulnerable seems to be the root cause of the problem. We should move against section 4. It is supposed to provide a measure of short-term support to deal with short-term exigencies, but, as we know from parliamentary answers given only this month, more than half the people on section 4 support have been on it for more than two years. Some, as the hon. Member for Scunthorpe said, have been on it for much longer than that, so let us not pretend that section 4 does what the Government initially said it was intended to do. Let us recognise, as the report brings out, the serious problems with section 4 and move against it.

Of course, the lack of choice over disposable means is not the only problem with section 4. There is also—pardon the pun—the tethered living that comes with section 4, with people being denied any choice in relation to accommodation and being forced into UKBA accommodation. As well as that being restricted and unsuitable living, it can lead to intrusive situations—officials can just arrive and appear in the properties where people are living. That can lead to situations that are totally inappropriate in the context of family life. Families should not have to deal with that.

The hon. Member for Brent Central referred to the recent report “When maternity doesn’t matter”, by the Refugee Council and Maternity Action. I attended the event on Monday evening and listened to the accounts of the experiences of some people who have faced dispersal. Refugees, as well as facing the worst effects of displacement from their own country, their own families and the circumstances that they are fleeing, find themselves at risk of ongoing displacement here, whether that is through the policy of dispersal or through some of the other changes that can be visited on people, as was brought out very strongly by the hon. Lady.