Wednesday 22 March 2017
Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Schemes
Currently those arriving through the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme (VPRS) and the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme (VCRS) are granted humanitarian protection and five years’ limited leave to remain. This entitles individuals to broadly the same benefits as British citizens. When the Syrian VPRS was launched in March 2014, it was decided that it was the most appropriate form of leave to grant for a number of reasons, including the processes in place at the time and the need to upscale quickly to respond to the urgent humanitarian situation.
At the beginning of the scheme, granting humanitarian protection allowed us to quickly assist and resettle the most vulnerable. As we have previously said, we have kept the policy under active review. We have listened to those who have raised concerns about the consequences, for those we resettle to the UK, of granting humanitarian protection rather than refugee leave. We have also taken the time to work through the policy and practical implementation issues in detail.
The decision to grant humanitarian protection was the right one at that time. However, while humanitarian protection recognises the need an individual has for international protection, it does not carry the same entitlements as refugee status, in particular, access to particular benefits, swifter access to student support for higher education and the same travel documents as those granted refugee status. Furthermore, we recognise that this policy is at odds with what happens to those Syrians who claim asylum in the UK and who are granted refugee status.
We think it is right to change the policy and now is the right time to make this change. Therefore, with effect from 1 July 2017, we will be granting those admitted under the VPRS and the VCRS refugee status and five years’ limited leave. Those who have been resettled under these programmes before this date will be given the opportunity to make a request to change their status from humanitarian protection to refugee status. We will publish more information on how individuals can do this in due course.
We can be proud of the contribution the UK is making to support refugees and we believe that this policy change better reflects the situation of those being resettled to the UK and the additional entitlements attached to refugee status will help these vulnerable people make the best start to their life in the UK.
Social reform is at the heart of this Government’s programme. In November 2016 I set out plans for the most far-reaching reform of our prisons in a generation in my White Paper on Prison Safety and Reform. Last month I introduced the Prison and Courts Bill, which will transform the lives of offenders and put victims at the heart of the justice system, helping to create a safer and better society.
As well as putting in place robust measures to improve safety and performance, and a dedicated staff recruitment and development programme, I am investing £1.3 billion in a modern, fit-for-purpose prison estate.
Today I can confirm that I will launch planning applications for a further four potential sites for prisons to be built in England and Wales: one new site in Yorkshire adjacent to HMP Full Sutton, one at Port Talbot, South Wales, and two further sites involving redevelopment of the existing prisons at HMP & YOI Rochester, and HMP & YOI Hindley. Final decisions on the new prisons will be subject to planning approvals, as well as value for money and affordability.
In addition, I can inform the House that construction has now begun on a new houseblock at HMP Stocken.
Following the commitments I made in the White Paper, I can also confirm that outline planning applications have been made to redevelop the sites at the former HMP Wellingborough and HMP & YOI Glen Parva.
In creating a modern prison estate, old and inefficient prisons will be closed and replaced by the new accommodation. A programme of valuation work will now begin to help inform further decisions about the estate. Announcements on prison closures will be made later in the year.
This progress underlines the Government’s commitment to reform the prison estate. If planning permission for the new sites is granted, together these measures would create thousands of modern, fit for purpose prison places, enabling us to close many of the old and overcrowded places standing in the way of real reform.