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Covid-19: Support for Asylum Seekers

Volume 678: debated on Monday 13 July 2020

What assessment she has made of the adequacy of support and accommodation for asylum seekers during the covid-19 outbreak. (904594)

What assessment she has made of the adequacy of support and accommodation for asylum seekers during the covid-19 outbreak. (904615)

We remain committed to providing support and accommodation to those who need it, but, in addition to that free accommodation, we also pay for utility bills and council tax. Free NHS care is available to those who need it, and there is free education for those with children. In addition, for three months, starting on 27 March, we paused the process of asylum cessation, and a 5% increase in the cash allowance was made just a few weeks ago.

Is the Minister suggesting that he would not give these things to people who need them, no matter what their background or where they come from? He was good enough to meet Glasgow’s MPs, but the reality is that the forcing of more than 300 vulnerable asylum seekers into hotels by the contractor Mears has significantly damaged trust in the system. To rebuild that trust, there has to be an independent review and lessons learned, so what steps is he taking to ensure that that review happens?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that 341 people were moved at the end of March from temporary serviced apartments into hotel accommodation, because those apartments were considered unsuitable, bearing in mind coronavirus. He is also right to say that I have been meeting Glasgow MPs, and I will, of course, continue to do so. I have twice met Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and the leader of Glasgow City Council, and I have committed to continue such meetings—he and I have spoken about that. He and his colleagues have raised specific concerns about the hotel accommodation, and I have asked Home Office officials to look into those urgently and report back to me.

The requirements in the asylum accommodation contracts to safeguard vulnerable people are vital, yet the recent National Audit Office report discloses that the contract fails to provide for proper monitoring of them or sanctions for breaches. Will the Minister fix that? Will he explain why no safeguarding framework is in place yet, despite this contract being worth billions of pounds of public money?

We are, of course, studying the report very carefully. As the House would expect, we do monitor carefully the way the contractors operate. Where concerns are raised, as they have been in relation to Glasgow by Glasgow MPs and others, we look into them and investigate them seriously. That is what we are doing in the case of Glasgow.

The NAO report mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) is about not just value for money but people. Asylum seekers are, by their very nature, vulnerable people, with many of them being survivors of trafficking or ill treatment, including torture. Yet under the existing Home Office contracts with private companies, it is possible for those companies to shove hundreds of these asylum seekers into hotels without doing proper individual assessments of their vulnerabilities. The NAO report records that 10 months into these contracts there is no safeguarding framework. Can the Minister give us a date on which he will introduce a safeguarding framework for these private company contracts?

The hon. and learned Lady asked about vulnerability assessments. In the Glasgow case we are discussing, vulnerability assessments were undertaken before people were moved, and I understand that 109 people who might have been moved from the temporary serviced accommodation into the hotels were not moved as a consequence of exactly that vulnerability assessment. She made a more general point about taking care of people who are vulnerable. This country has an extremely proud record in this area: last year, we made 20,000 grants of asylum or protection, which is one of the highest levels in Europe; we welcomed more than 3,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, which is the highest level for any European country; and we are the only G7 country to spend 0.7% of gross national income.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but I am sure he will recall that there was a degree of uncertainty about the nature of the assessments carried out in Glasgow, and I am sure he will agree that having a safeguarding framework would ensure that that sort of oversight would not happen again. He mentioned meeting the leader of the Glasgow City Council. He will be aware that many local authorities are concerned that, although the Home Office is happy to pay billions to private companies under these asylum contracts, no assessment has been made of the additional demands this places on local authority resources. Local authorities are concerned that the proper financial support they need is as far away as ever. How does he expect more local authorities to become asylum dispersal areas if the Government will not give existing local authorities the support they require?

National Government provide a huge amount of support and finance to help asylum-seeking populations. We pay for all the accommodation. We pay for the council tax, which of course goes to local authorities, and for utility bills. Those who need healthcare are treated by the NHS, and of course funding for that flows from central Government. Those requiring education are educated, and there is a per capita funding formula to cover that. National Government are spending a huge amount of money supporting those populations. As the hon. and learned Lady said, the figures run over multiple years into billions of pounds. I am always happy to talk to local authorities about the work that they do and how we can work better together. I am already doing that with Glasgow City Council, and via the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell, I hope to expand those conversations to cover other towns and cities in Scotland.