Home Office statistics released on August 24, 2023, showed the number of asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision has reached a record high, leaving more than 175,000 asylum seekers in what Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, calls a cruel and “never-ending state of limbo.”
A Channel 4 FactCheck analysis of Home Office data found that this figure has risen exponentially within the past decade. At the end of 2010, there were 14,882 applicants awaiting a decision, and by the end of 2022, this number had increased to 166,261. This reflects an eleven-fold increase in twelve years.
The average wait time for an initial decision was reported to be between one and three years in 2021. According to the Migration Observatory, the percentage of asylum seekers receiving an initial decision within 6 months has dropped from 87% in the second quarter of 2014 to just 6% in the second quarter of 2021.
The Refugee Council has warned that significant delays in the asylum decision-making process can be detrimental in multiple ways. The delays can be damaging to applicants’ physical and mental health, with some cases resulting in self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
As asylum seekers do not possess the right to work, they also risk losing the work-based skills they originally had as they wait years for a decision to be made on their claim, which increases the difficulty in securing employment and community integration for applicants who are eventually granted refugee status.
The Home Office has cited the pandemic, an increase in the number of claims being made, the complexity of some claims, and a decline in caseworker productivity as major reasons for the backlog. Such delays have also been attributed by senior Home Office staff to slow and low-quality decision-making.
The Scottish Government has stated that the backlog is "of the UK government's own making."
This is a position that is backed by many charities such as the Scottish Refugee Council, which says in a statement: “The reality the government refuses to accept is that it has failed to invest in delivering a well-functioning, fair and efficient asylum system.
“With timely, effective decision-making, the people stuck in hotel rooms could be moving on with their lives. When people receive a positive decision on their claim for protection, they no longer require ‘asylum accommodation’.
“Resources are poured into the profits of private accommodation providers rather than local authorities and communities. Asylum is politicised and more and more headline-grabbing policies are announced every week.”
Government spending on asylum has more than doubled in the past few years but has made little to no improvement on the backlog.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), the UK’s international aid spending watchdog, states that around £3.5 billion was spent on asylum seekers in 2022, which is approximately one-third of the British foreign aid budget. Around £2.4 billion out of that amount was spent by the Home Office, this figure sat at around £1 billion in 2019 and was kept under £500,000 before 2016.
ICAI also found that as the Home Office is allowed to spend an unlimited portion of the UK’s foreign aid budget, the lack of adequate oversight and checks to ensure value for money disincentivized long-term planning to cut costs.
Most of the money was used to fund the use of hotels as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers. At the end of 2022, the reported amount spent on such purposes was around £5.6 million a day.
BBC reports that in March 2023, three main firms have been contracted by the Home Office to run a total of 395 hotels to house asylum seekers.
With regards to Home Office spending, Colin Yeo, Barrister and founder of Free Movement, says: “Essentially, the “international” aid budget is being diverted by the Home Office into the pockets of the UK private sector.”
Other forms of accommodation such as floating barges like the Bibby Stockholm and surplus military sites were also introduced in an attempt to move away from the use of hotels.
Most of these attempts received widespread condemnation from the public, charities, and experts alike. The reasons behind such discontent remain polarized.
In addition to criticisms regarding inadequate health and safety measures, one of the outstanding concerns circulating social media is the belief that the government is prioritizing asylum seekers over British nationals, especially the homeless.
Some critics of these strategies argue that homeless locals should be housed on the barge instead. A petition has been set up on August 8, 2023, calling for the government to give British citizens priority in accommodation.
Currently with more than 2,800 signatures, the petition claims: “We have a government who constantly find homes for thousands of Asylum Seekers, yet they appear to lack the same urgency for our own citizens. Those who have paid taxes and helped to build our Nation deserve to be housed first and foremost.” All petitions run for 6 months, need 10,000 signatures to receive a response from the government, and 100,000 to be considered for a debate in parliament.
However, journalist Liam Thorp says in an article: “These are tired responses that seem to suggest that in the fifth largest economy in the world we are left with a binary choice between supporting vulnerable people in this country and helping the most desperate from elsewhere.
“This isn't to say that the government does either adequately - it doesn't - but these are political choices rather than economic necessities.”
Regarding support for the homeless, he says: “It's not as simple as just finding housing, as many people who are sleeping rough have complicated needs, addictions or severe mental health issues that require a range of support services. What is a different issue, however, is the fair placement of refugees across the country.”
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