The Chancellor took to the podium on Wednesday to reveal the long awaited Comprehensive Spending Review. The headlines in yesterday’s newspapers and websites told us all about the rising pension age, cuts in disability benefits, increasing rail fares… But what does this mean for asylum seekers and refugees?
There was very little mention of asylum in the spending review, and the finer details of how the cuts will affect our clients will no doubt be revealed in coming weeks and months. But what was clear yesterday is that the most vulnerable in our society are going to suffer the most. So here is our own attempt at breaking down how our clients will be affected.
1. UKBA spending will be cut by £500 million by reducing service costs, but they will increase productivity by investing more in asylum casework and border control.
Sounds ominous, although we’re encouraged that they will pour more money into asylum casework. It is also crucial that policing our borders is not achieved at the expense of those seeking protection from persecution. Those in need of safety must have access to effective systems for considering their asylum claims at the point that they are entering the country. We are also already concerned about the speed of processing of some asylum claims, and if speed is to be a UKBA priority, they must also make sure that the process is better and fairer. We hope the Asylum Improvement Project which the government is already undertaking, will make sure of that.
2. Major reforms to the legal aid system involving taking tough choices about the types of case that should receive public funding, focusing support on those who need it most, and giving better value for the taxpayer.
Again rather vague, but likely to affect asylum seekers. A government document leaked to the Times in August stated legal aid for asylum seekers seeking to judicially review negative decisions would be slashed. This part of the process has often proved an essential safeguard of people’s safety. And following the closure of Refugee and Migrant Justice earlier this year, this is yet another blow to those in need of legal advice.
Without being allowed to work, asylum seekers have no choice but to rely on publicly funded representation. Legal advice throughout the process is essential, and judging by the success rate of appeals (around 28% are overturned), legal advice is particularly crucial at that stage. News out today also showed the Ministry of Justice has already announced they will charge some asylum seekers for appeals (though not those on asylum support or getting legal aid) – suggesting a taste of what may be to come as the pressures grow on legal aid funding.
3. Local authorities will be given the freedom to manage their budgets, requiring tough choices on how services are delivered
Many refugee community organisations rely on local authority funding, and some RCOs we work with through our Basis project are already seeing the effects of cuts. We have heard, for example, that the Iranian Association will lose 90% of its statutory funding in 2010-11. If local authorities now have to prioritise education and health facilities, RCOs will no doubt lose out. These organisations play a vital role in promoting integration within communities, as well as saving the taxpayer money by offering support to refugees that the state does not.
4. And the rest…
Social housing rent set to rise to around 80% of what people pay in private sector. Up to 500,000 public sector jobs to go by 2014-15. Withdrawing incapacity benefit for some people after one year…
The chancellor’s own figures show that the poorest 10% will bear the brunt of these drastic cuts. And many refugees are part of that 10%. Just see the evidence in the Scottish Refugee Council’s report released this week that showed the extent of poverty among refugees living in the UK. We know these will be difficult times for everyone, but it is inhumane to allow refugees, some of the most vulnerable people in our society, to suffer further.
As in all departments and areas of society, the cuts looks pretty gloomy so far, and we anticipate further announcements over coming months. So in the meantime, all we can do is continue to campaign and lobby against further cuts to services and support for refugees and asylum seekers. With some success, hopefully the cuts will not be felt as deeply as originally expected.