In one week’s time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand up and present the Government’s Spending Review for the coming year. Originally planned to set departmental budgets up until 2024, it has now been given a short-term focus because of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this year, Refugee Council made its own spending review representation to the Treasury. In it we set out how the Government could better use its spending to create a system that would support new refugees, and in particular end destitution and homelessness amongst this group.
There are issues the submission does not cover, such as asylum reform; but it is an attempt to show how Government, with relatively modest spending, can more comprehensively support refugee integration across the country, by giving refugees access to secure housing and financial support.
It also calls for a long-term commitment on refugee resettlement, at a time when Government is risking the legacy of its current resettlement achievements under the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).
Resettlement to the UK has stopped during the pandemic, putting on hold the lives of many families and undermining the sustainability of resettlement programmes in local authorities across Britain.
Last week we heard that the Home Office will be restarting flights in the coming months in order to reach its target of resettling 20,000 people from the Syrian conflict under the VPRS.
But this announcement only amounts to resettling a further couple of hundred people, and leaves open the question of whether Government intends to fulfil a previous commitment to resettling a further 5,000 refugees in the year following the completion of the VPRS – under a new consolidated scheme, the UK resettlement scheme (UKRS).
Yet even a commitment to that additional year of resettlement would fall massively short of what is needed. To plan financially, and to make resources and infrastructure available for resettled refugees, local authorities need a multi-year, long-term commitment to resettlement.
Refugee Council has regularly raised the call for Government to resettle 10,000 refugees per year, on an ongoing basis, once the VPRS is complete.
This is an ambitious but perfectly achievable target; America’s President-elect, for example, has stated an intention to increase their resettlement numbers back up to an annual figure of 125,000, from a low of 15,000 to which it had fallen in recent years.
Moreover, we know that the need is as great as ever. In the summer, UNHCR projected that global resettlement needs for 2021 would amount to 1.445 million people; in 2020 the target for resettlement numbers was just 70,000, a figure that will not be reached because of COVID-19.
Next week’s Spending Review will mostly be focused on year 2021-22, but we already know that exceptions are made where long-term commitments are needed. For example, spending over several years on HS2 will be announced, towards a total projected cost of around £88 billion.
In this context, it is surely right, even within the context of COVID-19, that the Government makes a long-term spending commitment on resettlement. Doing so will support some of the most vulnerable of the world’s population, forced out of their homes through war and persecution.
It will provide a safe and regular route for thousands more people to rebuild their lives in the UK, and ensure that the huge momentum that has been achieved on resettlement since 2015 is not lost. There can be no more delays – and the Government must act next week.
Seb Klier is Parliamentary Manager at the Refugee Council