Children seeking asylum in the UK

Lottery of welfare support

GMT 19:38 Tuesday ,27 October 2015

 Migrant Voice - Lottery of welfare support

Photo by DFID
Razia Khanum

There is ongoing friction between the local authorities in Britain and the government over the funding for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK. The London Borough of Croydon is going as far as considering ‘legal action’ against the cuts the government implemented in March this year for asylum seekers.

Joanna Wilding, a research fellow at University of Brighton, conducted research in England to see how and where the unaccompanied children seeking asylum were being placed compared to the number of children the authorities were actually supposed to care for. Around 146 out of 150 authorities responded.

Her findings for June- August, 2015 were as follows:

  • No responsibility was accepted for unaccompanied children by one-fifth of the authorities.
  • During the same time, only one-third of the authorities looked after a little under ten children.
  • 105 which made up the majority had less than 20.
  • 7 authorities took in more than 50 - Kent and Croydon formed 2 of them with 376 and 412 children respectively, or in other words both of them took care of 28 percent of ‘all unaccompanied children in England’.

The Children Act 1989 sheds light on the cause of this unequal dispersion of children. Under the act, unaccompanied children must be taken in by the first local authority that finds them. Therefore, as Dover is the entry point which comes under Kent authorities it has the highest amount of children. On the other hand, Croydon accommodates high proportion because it houses the Home Office’s Asylum Screening Unit’.

On the other hand, the Children Act has also made things better for unaccompanied children. Previously, ‘children received lesser support than they were entitled to under the act’- an example could be that they were denied “care leaving” services. This was until a judgement was ‘established’ by the Supreme Court in which they ‘must be looked after’.

Wilding’s fieldwork findings perhaps show the impact of both the ‘unfair’ distribution of children across local authorities and the impact of the government cuts:

  • Children who were 16 and 17 year old did not have high prospects of gaining entry in foster care in Kent in comparison to those in Hove in East Sussex.
  • Children in Kent had to wait a long time before they could start their education or they had long journeys to their colleges in comparison to children in Brighton who had better access to such things.
  • In Kent, the colleges which offer ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) are dropping out because the local councils are pressurising them over fears of high number of unaccompanied children in the area.
  • A number of children could not contact anyone for help as they did not know who their social worker was.

Wilding argues that the answer is not to use the same rule for dispersing individual across the country that is being used for adults. On the contrary, ‘responsibility sharing’ is necessary but it can only work when complimented by proper funding fulfilling all the requirements in the Children Act – any exception to the act ‘must be tightly limited to the allocation of legal responsibility for the child at first arrival.  

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