THE Immigration Minister, Damian Green, has rebutted accusations
that the Government is operating a policy of "forced destitution"
in order to expedite the return of asylum-seekers to their country
Mr Green told the Parliamentary Education Committee, on
Wednesday of last week, that "unless you take yourself outside the
system, you should avoid destitution."
MPs held a one-off evidence session to investigate destitution
among migrant and asylum-seeking children after the publication of
a report on the subject by the Children's Society, which referred
to an "alarming rise" in the number of destitute children, young
people, and families accessing services (
News, 29 February). It accused the Government of withdrawing
and withholding support to refused asylum-seekers to expedite their
return to their country of origin. The policy director at the
Children's Society, Enver Solomon, told MPs that there had been no
progress since February.
"We have women who are pregnant, who are unable to support
themselves; very young children experiencing grave hardship, not
being able to have enough food; parents not being able to buy
nappies for their children, formula milk. . ." He suggested that
"very small tweaks" could be made to funding which could have a
"really significant impact on the lives of children in the asylum
Philip Ishola, of the Association of Directors of Children's
Services, reported that, despite local authorities' (LAs') having a
duty to support children in their care beyond the age of 18, there
was a "conflict" between the Children's Act and the Immigration
Act. LAs were "letting the UK Border Agency's desire for
immigration control trump the needs [of children]".
The cabinet member for specialist children's services at Kent
County Council, Cllr Jenny Whittle, said that the report was "spot
on in a number of aspects", and that there was "inevitably a
tension between the support that we offer and the immigration
legislation". Support-ing unaccompanied minors who left care after
the age of 18 was "burning a £3-million hole in our budget". Such
young people were not permitted to work or gain access to education
Government ministers defended the system. The Children and
Families Minister, Sarah Teather, said that the law was "blind" to
the immigration status of children, who had "inviolable rights",
and that practice had "moved a long way in the last two years". She
acknowledged that children who had turned 18 presented a "difficult
area": "In the eyes of the Home Office they have no right to
Mr Green confirmed this, but said that the rights of children
were "centrally embedded" in the UK Border Agency, and that
immigration control protected children by giving out the message
that, by sending their children "halfway across the world",
families were exposing them to death and danger during the journey.
"Trying to get into Britain and living under the radar is . . . not
necessarily a way to prosperity." Children received support
"sufficient to avoid destitution", but to continue to support them
until the age of 24 would not be a "helpful signal".
There was broad agreement among MPs and witnesses that a
particular problem was posed by "undocumented" children in the UK,
which research suggests could number 120,000.