Phew. That must have been the reaction among the spin doctors at the Local Government Association this week. Over the last week there has been an explosion of moral indignation over the number of child refugees being accepted into the UK. But it has been almost entirely directed at the Government in general and at Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, in particular. Local authorities have been let off the hook.
All this concerns the announcement that only 350 unaccompanied children from Europe will be taken under the Dubs amendment – rather than 3,000 which campaigners had called for. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a statement saying that he was “shocked and saddened by the Government’s decision.” He made no criticism of local authorities in his statement – only mentioning them in passing, making the (false) claim that “they are bearing the cost of the resettlement” and “must be given the resources and time needed to meet our original commitment”.
But the Government never committed to 3,000. As was reported at the time David Cameron made a point of not specifying any figure. The Dubs amendment doesn’t specify a figure. What it says is that: “The number of children to be resettled…shall be determined by the Government in consultation with local authorities.”
The funding available to local authorities willing to take part is very substantial. £114 a day for under 16 year olds which comes to £41,496 a year. Local authorities claim the full cost is £50,000 per child refugee. But there is also extra money available – there is the Controlling Migration Fund of £100 million, specifically for local authorities, and which can fund recruitment campaigns and training for social workers, additional English language provision, and specialist counselling. So local authorities that participate in the scheme are most likely to find it fully funded – indeed they may well end up with a surplus.
Despite all that money, the response from local authorities has been derisory. That is how the figure of 350 comes about. That is the number of people that councils are willing to take. We don’t yet know the breakdown of individual local authorities. Hammersmith and Fulham, my own council, managed to get lots of publicity about how caring it was going to be – but then only agreed to take ten.
It will be interesting to see how many Labour, Lib Dem, and SNP MPs are prepared to publicly challenge the local councillors in their own constituencies. Diane Abbott asked the Home Secretary how “she can live with herself”. Will enquiries in the same indignant tone to be made to her Labour colleagues on Hackney Council? After all, Abbott will surely be anxious to avoid any association with hypocrisy and double standards.
We do have details on how councils have responded under a different scheme – the Syrian Vulnerable People’s Relocation Scheme. Here the Government has specified a target of 20,000 people. Plenty of Labour MPs have attacked the figure for being far too low – yet many Labour councils haven’t taken any. The same applies to the Lib Dems.
Brexit will allow us to control of immigration – which is an argument for saying that we could take more refugees than otherwise. Christians are facing particular persecution.
And it’s not just a matter of the total number of refugees we admit. The details of where we take them from is a matter of life and death. However well-intentioned, the Dubs Amendment was a terrible mistake. Taking any refugees from Europe encourages the people smugglers – and results in people drowning trying to cross the Mediterranean. On the other hand the Syrian Vulnerable People’s Relocation Scheme is a very worthwhile humanitarian initiative as it takes people from the camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. I would like to see it expanded. The Home Office could help by changing the guidance. For instance sometimes refugees who arrive here should be allowed to stay in spare rooms, rather than specifying that accommodation must always be self contained.
But simply announcing that it will be 30,000 or 50,000 people instead of 20,000 doesn’t turn those numbers into reality. The constraint is the bureaucratic inertia in our town halls. Those who want our country to provide sanctuary to more of those desperate to escape tyranny, should speak to their local council leaders.