Government 'must fund care for child asylum seekers'
The Government must clarify long-term funding arrangements for councils looking after unaccompanied children seeking asylum and ensure a new resettlement scheme for those already in Europe does not divert resources from local services, councils have said.
David Cameron announced the new scheme at Prime Minister's Questions, saying the Government will work with local authorities to determine how many children can be resettled. Those registered in Greece, Italy or France before 20 March will be eligible for the scheme.
Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour's Refugee Taskforce, said "simply reiterating [a] previous promise to speed up existing rules isn't enough" and called on the Prime Minister to clearly set out the Government's next steps.
The UK already takes in children from refugee camps in Syria and Cameron announced in September that the UK would expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020.
However, MPs recently voted against accepting 3,000 children who have already arrived in Europe, with the Government saying it does not want to encourage more refugees to make the "lethal" journey.
The Local Government Association has said councils are "ready to play their part" in support unaccompanied children but that they need to know exactly how resettlement schemes will operate - and have a "firm commitment" that they will receive full financial support.
Under existing rules, when an unaccompanied child arrives in the UK, the council in the area they arrived is responsible for all costs associated with that child until the age of 25. The council remains responsible whether the child stays in their area or not.
The LGA has already warned that the system is unsustainable as some councils around the Channel ports have seen the number of children in their care more than double in a matter of weeks. Councils are currently providing care and support for more than 4,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children, as well as a number of destitute families whose applications have been rejected but who remain in the country.
Following the latest announcement, Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the association's Asylum, Refugee & Migration Task Group, said: "The Government still needs to clarify the long-term funding arrangements for councils looking after unaccompanied children, and provide detail of how a national dispersal mechanism will operate.
"We are already working with Government to ensure that unaccompanied children currently in the care of English councils are not disproportionately located in a small number of areas, and that councils taking responsibility for additional children have the necessary resources to properly meet their needs.
"It is therefore vital that the scheme … is fully aligned, and funded, alongside this and other existing programmes for resettling refugees, ensuring that councils are able to properly support these vulnerable children while continuing to provide vital services for their local community."