New Asylum Seekers Scandal: A Comprehensive Political Stitch-Up

Misleading images: Not all migrants are asylum seekers

 

In these days of the unthinkable being normalised, it was still shocking to see the results of a new survey on where and how asylum seekers to the UK are dispersed. In case you missed it the stand-out points are:

  • Most refugees are sent to the poorest parts of the country
  • Labour-controlled local authorities house more than 20 times more of these people than Conservative ones
  • There is no extra funding for this
  • Councils volunteer to house asylum seekers but then “get very little control over how it works

There was strongly worded reaction from many commentators and politicians.  The unfairness is self-evident, and the impact on housing, education, social services and social cohesion were all name-checked.

But hang on.  Yes, hats off to the Guardian for splashing this on their front page, and to Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs committee for calling for a complete review of the system. But I am sure I cannot be alone in thinking that this is nowhere near enough.

This car crash of issues and policies is not merely a political spectacle affecting others. This directly and dangerously affects almost every one. The fact that even the Sun précised the Guardian’s article should ring bells here.

Yes – no critical comment in the Sun, but a stock picture straight out of the “Oh God, they’re going to swamp us” portfolio.  So we are straight in at the heart of the big toxic migration debate, including the asylum seekers we are talking about here.  This group – around 39,000 – are the people who are waiting for their application to be processed.  The total number of migrants is of course much larger.  And sadly I bet not many people will differentiate.  So there is a massive scaling-up – all migrants are perceived as caught up in this unfair distribution, so many more people are going to feel they are or will be affected by already scarce resources being spread ever more thinly.

Where does this lead us?  Middlesboro’s apparent and accidental flirtation with red doors for the accommodation of all asylum seekers was quickly remedied. But the stigma and misunderstanding  cannot always be controlled. In the wake of the attack in Croydon on Reker Ahmed, Aditya Chakrabortty eloquently poses the key question: “If Theresa May really wants to protect refugees why does she fuel such hatred?”

This impact on social cohesion is one of the fall-outs from the flawed asylum dispersal policy in a sensitised/traumatised Britain. Another is potentially on our politics.

This is a hypothesis that has yet to be tested, but the uneven burden of the cost of accommodating asylum seekers could well impact on elections in those council areas most affected. It’s not rocket science to anticipate that stretched-to-breaking-point resources will encourage a xenophobic “blame game” to the detriment of incumbent local politicians.  The correlation between low average household incomes, Labour-led councils and asylum seeker population is strong.

The third stand-out element in this mess are the policy decisions that led us to this point.  Cooper is dead right to say this is so bust it can’t be fixed without revisiting these. In 2012 the contracts for housing asylum seekers were privatized, with predictable and disastrous profits-before-people consequences. So arguably we have another illustration of a sell-off that has not benefited service users or the general public (And a well-deserved plug here for the excellent work of We Own It in making the case for public ownership)

Take these three elements together (and I readily acknowledge each merits a book of their own) and just look at who benefits from such an incoherent, unfair, damaging scenario.  I would argue that it is political chicanery of the highest order.

More than 20 years ago, the Conservative leader of Westminster Council scraped the bottom of the barrel with a breathtaking vote-rigging policy. With no pun intended, is Theresa May just about to trump that?

 

Friend or Foe? Truth or Dare? Social Care Tax Row Takes New Twist.

This Daily Express article poses many more questions than answers (Credit: Author)

Recently, I called for a grown-up discussion on tax as a remedy to the funding crisis in health and social care. Seems, fortunately, I wasn’t the only one, for now Surrey County Council has announced plans for a referendum of its residents on this very issue.

There are no half measures here – agreement is being sought for a 15% increase in Council Tax.

This is neither a surprise nor rocket science. Social care costs. Central government grants have been cost. Demand is rising. It seems to me entirely right and proper that the question is posed. Indeed, for those who see devolution as a way to revitalise our politics and re-connect with voters, it is surely something of an exemplar.

So what’s not to like? Quite a lot it seems.

The Daily Express went large on this. A big story devoted to excoriating the council, the decision and the concept of local democracy.  The ‘paper called in the Tax Payer’s Alliance in support.  The language used was “fruity”, you might say. “Bananas “might be more accurate – the TPA told councillors to “hang their heads in shame” at ripping off poor old Mr and Mrs Resident yet again.  Council Tax is a “huge burden” – well, try personally funding social care for your adult and aged relatives.  That seems quite burdensome to me.

UKIP (who hold 2 seats on the 78 member Surrey County Council) weighed in to say the referendum itself would cost a £1m that could be better spent – and why does government not take more from the International Aid budget.

With apparently no trace of irony, the Express ran a telephone poll on whether readers would pay more in council tax to fund social care.  After all, why back a real vote when a proxy poll would do just well.

We get the picture – this should be for central government, and they too should fund this at nil extra cost to the taxpayer.  The Express offed an editorial comment on this matter too – something along the lines of a half-hearted hand-wringing “something must be done”.

Whilst the ‘paper has sadly and predictably added a millimetre to its reputation and nothing to the debate, there are other concerns and objections to the Council’s plans.

These perhaps can be best summarised as acting in bad faith. No-one will vote for a 15% Council Tax hike and this is therefore grandiose buck-passing. The Councillors can then say “look, you didn’t want to pay for this care and that’s why haven’t prioritised it. There you are Government, you must do something.”

But I think we need to be indebted here to the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, who researched the  dynamics of this carefully for her detailed piece published today.

It turns out that all 11 MPs in this country are Conservative – as are 57 of the 78 county councillors.  Council leader David Hodge says (a) cuts and demand means he has no option, and (b)he has the support of most of his group. Local Government finance experts CIPFA say he has the numbers  spot on, but according to Toynbee, the DCLG Permanent Secretary offers what might be topically termed “alternative facts.”

David Hodge has grabbed our attention and deservedly so.  We know that social care needs to be better connected to health care. We know that government should take a lead in both encouraging integration and ensuring adequate funds are available.  But residents cannot wait for someone to blink first or be reshuffled/voted out of office.

This is more than “truth or dare.”  It is closer to life or death.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post