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?


Land Registry Sale – National Interest or Quick Buck?

Data on who owns all this could be transferred to the private sector. (Photocredit:  Getty images)

There’s been plenty written about the government’s desire  to sell off the  Land Registry  – including  by my fellow Huffpo blogger Jeremy Raj – but some arresting new research has just been published  by the New Economics Foundation and  pressure group We Own It.

This suggests that a sell off, now, of the Land Registry would see the public short changed “as the value of the scarified surpluses will have exceeded the value money received from the sale.”  Heady stuff, particularly as the raison d’etre of the sale was specifically to raise funds.

That the government  has taken this  stance when  Land Registry’s business is booming,  surpluses increasing,  costs under control, and productivity rising shows  just  what a premium  is being put on achieving  so-far elusive  financial targets associated with  the national debt.  “A strong economy lies at the heart of good government” begins the introduction to the consultative document on the proposed sell-off. In other words, and as Aditya Chakrabortty very recently described, everything must go or we are all doomed. The £1.225bn Land Registry is expected to yield makes a big dent in the Chancellor’s £5bn target for sell-offs announced in the autumn statement last year.

But as this new report sets out, the government seems to get it wrong in the terms of its own argument.  And you can see where the critics are coming from; There are many “ifs and buts”   surrounding the government’s plans.  Lots of optimistic conjecture, especially about future growth and how the government will retain control of key data, rather than hard fact. Recent history is not reassuring, as the Public Accounts Committee’s criticism of the last big public sale – Royal Mail – set out starkly.

And, of course,  once you have sold  off an asset,  banked the  proceeds,  you cannot do  so again – even  when if  it continues to make significant profits and its business – which is absolutely linked to housing market activity –  is  strong for the foreseeable future.

When these financial arguments are lined up beside policy issues, you begin to sense that the government may have a problem here.  Those policy arguments centre around integrity (a similar proposal  in 2014  was scrapped, and this new  consultation was arguably launched  at a time  to guarantee maximum stealth),  risk (potential instability in property transactions,  new and untested  regulatory  arrangements) and transparency (more public data disappearing behind a private wall)

But for me,  even  more worrying  than the contradictions been  the stated aims and the likely  outcomes is  the potential – well, likely – impact on two elements  key  to maintaining good governance  in our country. Sounds melodramatic, but bear with me.

Since around 1066, the state has recognised that it needs to keep a strong grasp on its knowledge of who owns what.  William the Conqueror commissioned a little thing called the Domesday Book to do just that.  Why would any government not feel this knowledge is important?  Why would any government not see the need to be sure – really sure – it had a handle on this.

Because is not knowing who owns what land, and what property is built on that land surely at the heart of good, strong, transparent government in our property-based democracy? That’s surely worth more than a quick buck, however it’s dressed up?

This article also appears in The Huffington Post