Spending on supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) has nearly doubled in four years, making it increasingly difficult to provide adequate support, the Local Government Association has warned.
Rising costs of care have created “soaring demand pressures” on already-stretched children’s services, the LGA said, as it called on the government to complete its review of UASC costs announced in 2017.
Government figures show the number of UASC rose 62%, from 2,760 in 2014-15 to 4,480 in 2017-18 (62%). During this period, council spending on UASC increased by 95%, from £77.8m to £152.4m..
Currently the Home Office reimburses councils for UASC costs, with a payment formula determined by whether children arrived in the country before 30 June 2016 and are categorised as “legacy cases”or arrived later.
For legacy cases councils are paid £95 per child aged under 16 and £71 per child aged 16 or 17. In other cases the payments in these categories are £114 and £91 for the respective age groups.
Councils have long argued that these payments to not match the cost burden on councils due to the complex needs of the children involved.
Further costs have been incurred due to a 50% increase between 2016 and 2018 in UASC leaving care at 18 but remaining the responsibility of local authorities.
The LGA said these challenges are contributing to “soaring demand pressures” on children’s services which are facing a £3.1bn funding gap by 2025 and called for the shortfall to be addressed in this year’s comprehensive spending review.
It also said councils need “quick and accurate decisions” on asylum claims to provide certainty to children and their carers, while the age assessment process must be implemented from the outset to safeguard children.
David Simmonds (Con), chair of the LGA’s asylum, migration and refugee task group, said the findings of the government’s UASC funding review is “long overdue”.
He added: “It is vital this includes a pledge to properly fund the joint commitment to support unaccompanied children, young people and families starting a new life in the UK.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are very grateful to local authorities who provide care for a significant number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
“We are currently reviewing the funding arrangements and over 50 local authorities have taken part. We hope to reach a conclusion soon, but it is right that we take time to thoroughly assess the evidence.
“We are committed to putting in place arrangements which work as well as possible for both the unaccompanied children and local authorities.”