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Social services directors have roundly criticised government inaction which has led to many local authorities - par...
Social services directors have roundly criticised government inaction which has led to many local authorities - particularly those in London - using scarce social services resources in order to support asylum seekers while they prepare their legal case to remain in the UK.

The sums being spent are such that some directors are warning that 'drastic action' might have to be taken in order to preserve the integrity of their social services budgets. Steps being considered include premature closure of residential care homes and the halting of further discharges of elderly people from hospital.

The criticism emerged at the annual social services conference being held this week in Edinburgh where a report was received from the association's London branch. It detailed the 'staggering' costs facing departments in the city since the government withdrew benefit support from asylum seekers, followed by a recent judgement in the high court obliging local authorities to meet their needs under the National Assistance Act.

It was also reported that in some areas the pressures are so great that the supply of appropriate bed and breakfast accommodation for all types of families and adults is 'drying up'.

Two categories of people in need have been identified: asylum-seeking families with children in need of support, and asylum-seeking adults. Across 23 London boroughs polled, 725 families with children are currently being supported by social services, with at least one authority reporting that a further 1,200 families were likely to seek help imminently from its social services department alone.

Costs in the current year are expected to reach £18m, with a further £100m expected to be required should the rate of referral maintain itself into the year beyond March 1997. Although figures for single adults are more difficult to obtain, 619 are currently being sustained. In a 'worst-case' scenario the boroughs anticipate a further 3,400 claimants in the year to March, 1997, at a cost of some £14m. The same rates of increase would mean an additional 90m being spent in the full year from April 1997 to March 1998.

According to London directors: 'The government's own figures support the existence of this number of single adult asylum-seekers, although it cannot be known whether they would all approach social services departments for help under the National Assistance Act. If the numbers coming forward were to be only half the number we've calculated there would still be a cost to London authorities of £45m.

'Not only is there no funding available from government, but it is entirely inappropriate for local authority social services departments to be taking on this responsibility. It simply cannot be done without significant investments in infrastructure'.

Incoming ADSS president Bob Lewis stressed that the difficulties were by no means confined to the London area alone: authorities like Essex and Kent where there are major ports of entry are facing similar difficulties. Andhe also emphasised that social services had a clear moral, and now legal, duty to help people 'who might otherwise starve in the streets'.

But he went on to warn the government that the pressures caused by the rising tide of need 'is now approaching a crisis point in many authorities. It simply isn't right that the needs of some desperately unhappy and impoverished people should be allowed to threaten in such a profound way the sound financial and management systems built up over time by so many authorities.

Calling on the government to act quickly before a deteriorating situation gets worse he confirmed that ADSS would do all it could to help and advise members caught up in what he described as 'an increasingly impossible position to hold.'

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