Cost of looking after child asylum seekers in Portsmouth ‘rising to £1m’

Donna Jones
Donna Jones
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COUNCILLORS have slammed the government for not doing enough to help with growing numbers of child asylum seekers in the city.

At a cabinet meeting yesterday a grant of £188,126 was branded pitiful compared to costs incurred because of the children coming to Portsmouth.

Since March 2017 up to 70 unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASCs) came to the city, two of whom arrived after Christmas last year.

Nationally the government is spending more than £2.3m to try to relieve pressures created by UASCs on local authorities.

However, David Williams, Portsmouth City Council’s chief executive, felt the grant was not enough. He said: ‘This is a relatively modest sum compared to the costs that are building in this area.

‘While it is lovely to see £188,000 coming into the coffers, that’s nothing compared to the sorts of costs the council is incurring as a result of these circumstances.’

Council leader, Cllr Donna Jones, agreed. She said: ‘It has become a huge issue for us.

‘This problem is putting an additional strain on our child services and social services budgets of about £1m a year.

‘Of course we are very happy to help children who find themselves in this dire situation but we need to remind the government that we are a relatively small city in the UK and we are playing our part in this,’ she said.

There is currently a voluntary code nationwide for other local authorities with the resources to offer to take in child asylum seekers. It is thought this will spread the workload and costs.

Cllr Jones added: ‘There are multiple upper-tier councils in the south-east around us right now who aren’t looking after any of these children and aren’t being pressured to do so.

‘It’s wrong and unfair. It’s not about money, it’s about giving a good system of care to those children.

‘The government need to review this and make it mandatory rather than voluntary.

‘They have a scheme where local authorities only have to take child asylum seekers as up to 0.07 per cent of their indigenous child population before arranging to transfer them. But ours is already well over that.’

Councillors concluded the money would be ring-fenced for caring for child asylum seekers, although more would be needed in future.

Deputy leader of the council, Cllr Luke Stubbs, said: ‘This really is a national problem, it should have a national solution.

‘The government should be picking up these costs.’