I’m sure that you, like me, have been appalled by the continuing tragedy in Syria and Calais, the children and families who have been left devastated by the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history and face another hard winter.
Having watched these terrible events unfold, I made a commitment last year that Waltham Forest would be prepared to house 10 Syrian refugee families by 2020.
Our support for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Waltham Forest is already doing a lot to help those in need. At the start of this year the Council provided support to 40 ‘Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children’; finding new homes and loving families in the borough for young people from countries like Syria and Afghanistan who have been left with nothing.
The ongoing conflicts around the world have meant that demand for our help has soared, and we now support almost three times as many Asylum seeking children as we did just in 2013, when 15 children were in our care. As a borough Waltham Forest have stepped up to manage this increase in demand, which has exceeded the average across the country over the last year – a 38% increase on last year in Waltham Forest, compared to 35% across the country.
The care that we provide does come at a cost, however. Each vulnerable child that we place with a foster carer costs the council in the region of £25,220 per child or young person fostered. This equates to a cost of over a £1,000,000 to place asylum seeking children with foster carers in Waltham Forest - £630,500more than in 2013.
Following our campaign last year 12 additional foster carer families in Waltham Forest came forward to provide homes for children, including those who have had to flee from their country. The Council has been instrumental in its support to ensure that these vulnerable children are cared for within the Waltham Forest community, as opposed to through external companies.
Including adults, the Council now continues to provide support for a total of 218 asylum seekers, which is 37 more vulnerable people than in 2011. On top of this we also provide homes and support for 159 children in 67 families with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ – vulnerable families who have come to this country but are not yet eligible for support from the government.
We know that there is always more that we can be doing, and that’s why Waltham Forest has also committed to taking in an additional 20 Asylum Seeking children by 2020: five additional children per year. I am very proud that we are continuing to do our best to help these children despite the huge rise in demand and cost to the council.
Our asks of the Government
At the same time, we need to make sure that we receive the right level of support from the Government to allow us to properly support these vulnerable refugees, and ensure that the funding will cover essential costs such as suitable accommodation, social care support, assistance to register for schools and GPs and English language classes.
One of the hardest challenges is housing refugees in London, and sourcing private rented accommodation that is both available and affordable. The Government’s funding is set at a flat rate across the country, which means that councils in areas of the country with low house prices and low demand for housing are allocated the same amount of money to support refugees as London councils where two bedroom flats can cost half a million pounds.
Unfortunately, due to the extremely high cost and low supply of temporary accommodation in the area, our financial projections are that accepting more families under the current scheme would leave the Council filling a funding gap of around £10,000 per refugee per year.
We know this isn’t realistic if London is to do its bit. That is why we’ve worked with other boroughs and the Mayor of London’s office to ask for a fairer deal, and why it is so important that we are given clarity as soon as possible from the Home Office and Mayor of London’s office over whether councils in London are going to get the support they need to take in Syrian refugees.
Twenty eight of London’s thirty three borough councils have still not been able to take in the refugees they want to rehouse, because they are awaiting final guidance around Government funding. I know that this is not acceptable and that’s why I am pushing for a clear steer from the Government in the coming weeks. I will update you once we have this.
Cllr Chris Robbins