....but it's not true....under Section 17 of the 1989 Children's Act, the Local Authority has a duty to support 'A Child in Need'. So can you leave small children with no shelter, no gas, electric, food, milk and nappies? No of course not, so the Local Authority is picking up the cost; a parallel benefits system is emerging.
Most councils are using the guidance set for Asylum seekers to guide them on what to pay which is £36.95 per person with £3 extra for children under 3yrs; for one of the families I work with where there are 5 children this costs £267.65 per week or £13,917.80 a year. So far we have 20 families in our city that meet this criteria, even at an average of 3 children per family this is £192,000 per year, at a time when every Local Authority is having to make more and more cuts. Many cities will have a much larger population than this to consider. Asylum seekers are entitled to council housing, hostel accommodation or social housing, these families are not, so in many cases the Local Authority are also having to contribute to rent as the allowance is not enough to cover it, not doing so results in the families living in very poor quality or overcrowded properties to save money; another cause of safeguarding concerns. Without financial support there is an increase in the families being involved in criminal activities and prostitution, which in turn increases the likelihood of the children of being exposed to high risk situations, yet another reason some of these families are now being referred to safeguarding teams. Hidden costs and implications include the cost of social workers time, translators and the increased pressure on caseloads). So the tax-payer is still paying for these families, quite probably at a higher level than before, but not as effectively, with many children now surviving on a very basic level. At best this situation impacts on children's ability to thrive and succeed, and at worst it is putting them at risk. It appears that every Local Authority is managing this situation differently, which is causing an equal opportunities issue and most are playing catch up with families only coming to light when professionals are spotting the impact of poverty on the children and referring them in.
I can hear you thinking that if these families cannot be supported to get work and support themselves, then perhaps they should go home....in some cases this is possible, we recently supported a mum and her 4 young children to return to Latvia successfully. However in the family with 5 children that I mentioned, the oldest two are 14 and 15 years old, they are in the middle of their GCSE's, which would end if they returned to Latvia and they would have no qualifications. The 15 year old is profoundly deaf and he has learnt British Sign Language, this is not used in his country of birth, he would be completely isolated and not be be able communicate with anyone, as he cannot read, write, speak or lip-read Latvian and they use American Sign Language which is very different....so is it in his best interests to 'send him home'? The family are also Roma, this ethnic minority are widely discriminated against across the country in Latvia. The children will be leaving behind their home, their friends and their older sister who lives locally with her partner and baby son. This family would rather 'manage' via the Local Authority support than return, so this situation could continue until the youngest child, currently 2 years old, becomes an adult....most people would probably agree on one thing, that this not any more sustainable than the previous benefits issues.
Discussing this will undoubtedly spark lots of political debates about government policy, and just as many debates about the parents, who speak no English at all, and have little prospect of work, all of these debates may well be valid, but you will have instantaneously forgotten about the deaf 15 year old who only speaks British Sign Language and his little siblings who won't have any milk or nappies if we don't buy them, the social worker's whose caseloads have jumped up because of the increasing numbers of families in need, and the local authorities whose budget choices just became even harder. I'm not sure what the answer to this problem is, I really don't, but at the moment I'm not sure people even really realise the nature of the problem we are facing, or that the welfare of children needs to be part of the consideration.
Chloe Whittall, Associate.
22nd January 2016.