Ministers have pledged to implement a ‘fairer system’ when housing asylum seekers in the UK after Andy Burnham threatened to stop housing people in Greater Manchester.
The Mayor said the city region takes in more refugees than anywhere else in the country and claimed a disproportionate number of people were being resettled in the area without sufficient support.
Burnham wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid to say there was “mounting chaos” in the government’s dispersal system, which he claimed was facing “catastrophic failure”.
He warned Greater Manchester would not house more asylum seekers unless there was an urgent review of arrangements and a fairer system.
Figures reveal 25% of UK asylum seekers are housed in the north west of the country – with Manchester providing for a staggering 70%.
The Mayor has now received a letter from Home Secretary Sajid Javid signalling a shift.
Javid wrote to Burnham: “I am happy to commit my officials to work with you on the question of a more equitable distribution of supported asylum seekers and what this would look like in practice.
“This is part of a wider intent that from the start of the new contract onwards we will achieve a progressive reduction in the proportion of dispersal in the higher volume areas with a commensurate increase in the ratios in areas that currently have lower or non-existent volumes.
“This represents a willingness on our part, on the basis of the strongly made case by you and other local politicians, to revisit the previous decision to roll forward the existing ratios.”
But he added that rebalancing allocations was dependent on expanding local council areas willing to accept dispersal.
Burnham had also criticised the government’s “cost driven” approach, leading to asylum seekers being placed in poor accommodation.
The current dispersal system places high numbers of asylum seekers in some of the country’s poorest communities, mostly due to the availability of cheap housing.
However, this means more than 180 local authorities across the country house no asylum seekers.
In response to this, Javid wrote: “I would also like to offer that we work together on looking at the additional unfunded costs that dispersal places on local services.
“In particular, as a starting point, it would be useful if you could share any analysis that has been conducted on this point.”
Burnham told HuffPost UK there was a feeling the goodwill in Manchester was “taken for granted”, which is why he felt forced to make a stand.
He said: “We want to do the right thing which is to continue to welcome people and to be a place that will provide shelter.
“But there was a feeling among our 10 councils that we could not do that in the way it has been done in recent times.
“It feels like we have been taken for granted by the Home Office and that’s why we took this action.
“We are the biggest players in the dispersal process so they have an obligation to listen to us and work with us rather than just impose their views on us.
“We also felt it was time other areas of the country stepped forward.”
On refugees being placed in poor accommodation or even hotels, he said: “This is not the way to support people and does not lead to proper integration with communities.
“We had reached a point that the government was going to sign a contract which would have locked this approach for 10 years.
“We just could not let them do that. Everyone loses as this situation is unfair to everybody.”
Burnham welcomed the Home Office’s response as progress, but added it had been “a long time coming”.
He said he now wants to see these words turned into a firm commitment and a greater say in the new asylum contract due to come into force next year.
The Mayor said the region had a reputation of “welcoming those fleeing persecution.”
“We want to carry on playing a significant role in supporting people coming here but it has to be on the right basis,” he added.
“If it carries on in the cost driven basis, it will just fall apart.”