Asylum backlog hits record high as taxpayer bill doubles to £4 billion

ITV News Political Reporter Harry Horton delivers the latest from Westminster

The UK's asylum backlog has reached a new record high and taxpayer spending on asylum has almost doubled in a year, the latest Home Office figures show.

A total of 175,457 asylum seekers were waiting for an initial decision on their application for refuge in the UK, up 44% from 122,213 at the end of June 2022 - the highest figure since current records began in 2010.

And spending on asylum in the UK in 2022/23 soared to £3.97 billion, nearly double the £2.12 billion in 2021/22, government figures show. A decade ago the total stood at £500.2 million.

Labour said the new statistics lay bare Rishi Sunak's "disastrous record" on asylum since taking office.

"These new statistics set out in stark terms the complete chaos the Tories have created in the immigration and asylum system," shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said.

"With this level of mismanagement, there is very little prospect of reducing the eye-wateringly high bill for hotel rooms for all those left in limbo, currently costing the British taxpayer £6 million a day," he added.

Records continue to be broken but backlog increase appears to slow

Around 80% of people who apply for asylum in the UK are waiting longer than six months for an initial decision.

The number stood at 139,961 at the end of June, up 57% year on year from 89,231 and another record high.

But the backlog's rise does appear to be slowing, with less than 1% in the three months to the end of June, suggesting the rise is slowing down.

The Home Office said this is down to an increase in the number of initial decisions made, and an increase in the number of asylum decision-makers employed. There were 23,702 initial decisions made on asylum applications in the UK in the year to June 2023, up 61% on 14,730 in the year to June 2022.

It is also above the 20,766 decisions made in the pre-pandemic calendar year of 2019. Just over seven in 10 (71%) of initial decisions on asylum applications in the year to June 2023 were grants of refugee status, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave.

This is "substantially higher" than in pre-pandemic years, when around a third of initial decisions were grants, the Home Office said.

Overhaul of UK asylum system demanded as Sunak struggles

The prime minister has made cutting illegal immigration one of his top priorities for this parliament, but more than 19,000 people have arrived in the UK on small boats since he committed to reducing the number at the start of 2023.

He has now conceded he may not achieve hit pledge to 'stop the boats' before next year's general election, telling reporters on Tuesday that it is a "complex" issue that cannot be solved “overnight”.

Rishi Sunak suggests he may not 'stop the boats' by next election

Some 345 people made the crossing in six boats on Wednesday, taking the figure recorded over three days so far this week to 1,217 and the overall total for 2023 to date to 19,174.

The Liberal Democrats have said the latest stats show the immigration system is "just not working under this Conservative government".

The party's home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: "The asylum backlog remains sky-high, despite Rishi Sunak’s promises. Returns are still shockingly low.

“It’s time for the Home Secretary to stop grandstanding and finally get serious. That means tackling these failures and creating an immigration system that works for the UK and our economy, while treating everyone with dignity and respect.”

Charity Refugee Action said asylum seekers forced to wait more than a year for a decision should be given leave to remain in the UK.

Rachel Goodall, the charity's head of asylum services, said: "The huge backlog in asylum decision-making is a product of the Government's hostile environment and it is causing immense suffering to refugees who just want to get on with their lives.

"It has forced thousands of people into inappropriate housing such as former hotels, prison ships and MoD sites from which only the private firms trousering millions in taxpayer-funded profits benefit.

"Ministers must stop their cruel obsession with deterrence and focus on workable and rights-based solutions.

"This includes giving leave to remain to anyone who has waited more than 12 months for a decision on their claim, scrapping its inadmissibility policy and allowing people to work while they wait."

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