Mark Drakeford slams 'shameful' Conservative attack on asylum seekers basic income claim

Mark Drakeford hit back at the Conservative leader’s claim that the scheme could create a “pull-factor”

First Minister Mark Drakeford has criticised Conservative attacks on plans to include some child asylum seekers in a basic income pilot as “shameful.”

Mr Drakeford was responding to criticism from the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies in this week’s First Minister’s Questions session. 

The Tory leader had raised comments by the Chair of the British Medial Association about the performance of the Welsh NHS.

He said that the Labour Welsh Government should make dealing with the NHS its priority and not, “To seek to pay £1600 to people who have not had settled status in this country and act as a ‘pull-factor’ to line the pockets of people smugglers on the other side of the channel.”

There was controversy last week when the Prime Minister and other UK ministers launched a series of attacks on a pilot scheme being run by the Welsh Government which offers a basic income of £1,600 a month to 18-year-olds leaving care.

Welsh ministers requested rule changes to the legal aid system to ensure that child asylum seekers who have been looked after by care services are able to remain part of the pilot scheme as they were previously. 

That request was refused by the UK Government and formed the basis of criticism. The Prime Minister said it showed that “Labour in Wales are trying to pay illegal migrants £1,600.”

Rishi Sunak claimed the Welsh Government was attempting to "pay illegal migrants £1,600" Credit: PA

Responding to Andrew RT Davies in the Senedd, Mark Drakeford said, “This is a pilot that is aimed at helping some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our community. 

“That's what the pilot is about. These are children emerging from the care of public authorities in Wales. 

“Amongst them are a very small number of young people who are in the care of a local authority because they have come to Wales from some of the most war torn places on the face of the planet. 

“They arrive with nobody and with nothing. They are unaccompanied children. They are looked after by our local authorities and when they leave the care of the local authority, this is a government and has generally so far we’ve been a Senedd, which wishes to see everything done to give those children the best possible start.”

Andrew RT Davies said, “It cannot be right, that measures that are put in place could potentially act as a pull factor that would line the pockets of those awful people. who take advantage of vulnerable souls on the other side of the channel and my point to your good self was about the priorities that the government has when you have the chair of the BMA highlighting that the health service in Wales is not functional, yet you have three ministers asked him for powers to hand money over to people who have not had confirmed status. 

“That surely is where your priorities should lie. And I make no apology for amplifying that and making sure that the Welsh Government money is spent on the people's priorities here in Wales.”

His reference to “three ministers” relates to the three Welsh ministers who wrote to the Justice Minister Lord Bellamy although their request was not for powers over money but to allow legal aid to young people including asylum seekers on the pilot scheme as it is available to other asylum seekers. 

Mark Drakeford hit back at the Conservative leader’s claim that the scheme could create a “pull-factor” encouraging illegal migration. 

"It is plainly nonsensical to imagine that some poor child in a war-torn part of the world thinks they were in the astonishingly perilous journeys that people make to come to Wales because a tiny handful of children are beneficiaries of our scheme here. 

"When ministers wrote to the UK Government, all we asked is that they operate their responsibilities for legal aid in a way that did not disadvantage those young people even further. 

"It's deeply disappointing to me that they weren't prepared to do that. But it is even more shameful that they should make those children the object of a nakedly political attempt to make this another dog-whistle issue for the sorts of voters to which the member unfortunately seeks to appeal."