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The cost of the UK’s asylum system has nearly doubled in the past year to almost £4bn, according to official data that reveals huge increases associated with the record backlog in the processing of claims.
The Home Office figures released on Thursday showed that costs reached £3.96bn in the 12 months to the end of June 2023, up from £2.12bn in the same period a year earlier, and more than six times the £631mn in 2018 when the asylum backlog began to build.
The number of asylum cases awaiting an initial decision jumped to 134,046 (relating to 175,457 people), a rise of 35 per cent on the same period the previous year.
The latest data underscores the scale of the challenge facing UK prime minister Rishi Sunak in delivering on his promise to tackle the asylum backlog and halt small boats crossing the Channel.
More than £6mn a day is being spent accommodating people in hotels as a result of the backlog, according to the government. In an effort to move asylum seekers from hotels, the government has recently begun investing heavily in redeveloping disused military bases and former prisons, leasing a floating barge and expanding detention capacity.
The number of applications completed on average per caseworker each month during the 12 months to June was 1.9, down from three a year ago and a long way off the high of 6.7 in 2016.
Peter Walsh, senior researcher at the Oxford Migration Observatory think- tank, pointed out the cost of processing each individual case was more than £20,000, the highest for over a decade.
“While the government allows the asylum backlog to grow, the costs will inevitably mount for the British taxpayer. It is also important to note that this expansion is not driven primarily by people arriving by small boat, who only accounted for a third of the backlog in the latest Home Office data,” he added, questioning the government’s obsessive focus on Channel crossings.
The data showed that less than half (40,386) of the 97,390 new asylum claims in the 12 months came from people entering the UK on small boats.
The Home Office said the majority of asylum applications were from people arriving in the country on a temporary visa, through other irregular routes, including in lorries or shipping containers, or after entering the country with fraudulent documents.
The data also raised questions about the government’s ability to remove people quickly from the country after deeming them inadmissible for asylum — one of the purposes behind the Illegal Migration Act passed in parliament last month. The act bars anyone who arrives in the country without prior permission from claiming asylum and puts a legal onus on the home secretary to detain and deport them.
Between January 2021, when updated inadmissibility rules came into effect following the UK’s departure from the EU, and June 30 this year, 60,595 asylum claimants were identified for consideration on inadmissibility grounds.
Of these, 29,258 were issued with “notices of intent”, informing them that they were being considered for removal, but only 23 were deported.
While removals overall rose 29 per cent to 4,193 in the year ending March 2023, the majority (72 per cent) were foreign national offenders. About half of the total were EU nationals.
The opposition Labour party said that at current rates of removal, it would take the government “until 2036” to deport all failed asylum seekers on the list — not including those arriving since June 2022.
Separately, figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions showed a record number of foreign nationals entered the UK in the year to the end of June for work or study, with the majority from non-EU states.
The figures published showed the number of adults from overseas registering for a national insurance number rose by a quarter during the 12-month period to 1.1mn, up from 880,000 last time, and the highest since records began in 2002.
The surge in successful applications reflects the sharp rise in work and student visas, which contributed to record net migration to the UK of 606,000 in 2022, despite promises by Conservative prime ministers to bring net migration down. All overseas nationals who want to work or study in the UK must obtain a national insurance number.