Home secretary David Blunkett this week bowed to pressure from
campaign groups and Labour Party figures and announced that the
much-criticised voucher scheme for asylum seekers will be phased
out by next September.
Outlining the government’s long-overdue “fundamental overhaul”
of asylum policies in a statement to the House of Commons, Blunkett
said the voucher scheme and system of dispersing asylum seekers
into local authority accommodation would be replaced by a national
network of induction, accommodation and removal centres, and the
introduction of ID smart cards for all asylum seekers.
The smart cards, to be phased in from January, will replace the
standard acknowledgement letters used for identification and are
intended to combat fraud by including the owners’ photographic and
fingerprint details. They will “supersede” the voucher system,
establishing a “more robust but less socially divisive scheme”,
But Refugee Council chief executive Nick Hardwick said the
vouchers’ successors were not without their own complications. “We
are concerned that the introduction of these so-called smart cards
will exacerbate the problems that asylum seekers already face in
accessing basic services to which they are entitled,” Hardwick
A network of induction centres will be developed to accommodate
new applicants for two to 10 days, enabling screening, health
checks, and identification procedures. This will remove the need
for widespread emergency bed and breakfast accommodation for new
Subject to successful pilots, accommodation centres will then
replace the system of support and dispersal, offering asylum
seekers full board, education, and health facilities, and “thereby
removing the need for vouchers”. Those in accommodation centres
will also receive a small cash allowance.
Anyone refusing an accommodation centre place will disqualify
themselves from further support. All asylum seekers, whether
receiving support or not, will have to make themselves “regularly
available at new reporting centres”, Blunkett added.
While the 3,000-place trial is being evaluated, further steps
will be taken to improve the current system, including increasing
the cash element of the voucher scheme from £10 to £14,
and improving consultation with local authorities, private
providers and the voluntary sector over dispersal arrangements.
He also promised to “tackle head on” the backlog of asylum
applications by improving the throughput of appeals.
Decisions will then lead to either fast-track removal or a
greater focus on integration for those granted refugee status. He
proposed 4,000 places in new secure removal centres to house those
whose applications fail, hailing an end to the use of mainstream
prisons for this purpose.
A white paper detailing Blunkett’s vision of “radical and
fundamental reform” is expected to be published early next