The demise of the universally hated voucher scheme for asylum
seekers is a welcome move by the government.
However, there is a very high price to pay. Instead of
dispersing asylum seekers around the country, home secretary David
Blunkett proposes introducing a range of new centres to house them.
Blunkett said he wanted to ensure that the country was seen as
neither a soft touch on asylum nor Fortress Britain. But like his
predecessors, he has failed to think long-term. The thousands of
people who risk their lives to come to Britain are not a one-off
difficulty for the government. Wars, including the current war
against terrorism, will increase the numbers of people needing a
safe home in another country. Yet, after admitting the voucher
scheme – another quick fix to a long-term dilemma introduced by his
predecessor Jack Straw – does not work, the government has come up
with another short-term solution.
Blunkett’s announcement came as Save the Children warned of the
“lottery” of care services for child asylum seekers and social
services directors pointed out the rising cost of providing support
for this group. Both are further evidence that the Home Office is
hoping existing social care services will continue to provide for
the basic needs of many asylum seekers.
The current dispersal system is by no means perfect. The use of
prisons is unacceptable. Some asylum seekers have faced appalling
racism in the areas where they have been dispersed. But coralling
them into large purpose-built centres is not the answer and will
increase the segregation they face.
The other price to be paid for the abolition of the voucher
scheme is the introduction of ID cards with fingerprints. Instead
of being treated as second-class citizens, asylum seekers will now
be treated like criminals.
The home secretary had the opportunity to improve a failing
system but with the proposal for new centres, ID cards and a
reduction in the right to appeal, Britain is still at pains to
ensure it offers neither compassion nor a real refuge for those
The appalling betrayal of John Smith by his adoptive parents,
convicted of cruelty after his death, demands that we re-examine an
argument that is too seldom heard in debates about adoption.
Applying to adopt does not involve unreasonable hurdles and
intrusive checks, despite what campaigners say. In fact, it is more
straightforward to be loaned a child – for no child is owned – than
a large sum of money.
The current Adoption Bill does not reinforce the need for
stringent checks on adopters. How could it, when that might raise
uncomfortable questions about how some of the government’s targets
will be attained? Sadly, the argument that it should be made easier
to adopt has been won.
But where change is really needed is in access to the adoption
process in the first place. Adoption is not a tool for promoting
any particular lifestyle. It’s about what’s best for individual
children. Unmarried couples must be given equal opportunity with
married couples. And some councils must work harder to attract
ethnic minority adopters. But they must still be subject to careful
A more inclusive approach is the right way to achieve the goal
of more adoptions, without compromising the happiness – or the
safety – of adopted children.