By Dan Parton
The Home Office has just 40% of the social workers it needs for its new asylum age assessment body in post, more than a year after starting recruiting.
As of 20 April this year, 16 of the 40 required social workers had started working for the National Age Assessment Board (NAAB), immigration minister Robert Jenrick confirmed last week in answer to a parliamentary question.
Jenrick said that this was “in line with our projections for onboarding,” and that recruitment was ongoing, in response to the question from Labour MP Cat Smith.
BASW opposition to Home Office body
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW), which has urged social workers not to work for the Home Office agency because of the risk that their practice become politicised, said the “low uptake” showed practitioners shared its concerns.
The NAAB started work in April this year in London and the West Midlands, with its national rollout deferred until all 40 social workers have been recruited.
Age assessments have historically been undertaken by local authority social workers, but the Home Office wants an increasing number to be carried out by the board.
The board will also oversee the introduction of previously prohibited scientific age assessments, through the use of dental x-rays and bone scans.
Age assessment outcomes
The outcome of an age assessment is highly significant with those found to be children remaining in the care system, and claimants assessed as adults receiving much less support as single people within the mainstream asylum system.
The Home Office’s own figures show that most age assessments – 64% of those resolved between April 2022 and March 2023 – found in favour of the claimant.
However, in launching the NAAB, the Home Office focused very strongly on the risks of adults posing as children “as a way of accessing support they are not entitled to”, and of the safeguarding risks of adults being placed in the children’s care system.
Illegal Migration Bill impact
At the same time, its Illegal Migration Bill would make it harder for claimants to be found to be children. It would enable ministers to classify as adults any unaccompanied asylum seeker deemed to have entered the UK illegally who then refused a scientific age check without reasonable grounds.
In March, BASW urged its members and other social workers not to work for the NAAB, in the light of government rhetoric about adult asylum seekers exploiting the system by claiming to be children.
Commenting on the recruitment figures, a BASW spokesperson said: “With such a low uptake it is clear that BASW’s concerns about NAAB are shared by practitioners. Ultimately this is mainly due to previous statements by the home secretary undermining confidence that age assessments could be carried out in a Home Office agency that is free from political interference. Our fear continues to that political priorities will interfere with the work.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are keen to ensure we recruit an excellent workforce and have continued to run recruitment campaigns during 2022 and into this year.
“More social workers will arrive in post later in the year and into 2024.”