If we don’t act now, thousands of children and young people will find themselves undocumented and stateless
To date, only around 11% of those children and young people have secured such status, writes Steve McCabe MP. | PA Images
We seem to be sleep walking into another Windrush. Ministers should do the right thing and grant these children and young people automatic settlement status.
As attention focuses on the Covid-19 crisis, the endless debate about leaving the EU begins to feel like a lifetime ago but we mustn’t forget that the consequences of Brexit haven’t gone away. Millions of EU citizens still need to regularise their status before 30 June 2021 or become undocumented persons, liable to detention and deportation.
The EU Settlement Scheme is the largest registration programme ever attempted in this country, affecting an estimated 3.4 million people. It has proved relatively straight forward for those with a long-documented tax and benefits history but more problematic for some elderly and vulnerable people and the picture is particularly worrying for children in care and care leavers.
The Home Office estimate that there are 5,000 looked-after children and some 4,000 care leavers who need apply for EU Settlement Status. Analysis by the Children’s Society has established that, to date, only around 11% of those children and young people have secured such status.
There are obvious reasons why it’s more difficult for these children, many of whom are actually entitled to citizenship. We are relying on overstretched children’s departments who lack access to the necessary legal expertise on immigration matters.
Local authorities which were already under severe strain are now at breaking point as they battle to cope with the pandemic. Identifying and assisting children who need to apply for settlement status just isn’t high on the priority list. The only guidance is non statutory and the EU Resolution Centre, one source of support, is now closed as a result of coronavirus. We are worried about a rise in domestic violence and the plight of at-risk children, so it’s perfectly obvious that hard pressed social workers won’t be spending their time contacting embassies across Europe in an effort to secure documents required for EUSS applications.
It would be easier and cheaper for the Government to confer automatic settlement status on all EU children in care and care leavers.
It’s all very well for the Government to say that young people who miss the deadline of 30 June 2021 will be able to submit late applications but where is that written down in law and what of those young people who attain their 18th birthday before a late application can be submitted?
At the present rate of progress, it’s likely that there could still be at least 70% of cases outstanding come the June 21 deadline.
In September last year, I led a parliamentary debate designed to focus attention on this issue. I argued then about the shortage of resources available to children’s departments and that it would be easier and cheaper for the Government to confer automatic settlement status on all EU children in care and care leavers. According to the Government’s own estimates there are only about 9,000 of them. The then Minister, Seema Kennedy, (former member for South Ribble) told me that ensuring settlement status for these vulnerable children was a cross-departmental priority for the Government. Since then it seems to have dropped almost entirely off the Government’s radar.
With just 14 months to go, we seem to be sleep walking into another Windrush which is going to see thousands of children and young people liable for detention and deportation. As corporate parents, how on earth can ministers standby and let this happen? They should do the right thing and grant these children and young people automatic settlement status.
If we don’t act now, thousands of children and young people will find themselves undocumented and stateless.
Steve McCabe is the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak and chair of the all-party parliamentary group for looked-after children.