Social Work Support is a Right for Asylum Seekers

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
22 February 2018

Conference notes that the clear intention of the UK government is to create a ‘hostile environment’ for would-be migrants to the UK in order to reduce immigration and meet commitments made to the electorate – regardless of internal or external implications and consequences, be they economic or humanitarian. Asylum seekers, to whom the UK have a duty under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees (overseen by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) are caught up in this conflict between populist driven immigration policies and international obligations. As a group that includes some of the most vulnerable and traumatised people in the world, social workers across the UK can expect to meet asylum seeking individuals and families, especially in times of war, global economic and climate crisis – all driving peoples away from their homelands on a scale not seen since the end of World War Two.

Conference condemns the long standing UK government policy of denying public assistance to a growing number of refused asylum seekers who continue to argue their right to remain in the UK – those affected by ‘NRPF’ – No Recourse to Public Funds’. Refugee and human rights organisations have also condemned such policies which stand as an indictment on our national attitude to international human rights.

Those affected by NRPF are forced to seek local authority assistance in order to meet basic needs for food and shelter. This includes families with children. Such support should be provided as a right under various pieces of social work legislation designed to enable local authorities to provide assistance to children and vulnerable individuals.

Whilst austerity policies have restricted council budgets we contend that the most vulnerable should not be made to suffer the consequences and that employer’s organisations (LGA, COSLA etc) should be insisting on appropriate levels of government funded support to meet their social services and housing obligations to asylum seekers. We commit to support them with such efforts.

We are particularly concerned at reports that, within some local authorities, a divisive and essentially racist view is taken that suggests that the needs of indigenous ‘local’ vulnerable people are more of a priority than those seeking asylum. We call upon social workers faced with such attitudes to resist them and will support those who do so with all means at the disposal of the trade union. As such, UNISON members in local authority social services are encouraged to work alongside national and local organisations supporting asylum seekers and engage in, and with, campaigning organisations such as Social Workers Without Borders (SWWB).

Conference does not believe it is the place of local government staff to provide information to government agencies concerned with immigration control. This can only serve to divert those who require assistance from those who might provide it. We urge staff to resist attempts to enforce such practices.

Conference notes the UNISON Scotland and Scottish Association of Social Work (part of BASW) publication Refuge and Asylum in Scotland: Social work support – a human right not an administrative burden which gives guidance to social work members on these issues.

Conference calls on the service group executive to:

1)Produce guidance to members working in social work in England, Wales and Northern Ireland along similar lines to the UNISON Scotland guidance;

2)Produce further guidance on these issues aimed at other members in local government, such as in housing services and education;

3)Campaign to resist the use of local government members to contribute to this hostile environment that the government wish to create for asylum seekers and refugees.