THE number of unaccompanied children arriving in Thurrock and seeking asylum is increasing beyond capacity and the government’s ability to pay, says Thurrock Council Leader, Cllr John Kent.
He made the assertion at Wednesday (9 March) evening’s meeting of the council’s cabinet where members were discussing increasing pressures on the budget, even in the current year as well as in 2016/17 and beyond.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Kent said: “Currently we have 80 unaccompanied young people in the borough, over recent months that figure has been even higher.
“In previous years the government paid towards their care and upkeep – not all of it, but well over half. They paid in arrears, and we had to ask for the money, but they paid.
“This financial year, chasing what we were owed from 2014/15, things were different. We wrote to the Home Office, we telephoned the Home Office, we did everything but beg the Home Office for our money, but without an appropriate response.
“Then, a couple of weeks ago, we got an answer.
“They said they could now reply to our letter of 20 November – fully four months earlier. We asked for Â£424,000, they said they were not – and I quote: ‘able to offer a reimbursement to satisfy this request’.
“The whole letter is full of bureaucratic gobbledegook, but basically it means the government is telling us, the council tax payers of Thurrock to go whistle, to pay for it all ourselves.
“In telephone conversations they basically told us their money had run out!”
Cllr Kent said: “Thurrock is a small borough, but a borough with three ports, and a motorway service station making us a target for people traffickers.
“Asylum seekers of all ages are not a rarity here and I have every sympathy for those young people fleeing war, violence or famine.
“But this is a national problem, something for the national government to deal with or at least pay towards.
“I am told that we are looking at a bill of Â£1.2 million to deal with this issue – exactly two per cent on council tax, the amount government told us to charge Thurrock residents to help pay for adult social care and another Â£1.2 million we have to find from our ever-reducing budget.
“What’s more, because it is a national problem and because places like Thurrock have a disproportionately large issue simply because of our geographical position, I think the government should spread things across the country.
“I heard today that Essex County Council had just 100 of these children in a whole year. We can’t ignore them, they need our help, but the load should be spread evenly especially if government has run out of money to deal with it.”