Angela Rayner says Labour government would require U.K. boroughs to take 'fair share' of asylum seekers - but distribution policy already exists

Angela Rayner says Labour government would require U.K. boroughs to take 'fair share' of asylum seekers - but distribution policy already exists

By: karin koronen&
July 2 2024

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Angela Rayner says Labour government would require U.K. boroughs to take 'fair share' of asylum seekers - but distribution policy already exists

(Source: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)

On June 21, 2024, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said in an interview with BBC Radio Manchester that a Labour government would compel every "borough" in the U.K. to take their “fair share” of asylum seekers. The Telegraph and GB News wrote up her statement, and it subsequently gained significant traction across X, formerly Twitter (archived here, here and here), and Facebook (archived here, here and here), as users reshared Rayner's statement and the associated media coverage.

The posts circulating on social media represent a small snippet of the overall interview, in which Angela Rayner stated, "Every borough has an obligation to take on their fair share of asylum seekers…" (1:29:45) Rayner's answer was in response to a question from the BBC: "So if the hotels were to close, can you confirm that now that all the people that are living in the hotels now would be distributed fairly across the country, and every local authority in borough would take on their fair share of migrants?" (1:29:28). 

Although the quote attributed to Angela Rayner is accurate, it has not been shared in its full context - the latter part has been omitted. Her complete statement reads: "... but not everyone in hotels that are currently in hotels will be given a right to remain in the U.K.. Some of them shouldn't be in the U.K., but they're in the U.K. and they're costing taxpayers lots of money because we are not treating people fairly and dealing with it, and dealing with the backlog." (1:29:48). 

Prior to this statement, Angela Rayner and the presenter discussed the topic of social housing and asylum hotels, as Labour plans to end the latter if elected. The BBC presenter asked Rayner where the asylum seekers would go after the hotels closed, to which Rayner replied: "We have to process people. And therefore, when people have been processed, they either have a right to be here and therefore we need to have the housing supply, which is what the Tories have failed to deliver on. That's why we're going to build the 1.5 million homes we need across the U.K. And those that don't have a right to be here, that are currently in hotels for months and months on end, if not years, will be removed from the country." (1:28:52)

The statement that successful asylum seekers would be eligible for places in the 1.5 million new social homes that Labour plans to build was also often included in posts circulating on social media.​ 

Immigration continues to dominate headlines in the U.K. ahead of the general election on July 4, with 40 percent of people rating it as one of the country's most important issues, according to the latest YouGov polling. Logically Facts has broken down the facts about immigration here.

2024-06-05T060426Z_178731613_RC2JJ7AF34G9_RTRMADP_3_BRITAIN-POLITICS-IMMIGRATIONA dinghy carrying migrants passes a French navy vessel in the English Channel. Immigration remains a major issue in the election. (Source: REUTERS/Chris J. Ratcliffe/File Photo)

Existing dispersal policy

Social media discussion surrounding Rayner's statement is best understood in its broader political context.  

The policy of dispersing asylum seekers across different areas in the U.K. was established by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and has been updated throughout the years to address changing immigration needs.

In 2000, the Regional Dispersal Policy was added to the Immigration and Asylum Act to promote the accommodation of asylum seekers in areas with more affordable housing. However, local authorities' participation in the dispersal program was voluntary and based on agreements. According to a briefing published by the organization Asylum Matters, only approximately half of local authorities participated in providing dispersal accommodation. An advisory limit was also set, recommending no more than one asylum seeker for every 200 residents in the settled population.

In April 2022, the Home Office announced a new policy called "Full Dispersal." This policy mandates that all local authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales are expected to house asylum seekers and become dispersal areas. Consequently, asylum seekers may be offered basic housing on a no-choice basis anywhere in the U.K., where the Home Office has a supply of available accommodation. The new policy was implemented due to the increasing volume of asylum seekers and rising housing costs. It aims to ensure even distribution and prevent any area from being overwhelmed, particularly London and the south-east. To support this initiative, the U.K. government pledged to provide £3,500 in grant funding to local authorities for each new dispersal bed occupied between 28 March 2022 and 31 March 2023. The full dispersal policy was introduced and implemented under the current Conservative government.

Social housing and immigration

The social media claim associated with Rayner's statement that successful asylum seekers would be eligible for places in the 1.5 million new social homes that Labour plans to build also requires context. 

Social housing in the U.K., typically at least partially funded by the government, offers an affordable housing option for people in need. Social houses are rental accommodations with fees linked to local incomes. According to the National Housing Federation, they are provided by not-for-profit housing organizations or the local council. The latter might also be referred to as council homes. Additionally, social housing can also be part-sold or part-rented as shared ownership. According to Shelter, the National Campaign for Homeless People, living in a social home is over 60 percent more affordable than private renting. Their analysis found that in 2024, on average, social tenants in England must pay £828 less per month in rent than private tenants. 

Though social housing dates back to medieval times, the first significant breakthrough occurred in 1919 with Christopher Addison’s Housing and Town Planning &c. Act 1919, which was established in response to soldiers returning from World War I. It gained further momentum after World War II, as soldiers needed secure and affordable accommodation opportunities. In the 1950s, councils were constructing an average of 147,000 homes annually. By the 1960s, a quarter of all housing in the country consisted of council housing.

The Housing Act of 1974 provided substantial public funding for housing associations. As a result, by 1980, there were more than 400,000 new social homes in England. Over time, council ownership of social housing decreased as the 1988 Housing Act enabled councils to transfer housing stock to associations. The introduction of the Right to Buy in 1980 allowed council house tenants to purchase their homes, reducing council-owned housing. Since 2010, the government instituted affordable rent tenure and shifted its focus to supporting first-time buyers. Due to funding cuts and a decline in the construction of new units, as well as rising property prices, stagnant wages, and increased demand due to population growth, among other factors, the country is now facing issues with housing.

When asylum seekers first enter the country, they are provided basic housing on a no-choice basis anywhere in the U.K. This accommodation can be in hotels, army barracks, or standard housing, but it is not the same as social housing. Asylum seekers can access the latter only after they’ve been granted indefinite or limited leave as a stateless person. The success of their application is subject to availability and eligibility criteria set by local councils. Refugees do not gain any special priority in social housing due to their social status - their applications are assessed the same as those of U.K. residents. 

Asylum visual

Labour's immigration and housing policy 

As the outcome of the election is not yet determined and future actions of any government are outside the scope of fact-checkers, it's impossible to assess whether Labour's plan to require every borough to take their "fair share" of asylum seekers will come to fruition. 

As Rayner's comments and the Labour manifesto suggest, the party's focus is on ending asylum hotels, clearing the backlog by granting immigrant status to those who are eligible and fast-tracking the removals of those who are not, building new social housing and ensuring even distribution of asylum seekers. 

However, it is too early to say to what extent Labour’s manifesto will translate into governmental policy and if all or some of its plans regarding asylum seekers, immigration, and social housing will be fulfilled.

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