Migrant housing pilot scheme which cuts costs by half is torpedoed by Home Secretary for being too humane

A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Report published 23rd August 2023, entitled ‘Evaluation of the Refugee and Migrant Advice Service’s Alternative to Detention Pilot’, has endorsed and praised the Home Office funded pilot scheme project in Bedfordshire branded as ‘The King’s Arm Project’, as providing a humane and cost saving alternative to detention. The pilot scheme has shown according to the report, that the cost of accommodating and caring for migrants in the community, can cut current costs associated with the detention led strategy, by as much as two thirds, whilst providing a more human alternative to detention.  Yet the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, appears to have torpedoed the scheme according to critics, precisely because it is too humane and flies in the face of a strategy designed to be hostile to migrants.  

The Scheme ensured that ‘Participants were treated fairly and with dignity’

The UNHCR Report, highlighted the marked differences for those involved in the pilot in respect of their acquiring an understanding about their benefit and legal status, through a more progressive process of engagement with the voluntary sector and the Home Office, noting that:

‘Participants were treated fairly and with dignity. Participants were supported to access support within their local community. The pilot was seen to have benefits in terms of self-esteem and wellbeing, above and beyond providing the opportunity for participants to engage with legal counselling to reach case resolution’

The King’s Arms Project website proudly celebrates its success in providing support for asylum seekers and migrants. It reads:

‘Since August 2020 we have supported 75 vulnerable migrants of 23 different nationalities.  More than ¾ of those who received legal advice through the pilot were presented with viable options to apply to regularise their immigration status.  We have also assisted some people to access information about voluntary return.  So far, a number of people have received leave to remain through our support, with more awaiting the outcome of an immigration / asylum application. In addition to access to high quality legal advice, we have helped people to access; GP registration, medication, health & social care, hardship payments, food, clothing, mental health support, English language learning and community activities.’

Critics fail to understand the logic of the Home Secretary in ignoring the success of the pilot scheme

Critics have expressed outrage at the Home Secretary’s determination in light of the results of the pilot, to continue with expanding her programme of detention in disused RAF bases and on barges such as the Bibby Stockholm. There is also continued concern about the plans to deport those who are deemed to have entered the country through non-legal routes. Analysts predict that the cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels – currently at £5 million a day, is likely to experience a sharp increase based on the backlog of claims being processing and the increased numbers arriving in the UK.

Crucially, according to the Refugee Council. the implications of the recently passed Illegal Immigration Act, are that huge numbers – in the tens of thousands, are likely to find themselves in detention at a cost in excess of £3 billion a year by 2025. The cost of deporting migrants to Rwanda or other secondary locations,  for migrants who reach our shores through non-legal routes, according to the government’s own analysis, is in excess of £170,000 per person.  

The Home Office refuses to explain why scheme has not be rolled out on a wider scale

The Home Office refuses to explain why the pilot scheme which has proven to be so effective, has not been adopted and rolled out on a wider scale. Instead, the response continues to focus on ‘stopping the boats’ and deporting all those who enter the country illegally, rather than focusing on relieving the stresses on the problem of housing migrants already here.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said:

‘We continue to explore other ways to bring the cost of detention down, but there is currently no evidence of providing better value for money than the current system…The government has introduced the illegal migration bill, which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country’



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