The Government remains committed to helping and supporting children in need of international protection. In the year ending September 2017, the UK granted asylum or another form of leave to almost 9,000 children and nearly 49,000 children since 2010. Last month, we published a safeguarding strategy which sets out our vision and commitment to caring for and supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children. We look forward to working with partners to implement the actions in that strategy.
We have seen a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK in recent years and this has placed pressure on a small number of local authorities; particularly those - such as Kent and Croydon. On 1 July 2016, the Government launched the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The NTS is a voluntary scheme that supports local authorities to transfer responsibility for unaccompanied children who are already in the UK to another local authority. The scheme seeks to achieve a fairer allocation of caring responsibilities across the country so that all children get the care and support they need.
The NTS has made significant progress. As at 1 October 2017, the scheme had transferred 555 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to other local authorities. The Government is very grateful for the way that participating local authorities have volunteered to care for unaccompanied children through the NTS. However, it is clear that there is more to do to ensure that no local authority is asked to look after more children than its local services can cope with and that the children receive the right level of care. There are approximately 4,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children in local authority care in England and a small number of local authorities continue to look after a disproportionately high number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The NTS is underpinned by provisions in the Immigration Act 2016. However, these provisions currently only apply to English local authorities, which makes it difficult for the other nations of the UK to participate.
I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government is introducing secondary legislation to extend the NTS to the whole of the United Kingdom. The statutory instrument provides a legislative base for transfer arrangements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will allow the relevant authorities in each nation of the UK to participate in the NTS and ensure it is a truly national scheme. The NTS is voluntary and participation will remain a decision for each respective authority. We are committed to working closely with relevant authorities and partners to ensure the NTS takes account of the unique circumstances in each nation of the UK. However, we hope that by introducing this statutory instrument, we will encourage more local authorities to step forward and volunteer to support these children.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: