6. Exploring the impact of policy and legislation
The work of Scottish local authorities in supporting the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum sits within a complex network of devolved and reserved legislation. As discussed in depth in the previous chapters, immigration and asylum policy are reserved matters led on by the Home Office, but many areas of policy which impact on refugee integration – including education and training, health and social services, housing, and aspects of social security – are the responsibility of the Scottish government.
As discussed in detail in Chapter 1, the UK government has introduced a range of different routes to support refugees in recent years, all of which have important differences in their purpose and structure. The system has become significantly more fragmented and complex with the introduction of the bespoke Afghan and Ukraine schemes. The recent changes to asylum dispersal and the National Transfer Scheme for UASC have raised further issues for local authorities, and the picture is a constantly evolving one.
Moreover, as explored earlier, while the Scottish Government is not responsible for these schemes – with the exception of the Ukraine Super Sponsor Scheme – it has set out a distinct approach to refugee integration by co-developing the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy with COSLA and the Scottish Refugee Council. There are also a series of other national strategies which interrelate with integration activities, from No One Left Behind, which is directly relevant to supporting the employability of refugees, to the joint Scottish Government and COSLA Ending Destitution Together strategy, which includes a focus on destitute people seeking asylum.
The interactions between devolved and reserved policy create additional complexities for the delivery of humanitarian protection programmes and refugee integration at the local level. In particular, while the overall integration strategy for Scotland is set by the joint Scottish Government, Scottish Refugee Council and COSLA New Scots Strategy, most of the funding for integration work comes through the UK Government resettlement schemes and the operational delivery of these schemes requires close coordination with the Home Office. The recent Super Sponsor Scheme has added further subtleties, because it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government, while the parallel Homes for Ukraine scheme involving individual sponsors is the responsibility of DLUHC.
In meetings with COSLA staff members conducted for this project, COSLA explained how they had often ended up negotiating between the Scottish and UK Governments on the Afghan and Ukraine schemes, due to the UK Government’s lack of understanding of the devolved context. For instance, the different legislative approaches in Scotland on homelessness and housing have important implications for where people are at risk of destitution – an area where the UK Government had little knowledge.
Given this complex picture, the research project aimed to explore in more detail how different UK and Scottish Government policies affected the work of local authorities in supporting refugee integration.
The survey began this area of investigation by asking all respondents to rate the effectiveness of the design and implementation of previous and current humanitarian protection schemes for the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum, including the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS), the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS), the Afghan resettlement and relocation schemes (specifically ARAP and ACRS), the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, asylum dispersal, and the National Transfer Scheme.
Table 6.1 and Figure 6.1 below present the results. Around half of respondents answered that the UKRS and VPRS were fairly or very effective. Most said that they did not have enough knowledge of the VCRS. For the Afghan and Ukraine schemes, by contrast, only a third of respondents thought that they were fairly or very effective (with around 30% saying ‘don’t know’, similar to the responses for the UKRS and VPRS). There was least support for asylum dispersal, where only 14% thought that the scheme was fairly or very effective and a total of 34% thought the scheme had limited effectiveness or was not effective at all (with around half answering ‘don’t know’).
The proportion of ‘don’t know’s’ was high across the board, particularly in the case of asylum dispersal, the NTS and the VCRS. This does not necessarily mean that there was not expertise within the local authority on these schemes; instead, it is likely that certain schemes were allocated to specific members of staff, and so not all respondents felt confident answering questions about every individual scheme. For instance, as discussed earlier in the report, UASC under the NTS tend to be the responsibility of staff in children’s services, rather than resettlement teams. In the case of asylum dispersal, the high proportion of ‘don’t know’s’ is most likely down to Glasgow being, until recently, the only asylum dispersal area in Scotland . Finally, the large share of respondents answering ‘don’t know’ in the case of the VCRS is possibly because it is often subsumed under the VPRS, though it may also be because many of those resettled under the VCRS were located in Glasgow, as discussed in Chapter 3.
|UKRS||VPRS||VCRS||Afghan schemes||Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme||Asylum dispersal||NTS|
|Not effective at all||4%||4%||2%||12%||14%||14%||2%|
Source: IPPR analysis of refugee integration survey
Source: IPPR analysis of refugee integration survey
Respondents were also asked for the reasons behind their ratings of the different schemes. In the responses, there was praise for the funding, coordination and advance planning of the Syrian schemes. One respondent explained how the advanced notice and ability to plan for arrivals under the VPRS and UKRS meant that it was possible to carefully plan education provision. Another explained how, with these schemes, the local authority’s role has been ‘clear, defined and well-managed’ and that resettlement decisions were based on the available resources and ability for services in the local area to respond.
This was contrasted, however, with the challenges faced with the Afghan and Ukraine schemes. As discussed earlier in the report, a major challenge with the Afghan scheme has been difficulties around matching households with accommodation while waiting in bridging hotels. One respondent explained that the scheme was operating too slowly and that many properties which local authorities made available for households had been left unoccupied, which deterred local authorities from supporting the scheme.
As noted in the research meeting with COSLA, one of the key issues here appeared to be the differences in the approach to matching between the VPRS (and UKRS) and the Afghan schemes. Under the VPRS, COSLA liaised between the Home Office and local authorities to find appropriate property matches for refugee households. Resettled refugees would then move directly into these properties after arrival, with no refusal mechanism in place. This eliminated uncertainty for local authorities and allowed for longer-term strategic planning. On the other hand, the model for the Afghan schemes was based on local authorities first making accommodation pledges before the Home Office matched them with households, who were already staying in the UK in bridging accommodation. This led to Afghans refusing accommodation offers – for instance, because they were in more rural areas or were far from their existing bridging accommodation, where they had become settled – which meant that local authority properties remained empty. At the time of fieldwork, COSLA was trying to move back to an approach closer to the VPRS model, whereby households would be referred to COSLA, which would then coordinate between local authorities to identify appropriate accommodation matches or refer households to local authorities to source a suitable property.
On the other hand, the main criticism of the Ukrainian schemes focused on the scale of new arrivals and the lack of consultation with local authorities, in contrast with the planned and well-managed approach of the VPRS and UKRS. One response highlighted how the sudden high number of arrivals forced staff to refocus their priorities to the detriment of other schemes and led to many working well beyond their contracted hours. Some responses noted particular issues with the hosting model – including the risk of breakdowns in host-refugee relations, which could be time-consuming to manage. Others suggested that the Super Sponsor Scheme organised by the Scottish Government was particularly problematic – with one response noting the high cost, use of temporary accommodation, and inefficient matching process.
Concerns were also raised about the national transfer scheme for UASC: while numbers on this scheme were relatively low at the time of fieldwork, some respondents emphasised that they did not have enough lead-in time to plan for arrivals or that they were unaware when young people would arrive. Challenges with the NTS were elaborated further in one of the additional interviews with local authority staff: a council UASC lead spoke of a range of challenges they were currently dealing with, including a lack of funding and staffing for their team, limited housing options, and Home Office inflexibility when transferring UASC to their local authority. On funding, they explained that the daily rate of £143 barely covered the costs of interpreters, ESOL and other provision. In spite of these challenges, the council officer was taking exceptional steps to support UASC – for instance, by working with housing colleagues to identify a flat, moving two young people into semi-independent living, and teaching them cooking lessons. At the time of fieldwork, they were looking to develop an independent UASC team to manage the current pressures and develop a more strategic approach to their work.
One of the challenges for local authorities delivering refugee integration work in Scotland has been the recent shifts in UK Government policy development on refugees and people seeking asylum, as discussed in Chapter 1 – from the proliferation of recent humanitarian protection schemes for Afghans and Ukrainians to the development of new legislation to restrict the right of asylum in response to the rise in people crossing the English Channel by small boats. Increasingly, this has placed the UK Government at odds with the Scottish Government’s New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, which is grounded in a human rights-based approach to refugees and people seeking asylum. To explore these dynamics further, the survey asked respondents to discuss the impacts of current UK government policies on refugee integration. One of the most common issues raised in the survey was the multiplicity of different routes and processes for refugees and people seeking asylum. Respondents highlighted a lack of joined-up thinking and siloed working. This was said to have a significant impact on resources – including housing, staffing, social work, ESOL, and translation services – at the local level. There was also concern about unfairness between the different schemes, given the differing levels of provision and funding. As one response noted:
“Moving away from the wider rights / entitlements provided via humanitarian protection causes more complex pathways to be navigated for families and increased worry for those affected. This in itself does not aid the personal integration journey.”
The additional interviews with council officers reiterated the difficulties over the fragmented and ever-changing nature of the current system of refugee resettlement, highlighting particular frustrations with the UK Government’s handling of the Afghan and Ukraine schemes. One interviewee, however, also reflected on how the operational relationship between their local authority and the Home Office had changed over time: they recognised that while the relationship was currently strained, they were now on better terms since the Home Office had created its own Scotland office. The interviewee highlighted in particular effective partnership meetings on asylum involving the Home Office, COSLA, contractors, health colleagues and others, which had helped to build up the relationship between local and UK Government.
The survey also asked questions about the impact of the Scottish Government’s strategies and policies on the local integration of refugees and people seeking asylum. This included questions about the impacts of a number of key areas of Scottish Government policy-making, including the Ending Destitution Together strategy, the No One Left Behind strategy, the Young Person’s Guarantee, the ESOL strategy, and the government’s health and care reform agenda.
As detailed in Table 6.2 and Figure 6.2 below, with the exception of ESOL, a majority of respondents said that they did not know the impact of each policy initiative on refugee integration. Where they did have a view on the impact, most respondents either said that the policy initiative had a somewhat/very positive impact, or the impact was neither positive nor negative. In the case of the Scottish Government’s ESOL strategy, 41% of respondents said they did not know the impact, while 42% said that the impact was somewhat/very positive.
|Ending Destitution Together Strategy||No One Left Behind Strategy||Young Person’s Guarantee||Scottish Government health and social care reforms||ESOL strategy|
|Neither positive nor negative||6%||8%||8%||18%||12%|
Source: IPPR analysis of refugee integration survey
Source: IPPR analysis of refugee integration survey
When asked about why they gave these answers, respondents generally felt that they did not have enough knowledge or experience of the policies to be able to comment – for instance, because some were relatively new or because they did not consider the strategy to be their area of expertise (there may have been greater recognition among colleagues in other local authority departments).
The one exception was the ESOL strategy, as discussed in Chapter 1, which was the focus of a number of the answers: some respondents highlighted the need for additional support to meet ESOL needs, while others noted that the new ESOL strategy was now incorporated into the Scottish Government’s wider Adult Learning Strategy for Scotland. One respondent highlighted that the focus on ESOL was “perhaps diluted” as a result. Another highlighted how the strategy was being reviewed as part of the Adult Learning Strategy, as noted earlier in the report.
The survey also investigated how local authority and partner organisations viewed the impact of the New Scots refugee integration strategy on the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum. Respondents largely welcomed the strategy: around three fifths (62%) of respondents said the impacts were somewhat or very positive. Looking at the remaining responses, 6% said the impact was neither positive nor negative, 6% said the impact was somewhat/very negative, and 26% said they did not know.
As with the questions about the UK Government, respondents were asked about the impacts of Scottish Government policies relating to the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum. This shed some light on the perceptions of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, which respondents felt was ‘inclusive’ and ‘very helpful’. The additional interviews with councils gave further details: one interviewee who was involved in developing the strategy thought it covered nearly all of the different layers of the resettlement process and could be a useful toolkit for local authorities who were newer to working on refugee resettlement. This was supported by staff members from different councils, one of whom said that they could ‘cut and paste’ from it across into their local work. Another said that the strategy was a ‘useful framework of principles to work within’ and sent a positive signal in shaping overall policy and discourse, though it was hard to point to specific services and programmes within the local authority which directly emerged from it.
There were, however, some challenges to the Scottish Government’s approach. For instance, one respondent in the survey argued that the Scottish Government’s policies and strategies were ‘well-meaning’ and more supportive than the UK Government, but they risked losing substance without adequate resources to deliver them.
There were also a number of responses focused on perceived challenges with the Super Sponsor Scheme: concerns were raised over increased pressures on local authority resources and the challenges with finding property matches, as discussed earlier in the report. One respondent noted that “the Scottish Super Sponsorship scheme is all consuming and is mainly focused, through necessity, in finding accommodation leaving little time for real resettlement work such as integration.” Similarly, one of the additional local authority interviewees argued that the Scottish Government had not listened sufficiently to their concerns about the availability of accommodation in Scotland when pursuing the scheme.
While not directly related to the Scottish Government, there was also a mention of COSLA in the responses to this section: one respondent highlighted the care and consideration taken by COSLA in the refugee matching process and the awareness they had of the impact of resettlement on both the individual and the wider community. This reflects the earlier description of COSLA’s work on matching refugees under the VPRS in Chapter 1.
Case study findings
Across the three case studies, there were a range of conversations on the role of Scottish and UK government policy in refugee integration. Some people interviewed for the project did not have strong views on overarching policy and preferred to focus on the day-to-day work at the local level. This was generally because their role tended to be more focused on on-the-ground delivery rather than on overall strategy. For others, there was a sense of frustration with the policy and legislative context due to a lack of funding, the management of the new Ukraine and Afghan schemes, and challenges with the asylum system.
In a number of cases, the UK government came under strong criticism, with some interviewees stating that they did not feel comfortable with the current Home Office approach to asylum. One stakeholder described the current level of financial support for people seeking asylum as “absolutely scandalous”.
At the same time, some also praised the management of the Home Office resettlement schemes and noted that at the operational level cooperation with Home Office officials went smoothly. One respondent noted that at times there were issues with the accuracy of medical information received via the Home Office, but generally it was considered that cooperation with civil servants through these schemes worked well, the reporting and recording requirements were appropriate, and queries were dealt with reasonably promptly. The policy context is, however, more challenging for the different Afghan and Ukraine schemes, particularly given the surge in arrivals, the difficulties over securing accommodation, and the bureaucracy and new responsibilities involved in the Ukraine schemes.
Moreover, fieldwork in the case study areas also found evidence of difficulties in the operation of the NTS: there was a perception from one interviewee, reflecting the findings earlier in this chapter, that the Home Office took an inflexible approach to UASC referrals. In this context, COSLA were recognised to be a significant source of support to help manage the referral process to meet the needs of local authorities, because they would be “as flexible as they can be within the parameters that are set within the Home Office”.
Interviewees in the different case study areas said that the Scottish Government tended to adopt a more welcoming approach to refugees and people seeking asylum, as exemplified by its commitment to the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy. Interviewees were generally supportive of the strategy, which one described as an ‘overarching, encompassing kind of framework’ for refugee integration, though some noted that they were already doing this work independently of the strategy.
At the same time, research participants also highlighted challenges with Scottish Government policy. There was particular concern over the Ukraine Super Sponsor Scheme, which one interview described as being in ‘panic mode’ at the time of fieldwork. Researchers heard frustration that the Scottish Government had not taken advice from local authorities to have a ‘robust framework’ in place to deliver the scheme – that is, a comprehensive and well-defined structure or set of guidelines that would have ensured effective coordination and decision-making – which could have helped to avoid the pressures on temporary accommodation.
Looking ahead, one interviewee wanted the future iteration of New Scots to be a ‘more unifying and aspirational document’, which set out a clear framework with specific expectations for refugee resettlement services. This approach, the interviewee hoped, would enable all local authorities to ‘work out where they need to get to in terms of growing integration and growing the resettlement work that they do’.
The work of Scottish local authorities in supporting the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum sits within a complex network of devolved and reserved legislation. Immigration and asylum policy are reserved matters led on by the Home Office, but many areas of policy which impact on integration outcomes – including education, health and housing – are the responsibility of the Scottish Government. Moreover, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Refugee Council and COSLA have developed the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, and, more recently, the Scottish Government has led on the Super Sponsor Scheme for displaced Ukrainians.
According to the survey of local authorities and partner organisations, around half of respondents thought that the UKRS and the VPRS were fairly or very effective. There was support for the funding, coordination and advance planning involved in the Syrian schemes. In the interviews for the case studies, while there was criticism of Home Office policy more broadly, there was also praise for the management of the schemes, with some noting that at the operational level cooperation with Home Office officials went smoothly.
By contrast, only a third of respondents thought that the Afghan and Ukraine schemes were fairly or very effective. The Afghan schemes were criticised for being too slow and letting properties offered to households go unoccupied, putting local authorities off from participating. Researchers were told by COSLA that they were now trying to redesign the matching process to address these issues.
In the case of the Ukraine schemes, challenges focused on the scale of new arrivals and the lack of consultation with local authorities. Concerns were raised over increased pressures on local authority resources and the challenges with finding property matches under the Super Sponsor Scheme.
Research participants across the fieldwork also highlighted difficulties over the operation of the NTS for UASC. These focused on the short lead-in time for new arrivals, the lack of funding available, limited housing options, and Home Office inflexibility.
Survey respondents were generally welcoming of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy: around three fifths of respondents said the impacts were somewhat or very positive. Research participants thought it was a valuable framework and some council officers were directly applying it to their local integration work, though others felt that they were doing this work already independently of the strategy.
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