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Free legal aid request for young asylum seekers on £1,600 a month pilot in Wales blocked

THE UK GOVERNMENT has denied a request for free legal aid for young asylum seekers participating in a universal basic income (UBI) pilot scheme in Wales. The Welsh government had planned to include asylum seekers as part of its two-year basic income trial for care leavers, which pays £1,600 per month (£1,280 after tax) to individuals who leave the care system between 1 July 2022 and 30 June 2023.

However, the Welsh government expressed concerns that participation in the pilot scheme could affect young people seeking asylum’s eligibility for free legal aid. The UK government, in response, accused the Welsh government of “paying” for small boats to cross the Channel, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak argued that the move could encourage people smuggling.

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This led to a heated exchange in the Commons, with Wales Secretary David TC Davies calling it “extraordinary” that the Labour government in Cardiff would “spend millions on handing out a universal basic income to people including asylum seekers,” and accusing them of exempting them from having to pay the same legal bills as the rest of us. Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts, hit back, saying Mr TC Davies “suffers from feudal delusions of grandeur,” and that it was time to retire the position of secretary of state for Wales.

The Welsh government expressed disappointment at the “inaccurate and misleading claims” being made and stressed that the Basic Income Pilot scheme was about giving the most vulnerable people in society a start in life. The scheme’s inclusion of asylum seekers is intended to provide them with support and stability during their transition to adulthood. The Welsh government had hoped to ensure that these young people would have access to free legal aid as they navigate a complex and challenging legal system, but the UK government has blocked this request.

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The accusations came after The Sun reported that it had received a leaked letter, signed by three Welsh ministers – Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, Mick Antoniw, and Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan.

Since then, reports in the English press have been gathering pace, claiming that under new Welsh Government plans, asylum seekers would receive £1,600 a month in benefits, as well as legal aid to fight deportation.

The Sun article, entitled “MIGRANT CASH Asylum-seekers in Wales will get a £1,600 monthly hand-out and taxpayer cash to fight deportation under Labour plans”, reported that ministers in Cardiff were seeking approval from Whitehall for the policy to be given the go-ahead.

However, the letter – which has been obtained by Nation.Cymru – was not an attempt to create a new asylum seeker policy, but involved three Welsh ministers seeking clarification on a pilot that already exists in Wales regarding 18-year-old care leavers.

The Welsh Government launched the Basic Income for Care Leavers scheme in July 2022, which ensures eligible young people leaving the care system receive £1,600 a month for the first 24 months of leaving care.

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The Basic Income for Care Leavers only focuses on the category of care leavers, which does include some unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who were looked after by a local authority up until the age of 18.

The inclusion of asylum-seeking children who were raised in care was always a factor that had been budgeted for by the Welsh Government from the outset of the pilot. Eligibility for the scheme has not changed since it was set out in a written statement by the Welsh Government in February 2022.

Although the Welsh Government has not yet confirmed how many young asylum seekers leave care on average every year, a Welsh Government source said the number is “a very small proportion of those taking part in the pilot”.

In the leaked letter, the three Welsh ministers called for clarity as due to the amount of income received through the pilot, it is unlikely that asylum-seeking children leaving care would qualify for legal aid – which most asylum seekers are eligible for to support them with their asylum claim.

As legal aid is non-devolved, the Counsel General, Deputy Minister for Social Services, and Minister for Social Justice sought confirmation on the UK Government’s position and asked whether an approach can be agreed that will enable young people in receipt of the basic income to be able to access legal aid support.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, and David TC Davies, Secretary of State for Wales, both criticized the supposed plans, and the latter appeared on GB News to vent his frustration.

During his interview, RT Davies accused the Welsh Government of “creating an even bigger pull factor to bring people across the Channel”. The Tory leader claimed the members of the Welsh Parliament hadn’t been informed of the details of the pilot – even though it was reported on in the Welsh press during the scheme’s launch last year, and information is readily available on the Welsh Government website.

RT Davies said: “One of the first things that people crossing the Channel illegally do is destroy their identity papers so it’s difficult to identify the true age of someone. Here you have the Welsh Labour Government, which is propped up by Plaid Cymru here in Wales dishing out £1,600 a month to anyone who wants to rock up and claim it crossing the Channel illegally.”