North of England leaders urge fair distribution of Afghan refugees

Poorest areas house high proportion of asylum seekers, analysis shows, but north pledges to be welcoming

Political leaders in the north of England have promised to welcome refugees from Afghanistan but said they must be distributed fairly across the country, as analysis showed the areas housing the most asylum seekers are among the poorest in Britain.

A Guardian analysis has found that almost one in four of the UK’s 44,825 asylum seekers supported by the Home Office are housed in just 10 local authorities, nine of which are among the most deprived in the UK.

They include Middlesbrough, Cardiff, Rochdale and Glasgow, which has the UK’s highest number of refugees as a proportion of its population. Only one of the top 10 – Barking and Dagenham in London – is in the south of England.

Mayors in the north of England said the whole country needed to support those in need as ministers draw up plans to take in 20,000 men, women and children from Afghanistan over the next five years.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said the region would welcome refugees under the government’s resettlement programme but that it “does need to be fair to places like Greater Manchester” and that other regions should play their part. This sentiment was echoed by his fellow mayors Steve Rotheram in Liverpool city region, Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire and Dan Jarvis in South Yorkshire.

The analysis shows that northern England – including the north-west, north-east and Yorkshire and Humber – had taken in nearly half (42%) of all the 44,825 asylum seekers in the UK. Only 6.5% have been placed in the south of England excluding London.

There is approximately one asylum seeker for every 10,000 people in the south of England, outside London, compared with 16 for every 10,000 in the north-east and 12 in the north-west.


The analysis used House of Commons library data on asylum seekers supported under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act as of March 2021, under which the Home Office provides housing and/or basic living expenses. Deprivation data was taken from the indices for multiple deprivation for the relevant nation.

MPs have called repeatedly for an overhaul of the “deeply unfair” dispersal system, which often results in those fleeing persecution being housed in areas of severe deprivation with what one deputy mayor called an “appalling” lack of notification to the local council.

The city of Salford in Greater Manchester was housing 706 asylum seekers in March this year, equating to 25 for every 10,000 people, more than four times the UK average. John Merry, Salford’s deputy mayor, said the council was suddenly told to expect 160 more at the end of June, most of whom were Afghans who had been rescued from the Channel in boats.

He said Salford’s already stretched public health team was expected to do medical checks on all 160. Some turned out to be unaccompanied children, which was “a nightmare for us”, said Merry, because of the costly statutory responsibilities around keeping such children safe. Things were complicated further when there was an outbreak of Covid in their hotel and then TB, which cost a “considerable amount” to deal with, said Merry.

“We felt quite upset that Salford was being hit with these extreme costs, particularly when these costs are not being shared equally around the country,” he said. “We are not trying to be hard-hearted about this. I’m not saying we don’t want to take responsibility for some of these cases but we don’t want to take responsibility for all of them.”

Two weeks after apologising to Salford, the Home Office placed a similar number of asylum seekers at a hotel in Wigan, which in 2015 became the subject of protests from residents when asylum seekers were placed regularly there.

Key considerations for dispersing asylum seekers include the availability of private sector housing for rent, school places and local health services. Some of the more remote rural areas do not have the resources to support asylum seekers who often have complex needs.

Some councils in southern England said they wanted to do more to help refugees but were constrained due to a lack of affordable housing.

The city of Chelmsford in Essex is only supporting three asylum seekers under section 95 arrangements, according to the House of Commons library data, despite being a large urban area with a population approaching 200,000. By contrast Hartlepool, which has half the population of Chelmsford, is housing 319 asylum seekers.

Stephen Robinson, the Liberal Democrat leader of Chelmsford city council, said it was virtually impossible to accommodate destitute people in the city due to a huge gap between house prices and the level of government support. The average two-bedroom flat might cost £1,000 a month to rent, he said, significantly higher than the local housing allowance of £732.

“We would like to do more but the fundamental problem is the government’s comprehensive failure on the housing system,” he said. “When the government says can you find houses for these people, they don’t appreciate the sheer scale of the housing crisis we have in this country particularly in southern England but across the country as a whole.”


Josh Halliday, Niamh McIntyre, Helen Pidd and Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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