Resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain will cost British taxpayers £1.7 billion, a report by the government’s spending watchdog has revealed.
In a report released Tuesday, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that the government has made no estimate of how much a pledge made by the former Prime Minister David Cameron to bring 20,000 Syrian refugees to the UK by 2020 would actually cost.
Analysing the figures themselves, the NAO has come up with a total predicted cost to the government of £1.1 billion by 2019/20. And over the longer term, the full costs are likely to be up to £1.7 billion, the equivalent of £86,700 for each refugee relocated.
However, the report notes: “The cost of the programme to the UK is uncertain as it depends in large part on the characteristics of those entering the country. […] Departments told us that analysing all costs would be time-consuming.”
The scheme prioritises people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk. So far 55 per cent of the 2,659 people already resettled in Britain suffered violence or torture, or both while in Syria.
The vulnerable nature of the migrants helped by the scheme mean that the total cost could spiral, depending on the needs of the individuals brought to Britain. Already the government has had to revise upwards the estimated costs of meeting their needs in their first year in the UK from £404 million to £421 million.
That figure will be realised by tapping Britain’s aid budget, but aid rules mean that it can’t be used in subsequent years. Instead, local councils, government departments and the benefits system will be expected to pick up the tab.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The programme team achieved a great deal in a short amount of time, resettling much larger numbers of refugees than previous programmes, due in large part to the dedication and goodwill of those involved.
“The characteristics of the refugees arriving in the UK will become clearer over time. With this new information, the programme team must adapt budgets so that no organisation taking part in the programme struggles to participate effectively due to cost pressures.”
The watchdog warned that 5,000 homes, and nearly 10,000 childcare and school places would be required to meet the needs of the refugees, warning: “The future of the programme could be put at risk by local authorities’ lack of suitable accommodation and school places.”
However, it noted that the refugees, totalling 13 per cent of the target, who have already arrived in the UK have been dispersed across 113 local authorities, and that the government had received enough pledges from local authorities to cover the remaining quota.
David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, said: “We have previously said that we were confident in ensuring that there would be sufficient pledges to support the Government’s aim to resettle 20,000 people by 2020 and the Home Office has now confirmed this to be true. The focus must now be on ensuring families are well supported.”
A Government spokesman said: “We have secured all the local authority pledges required to meet this commitment and the hard work across Government involving the devolved administrations and local authorities will continue until we have turned all of these pledges into places and resettled 20,000 people.
“We ask local authorities to consider carefully whether they have the necessary infrastructure and support networks before a resettlement occurs and we will only resettle individuals to a particular area once we’ve ensured these arrangements, including school places and housing, are in place.”
The estimated cost does not include British government assistance to Syrians in Syria, Syrians in Europe, or refugees from other countries; nor does it cover vulnerable children from the Middle East and Africa whom the government has pledged to support; nor unaccompanied child migrants already in Europe, all of whom fall outside of the scheme.