General election year sparks controversy over immigration statistics

Government promises and the use of Home Office statistics will be the main focus of future discussions, as evidenced by the ongoing row over immigration at the beginning of this general election year. This issue is particularly important for voters in key parliamentary seats that will determine the UK’s next government.

The intensity of the row, with Rishi Sunak being accused by Labour of telling a “barefaced lie,” highlights the direction in which future debates will go. On Tuesday, Sunak claimed to have “cleared” the backlog of nearly 93,000 applications dating back 18 months, which was a promise made by the government.

Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, responded by stating that the Prime Minister’s claim of clearing the backlog is laughable and an insult to the public’s intelligence.

This controversy traces back to a promise made by the Prime Minister in December 2022, where he stated that the backlog of initial asylum decisions would be abolished by the end of the following year. However, the government later revised the target and clarified that Sunak committed to clearing the backlog of 92,601 initial claims made before June 2022.

Since then, the government has allocated additional resources to double the number of asylum caseworkers and agency staff in order to tackle the backlog. On 1 January 2024, the Home Office announced that it had achieved the Prime Minister’s commitment to clearing the legacy asylum backlog.

However, on 2 January, the Home Office released statistics indicating that 4,537 cases were still awaiting an initial decision, raising questions regarding the claim of clearing the backlog. Furthermore, there are other unresolved questions about the asylum backlog statistics, including the number of withdrawn cases that have been resubmitted for secondary asylum casework.

The issue of asylum backlogs is considered significant due to public concerns about the costs of housing asylum seekers in hotels, which the government claims amounts to £8m per day. The government has made efforts to address the issue, increasing the number of initial asylum decisions made in 2023 compared to the previous year.

However, the focus of the debate will now shift to the “flow backlog” of cases since June 2022, with the latest figures showing 94,062 applications awaiting an initial decision. This number is higher than the legacy backlog at the time of the Prime Minister’s promise.

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