Peers urged to protect children from dangerous and cruel Illegal Migration Bill

Alongside other children’s rights and social work organisations, Article 39 is urging Peers to reject clauses in the Illegal Migration Bill which give the Home Office unprecedented powers to take desperately vulnerable children out of the child welfare system.

The Illegal Migration Bill reaches Report Stage in the House of Lords this afternoon (28 June). A briefing sent to Peers from Article 39, the British Association of Social Workers, The Care Leavers’ Association, Children England, ECPAT UK, Nagalro and Social Workers Without Borders explains that Clauses 15 and 16:

  • Radically reshape England’s child welfare system. This is the first time a central government department is to be legally empowered to take responsibility for highly vulnerable children who are without parental care and for whom local authorities have clear statutory duties to care for, protect and support – as children, and in the future as (adult) care leavers. 
  • Are ill-conceived and discriminatory in principle. They give the Home Secretary wide powers to house unaccompanied children of any age in any type of accommodation for any length of time, and to direct that a local authority stops looking after an individual child – irrespective, it appears, of the child’s needs, characteristics, past experiences and legal status (children who are the subject of care orders are not excluded from Clause 16). The Clauses legitimate and potentially make lawful arrangements that hundreds of non-governmental organisations have for nearly two years contended are unlawful. 
  • Seek to effectively remove unaccompanied children from the child welfare statutory scheme. Ministers have been clear that their intention is to provide or arrange accommodation on a temporary, emergency basis only. However, the Bill provides no such limitations. Further, there has been ample time – at least two years – for government to undertake a public consultation on these radical measures. There have been no Green or White Papers. A government-commissioned “once-in-a-generation” review of children’s social care, including the children’s care system, concluded in May 2022. It neither asked for views on the Home Office accommodating unaccompanied children, and being able to direct local authorities to cease looking after a child, nor made any recommendations to this effect.

Read our joint briefing on Clauses 15 and 16 here.

Separately, as a member of the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, Article 39 condemns regressive provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill which empower government to lock up children who have sought sanctuary in the UK. Given extensive evidence of serious harms suffered by children in immigration detention, we consider its reintroduction to be a wilful act of child cruelty.

Article 39 has also joined nearly 60 non-governmental organisations in urging Peers to remove Clause 1 of the Bill, replacing it with an amendment affirming that the UK will honour its human rights obligations, including under the Refugee Convention and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Fundamentally, however, we believe the Bill should be scrapped altogether.