Yvette Cooper grilled on asylum seeker policy

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The Shadow Home Secretary appeared baffled as she was quizzed on proposals to let asylum seekers undertake paid employment while their case to remain in the UK is heard. Yvette Cooper declared Labour had previously supported plans to get asylum seekers into work but indicated a new plan suggested by Tory MP Robert Buckland was not the right approach to resolve the disastrous UK asylum system. The Labour MP claimed asylum seekers should not be able to work “when they first arrive” but declined to outline a time period after which employment should become an option.

Justin Webb, the host of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, asked if the Labour Party would be in favour of Robert Buckland’s suggestion that work should be accessible to asylum seekers six months after their claim was first issued, as opposed to the current guidelines which allow such work after a year on the waiting list.

Ms Cooper replied: “We have supported that in the past, but I actually don’t think that is going to solve the problem because you’ve got that huge backlog.

Mr Webb retorted: “So, you’re not in favour of that at the moment?”

The Labour MP said: “No, we have done because it does help obviously 

Pushed again to declare if the Labour Party would back Mr Buckland’s proposal, Ms Cooper clarified that asylum seekers should not be able to work “when they first arrive.”

Mr Webb continued to quiz the Labour Shadow Minister for detail on the party’s plans: “So, how long should the distance be between them arriving?”

Ms Cooper interjected: “Hang on a second. The key issue here is you have currently got 90,000 people waiting for more than six months to have a decision – it used to be around 4,000 people who had been waiting for a decision for six months.

“Now, that is a huge long delay and that is bad for the whole asylum system. It means that you have people who have got serious problems, maybe have been tortured and have faced persecution and need additional support, but you also have people who are not refugees and actually need to be returned and it’s adding to these huge additional hotel costs.

“So, we think the government should have a plan to cut hotel use, a plan to make decisions to get the proper supervision,  training and triage in place to actually support the recommendations of the independent inspectorate.”

Read more: Migrants staying in hotels rises to 40,000

The Shadow Home Secretary denied that Labour considered Mr Buckland’s proposal to be “wrong”.

She said: “Nobody is proposing that and I don’t think he is proposing for people to be able to work as soon as they arrive.

“You have to have a proper asylum system in place. There are ways to speed that up, but you still have to have a proper asylum decision-making process in place.”

Ms Cooper added: “I think the point is to have a decision made before that rather than reaching that point in the first place and that’s the thing that is going wrong at the moment and that is why we have got such a failing system.”

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Speaking of the current asylum seeker employment regulations in an interview with The Spectator, Mr Buckland said: “Why not make it six months? We’ve got thousands of people costing us money, standing idle – instead of being able to contribute. Or worse, actually doing work of an irregular nature.”

He continued: “Let them contribute to the economy in a legitimate way. Let them pay tax.”

In a speech to the CBI on Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer called for the UK economy to be  weaned off its “immigration dependency.”

He declared the days of “cheap labour” must come to an end and demanded greater investment in training workers “who are already here”.

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