Do not 'review' vouchers for asylum-seekers; abolish them

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Bill Morris, the Transport and General Workers' Union leader, has conceded too cheaply on the question of vouchers for asylum-seekers. For a handful of coins - a tiny amendment to the regulations that will allow asylum-seekers to receive small amounts of cash in change for Home Office vouchers - he has dropped his union's opposition to the odious voucher scheme.

Bill Morris, the Transport and General Workers' Union leader, has conceded too cheaply on the question of vouchers for asylum-seekers. For a handful of coins - a tiny amendment to the regulations that will allow asylum-seekers to receive small amounts of cash in change for Home Office vouchers - he has dropped his union's opposition to the odious voucher scheme.

(In passing, it is worth noting that two of the wrong decisions at this week's Labour Party conference - this one and the vote to link the state pension to average earnings - were made by trade unions, which should not have such a voice in the policy-making of a modern political party.)

The voucher scheme is objectionable because it stigmatises a group of people who, to adapt the ancient principle, should be presumed genuine until proved bogus. It is bureaucratically cumbersome, diverting Home Office resources away from dealing with the central problem of the arrangements for dealing with refugees in this country: the huge backlog of claims.

Yes, the Home Office is recruiting staff and cutting waiting times for those claiming refugee status. But it has reacted too slowly and has not done nearly enough.

Nor has the Government's case been assisted by yesterday's misleading claim by Barbara Roche that claims now "typically" take two months to process. That figure applies to claims made by people with families. The average wait by individuals for an initial decision is still 13 months, which is much, much too long.

While asylum-seekers have to wait that long, there is clearly an administrative case for a voucher scheme to discourage people from arriving in this country opportunistically and claiming cash benefits until their application is eventually thrown out. But a better deterrent would be to decide asylum applications speedily.

Tony Blair's brave words on Tuesday are mocked by the voucher scheme. He said he would not "exploit the asylum issue for reasons of race". But as Mr Morris said yesterday, the voucher system exists only to fend off Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, who is not so fastidious.

The Labour Party conference should have supported the Government on pensions and defeated it over its discriminatory and unjust voucher scheme.

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