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Refugee and Migrant Justice – a dangerous sign of things to come in welfare reform?

By Will Horwitz

Tuesday’s news that Refugee and Migrant Justice has gone into administration is devastating for tens of thousands of asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants who rely on their expert services every year, and a chilling taste of what might be to come, unless the new government quickly learns some lessons.

Under reforms introduced to the legal aid system, providers are not fully paid until a case is closed. In complex asylum cases this can take several years, but in the meantime charities like Refugee and Migrant Justice still have to pay their 300 expert staff, cover their rent, and keep going. Since charities rarely have assets, they find it very hard to secure commercial bridging loans in the way a business might, leaving them incredibly vulnerable.

RMJ says they are owed over £2m by the Ministry of Justice, £2m that they cannot find from other sources, and £2m that has forced them into administration. They are the largest supplier of vital legal assistance to asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants, they have done excellent work, they’re just not getting paid for it in time. And the victims, alongside RMJ’s staff, will be those who have already suffered the most, those who are often fleeing victimisation in other countries, the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable, who all governments pledge to protect, but who are often those most cruelly let down.

Fast forward 2 years, and there is a dangerously similar story emerging in welfare reform. Government is planning to move to a ‘payment by results’ model whereby providers of back-to-work services are only paid in full once someone has in a job for a year. Community Links is the most successful back-to-work provider in London and the South East, but we certainly couldn’t afford to be £2m out of pocket. We specialise in helping those who have been out of work for a long time, often among the most vulnerable, those who government has pledged to protect.

Iain Duncan Smith has indicated that he’s aware of the importance of ensuring charities like ours can take part in the new system, but until we see the details of how that will happen, we remain worried. That’s why earlier this week we sent this short briefing paper to Duncan Smith and others, outlining how we felt the new Work Programme should be structured.

RMJ’s plight is a disgrace, and government should be doing all it can to ensure RMJ can continue its vital work. But as importantly, government must learn from the experience, so other charities are not forced into the same situation in the future.

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