Despite all the fuss about migration levels, the numbers applying for asylum in the UK are at historically low levels. They ran at over 100,000 annually in the early noughties, then fell to around 30,000 per year and are back near that level again after another short peak linked to the migrant crisis in the rest of Europe. Most people who apply for asylum in the UK are turned down, but the proportion ultimately successful is rising, from consistently under a third a decade ago to over 40% now. The low numbers could have eased pressure on asylum accommodation, where applicants can live while awaiting decisions on their cases, but the Home Office is its own worst enemy in this respect: it has a backlog of nearly 15,000 unresolved cases over six months old (and some very much older than that).
Asylum seekers don’t have to accept accommodation, but those who would otherwise be destitute can apply for it. Before 2000 there were few if any asylum seekers living in Scotland – then Glasgow was chosen as one of the accommodation ‘dispersal areas’ after a change in government policy towards moving asylum seekers away from the south-east of England. At the time, the idea was to use surplus council flats (the same happened in other places, mainly in the Midlands and north of England). The Home Office set up contracts with local authorities to administer ‘dispersal’ and provide housing. From the start, this was on a no-rent basis – the person housed would get a flat, some furniture and white goods, and a very basic subsistence allowance (now £37.75 per week). Councils like Glasgow – still the only one in Scotland – could use surplus funds from the contract to fund community services. Glasgow set up a series of neighbourhood networks to support communities where newcomers were being housed.