By Tony Earnshaw LDRS
A leading Liberal Democrat in Kirklees has pleaded for the authority not to lose sight of “the human cost” of Brexit as the clock ticks down on Britain’s transition period from the European Union, which ends on December 31.
Cllr John Lawson was referring to the struggle to secure settled status for a handful of children who are EU nationals.
Whilst four out of five youngsters needing to apply have completed the process, one child’s status remains unresolved.
He said the situation was “unforgivable”.
And with the deadline for settled status looming it is set to run out in June 2021 he fears that the eight-week turnaround on applications might not be enough.
The Home Office released £146,000 to the council to cover the cost of handling applications for settled status.
As of 30 June, the authority had received 9,390 applications, representing 72% of the 13,000 estimated EU nationals in Kirklees.
However, as with neighbouring authorities in Leeds and Wakefield, Kirklees expects real numbers to exceed government estimates.
Speaking after a meeting of the council’s Corporate Scrutiny Panel Cllr Lawson said he was becoming “very nervous” about the time remaining and the aspects to be resolved.
He said: “I’ve followed this issue with increasing alarm through the year. Officers are working hard and have completed four of the five cases we know about but the fifth remains unresolved.
“It’s unthinkable that young people here and in other authorities should have this hanging over them.
“Everyone in the council is regarded as a corporate parent, This means we should be treating these young people as our own and giving voice to this very human cost of the preparations to leave the EU.”
He described the children concerned as “among the most vulnerable of the vulnerable and in a position not of their making”.
He added: “The impact of not getting settled status would be significant and lifelong, affecting them way beyond their time in our care.
“We should be in the business of looking after young people who need it, wherever they’re from. We should absolutely not be forced to spend time chasing down paperwork to feed government bureaucracy at a time like this.”
He is seeking answers as to how such youngsters have fallen through the cracks in the system and what the council needs to do “to set it right.”
He said: “We need to be able to stop young people falling through the gaps and provide a safety net that guarantees their status through being in care.”
Naz Parkar, the council’s director of growth and housing, said officers were working “very hard” to work through settled status applications.
“The 13,000 that you quite rightly said is a Home Office estimate – and other districts have already busted that number. We anticipate that we will. It’s really difficult to speculate by how much but by quite a strong number. I have heard an estimate that we might reach as many as 17,000 people.
“Those are guesstimates reflecting the experience of other districts.”