Rishi Sunak warned the asylum system is under “unsustainable pressure” after the bill for the taxpayer almost doubled in a year to nearly £4 billion.
The Prime Minister, who has promised to “stop the boats” bringing migrants across the English Channel, said the cost was “unacceptable”.
Home Office spending on asylum rose by £1.85 billion, from £2.12 billion in 2021/22 to £3.97 billion in 2022/23. A decade ago, in 2012/13, the total cost to the taxpayer was £500.2 million.
Government statistics also showed that 80% of asylum seekers are waiting longer than six months for an initial decision.
Home Office figures showed Channel crossings topped 19,000 for the year so far, despite Mr Sunak’s promise to voters that he will stop the boats.
Mr Sunak has also pledged by the end of 2023 to clear the backlog of around 92,601 so-called “legacy” cases which had been in the system as of the end of June last year.
But in the six months since Mr Sunak made his promise, the figure reduced by just less than a quarter (23%).
The Prime Minister told the Daily Express: “The best way to relieve the unsustainable pressures on our asylum system and unacceptable costs to the taxpayer is to stop the boats in the first place.
“That’s why we are focused on our plan to break the business model of the people smugglers facilitating these journeys, including working with international partners upstream to disrupt their efforts, stepping up joint work with the French to help reduce crossings and tackling the asylum backlog.”
Overall, a total of 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of June 2023, up 44% from 122,213 for the same period a year earlier – the highest figure since current records began in 2010.
Of these, 139,961 had been waiting longer than six months for an initial decision, up 57% year on year from 89,231 and another record high.
Labour said the record-high asylum backlog amounts to a “disastrous record” for Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, while campaigners called for claims to be processed more efficiently.
By the end of 2023, the Prime Minister has pledged to clear the backlog of 92,601 so-called “legacy” cases which had been in the system as of the end of June last year.
In the six months since Mr Sunak made his promise, the figure reduced by less than a quarter (23%), with 67,870 legacy asylum cases awaiting a decision as of June 30 2023.
The Home Office insisted the Government is “on track” to clear the legacy backlog by the end of the year and said progress has been made since June, citing provisional figures to the end of July which indicated the total backlog of cases had fallen.
Mr Sunak said: “We’ve already reduced the legacy backlog by over 28,000 – nearly a third – since the start of December and we remain on track to meet our target.
“But we know there is more to do to make sure asylum seekers do not spend months or years – living in the UK at vast expense to the taxpayer – waiting for a decision.”
Peter Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “The backlog remains stubbornly high, despite falling numbers of asylum claims and more asylum caseworkers in the Home Office.
“It’s becoming harder to see how the Government can meet its pledge to eliminate the so-called ‘legacy backlog’ of older claims by the end of the year, as the rate of decision-making would have to be more than doubled.”
Amnesty International UK said it was “utterly disgraceful that new asylum laws are being introduced to actually prevent the processing of claims altogether, which will make this backlog, its cost and the limbo it imposes on people even worse”.
The Home Office said the rise in the asylum backlog is “due to more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions”.
But the number of cases waiting to be dealt with increased by less than 1% in the three months to the end of June, suggesting the rise is slowing down.
This was “in part due to an increase in the number of initial decisions made, and an increase in the number of asylum decision-makers employed”, the department added.
Small boat arrivals accounted for fewer than half (46%) of the total number of people claiming asylum in the UK in the period.