Around half Southwark’s EU citizens still haven’t applied for settled status to remain in the UK after 2020, despite a huge council-led campaign to ensure their right to stay.
Southwark is believed to be home to 41,000 non-Irish EU citizens, who will need to apply to the EU settlement scheme to ensure they are able to stay in the country after the UK’s withdrawal is complete.
According to the latest Home Office statistics up until September last year, 23,628 people in Southwark had applied for the scheme so far.
On top of online advice and support the council is also running a walk-in service to help EU citizens with their applications.
In the latest Southwark Council papers on “Brexit preparedness”, the specialist panel tasked with mitigating key risks confirms its key focus continued to be “providing certainty to those citizens and ensuring their rights are protected”.
It says a social media push, advertising and dedicated website page saw numbers jump from 12,680 applying by June 2019 to 23,620 by November.
But the council also says the majority of these people are between 18 and 65; with children and pensioners underrepresented. The task ahead will be ensuring vulnerable residents are not at risk after the transition period ends. Plans to avoid thousands being left with uncertain status include a series of roadshows around the borough this year to encourage more people to apply before the deadline.
The Southwark Liberal Democrat leader Anood Al-Samerai and councillor David Noakes, in an “EU Citizens Motion” submitted to the council’s latest assembly meeting, said: “After three years of living in limbo, EU nationals’ homes and livelihoods are in danger of being threatened by the further uncertainty brought about by the outcome of the general election in December 2019.
“Another Windrush-like scandal could be unfolding right before the eyes of this council and we must not be passive observers to it.”
Around ten per cent of the borough’s total workforce is from the EU. Other key council concerns are staff shortages and recruitment dips for keyworker roles in the NHS and other public services.
But delays and confusion over the deal yet to be thrashed out by negotiators has prevented the council from identifying where best to plug the gaps. Cllr Victoria Mills is in charge of a £300,000 Brexit fund to support residents affected, and £2 million “risk reserve” in case of economic upheaval.
Council papers explain: “No immediate pressures have been identified and the full extent of any impact and subsequent call on these funds may not be fully known until after the exit date and well into the transition period,” while also warning that there is still a possibility of a no-deal Brexit if an agreement isn’t reached by the end of the transition period.
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