Refugee and Migrant Justice placed into administration

Crisis deepens for the asylum charity.

Refugee and Migrant Justice, whose future was reported to be under threat earlier this month, has today gone into administration. The charity, which provides legal support to thousands of asylum-seekers across England and Wales, is suffering a cash-flow crisis because of changes to the system of legal aid payments.

Paul Gray, the chair of RMJ, said:

It is with great sadness that RMJ's trustees took the decision . . . we are very concerned about the position of our 10,000 clients, and of our dedicated and highly professional staff.

This situation is caused by late payment of legal aid by up to two years, not inefficiency or even lack of income . . . Late payment has an unequal impact on charities because they cannot get bank loans to finance the cash gap.

Public figures including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Shami Chakrabarti and the film director Ken Loach have called for the charity to be rescued. Coalition ministers have already promised a review of legal aid and to speed up the asylum system, but have so far refused to change payment rules set in place by the last government.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.