The government’s use of deportation charter flights has been branded a waste of money by one Labour MP. Image: Unsplash
The UK government spent £11.3million on controversial deportation charter flights in 2021, The Big Issue can reveal.
As the number of people deported on the flights shot up during the pandemic, the government paid an average of £175,000 for each of the 65 flights last year.
The spending increased by over a third on 2020, when £8.2m was spent, and critics of the flights say they are unjust and a waste of money.
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy told The Big Issue: “The Tories rely heavily on their anti-migrant policies to distract from the real issues people face, like the cost of living crisis.
“The only people who benefit from this apart from them are the Home Office contractors raking in these eye-watering sums.”
The Home Office would not release the cost of individual flights – but disclosed to The Big Issue that a total of £11,370,678 had been spent.
Over 1,300 people were removed from the UK on the flights in 2021, up from 410 people in 2019. Albania and Romania were the most common destinations.
Charter flights are planes hired by the Home Office specifically to remove people – as opposed to deportations which take place on scheduled flights.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, told The Big Issue: “In their efforts to pack deportation planes with people at any cost, the Home Office has ripped families apart and deported British residents to danger. Some flights cost six figures, just to deport one or two people, flying in the face of value for money and sensible policy making.
“This government could use these millions to help minimise the looming cost of living increases, but chooses instead to take people from their loved ones.”
The Home Office defends the flights as a means to deport criminals with no right to be in the UK, and says deportations are often frustrated by “baseless” last-minute legal claims.”
A Big Issue investigation in January found many potential deportees had not been able to access adequate legal representation until they were detained for a charter flight, and often had their deportations cancelled after lodging appeals while in custody.
Alongside its release of the figures after a Freedom of Information request, the Home Office said: “Every week the Home Office removes, to different countries, people who have no right to be in the UK. During the Covid-19 pandemic we have continued to deport foreign national offenders and return other immigration offenders where flight routes have been available to us, on both scheduled and charter flights.
“The government’s efforts to facilitate entirely legitimate and legal returns of people who have entered the UK illegally are too often frustrated by late challenges submitted hours before the flight. These claims are often baseless and entirely without merit but are given full legal consideration which can lead to removal being rescheduled. Some operations also have to be cancelled or deferred for reasons related to Covid-19.”
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.