Press Story

  • Illegal Migration Act risks casting thousands into permanent limbo and in need of continuing government support
  • Housing costs for new backlog could soar to over £5 billion a year after five years, IPPR finds
  • Growing risk of undocumented population, vulnerable to destitution and exploitation

The UK’s asylum system crisis is likely to be significantly worse by the next general election, with any incoming government facing high risk of a “perma-backlog” of thousands of new asylum-seekers needing long-term accommodation and support, according to an assessment published today.

There is little realistic prospect that most of those who arrive by ‘irregular’ routes, including small boat crossings, will be removed to a third country, even if the Rwanda plan is eventually ruled lawful, the report by IPPR researchers warns.

But under the Illegal Migration Act, any such migrants who claim asylum will meanwhile be denied any prospect of a hearing. As most cannot be returned home under international or UK law, those who are not sent to Rwanda or another third country will find themselves in indefinite limbo.

The result could be a steadily escalating number of people who cannot be compelled to leave the UK, but who have no path to securing permission to stay and are permanently blocked from working, IPPR says.

The report published today looks at five potential scenarios that could face any incoming government by early 2025. It says only if the full provisions of the Illegal Migration Act are not put into effect will there be no “perma-backlog” - but that would mean a continuation of the status quo, with the government's plan for small boats having stalled.

Under any other scenario a “perma-backlog” is almost certain to develop and grow, the report says, as even if the Rwanda plan is deemed lawful and the government is able to implement it at scale, the rate of new arrivals is likely to outpace removals.

Even if there is a high rate of removals of 500 per month to third countries such as Rwanda, annual housing costs of those in limbo could exceed £5 billion (at current prices) within five years, the report finds. If only 50 people are removed each month, housing costs would be even greater – more than £6 billion.

At the same time there will be a risk of a growing undocumented population, as people disappear from the official system – or shun it to begin with – knowing there is no prospect of it providing a pathway to legal residency in the UK.

Marley Morris, associate director for migration, trade and communities at IPPR, said:

“There is only a very narrow window for government success on asylum, based on its current plan to forge ahead with the Rwanda deal and the Illegal Migration Act. Even with the Act fully implemented, under most plausible scenarios arrivals will still outpace removals.

“This will mean a growing population of people permanently in limbo, putting huge pressure on Home Office accommodation and support systems – plus a risk of thousands of people who vanish from the official system and are at risk of exploitation and destitution.

“Any incoming government would be likely to face a dire and increasingly costly challenge which it would need to address urgently from the outset – there will be no option to ignore or sideline the crisis it inherits.”


Marley Morris, the report’s author, is available for interview


David Wastell, Director of News and Communications: 07921 403651

Liam Evans, Senior Digital and Media Officer: 07419 365334


  1. The IPPR paper, The asylum in-tray in 2025 by Marley Morris, will be published at 0001 on Tuesday August 22 at
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request
  3. Estimates of Home Office accommodation costs are based on arrivals continuing at approximately 2022 levels and a range of 50 to 500 people a month being returned or removed to a third country. Costs are calculated using the assumption of £85 per person per night from the Illegal Migration Act economic impact assessment, and are at current prices without adjusting for inflation.
  4. IPPR will be publishing a further paper later this year outlining alternative approaches to managing the rise in people in small boats crossing the Channel.
  5. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.