At the current rate of progress, the government will fail to meet its promise to clear the asylum backlog before the end of this year, FactCheck analysis of new official data suggests.

The statistics also show that the “shadow” backlog of asylum claims that are outside the scope of the government’s promise is actually growing – outstripping the progress made on the original backlog.

And we understand that the number of people waiting for an asylum decision is the highest it’s been since comparable records began in 2010.

Let’s take a look.

What did Rishi Sunak promise?

In December last year, Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons that he would clear the asylum backlog by the end of 2023.

But, as Channel 4 News reported in April, within hours of the prime minister’s statement, Downing Street officials were telling journalists that the promise only covered claims made before June 2022. This was dubbed the “legacy” backlog.

Government on track to fail to clear legacy backlog?

And yet, based on data published today, it looks like the government is on track to fail to meet even this pared-back promise.

In the first three months of this year, the government cut the legacy backlog by 9,486 claims, leaving 78,954 cases still in the system.

If it continues at the current rate, the Home Office will not meet its target to eliminate this backlog by the end of 2023.

How big is the ‘shadow’ asylum backlog?

As we revealed last month, the tens of thousands of applications made after 28 June 2022 – which we’re calling the “shadow” backlog – were and are outside the scope of the government’s pledge.

Today we learned that the shadow backlog is actually growing. It rose from 43,000 in December 2022 to 54,000 in March 2023.

So the government has shortened the legacy asylum backlog by 9,486 claims in three months. But it’s increased the shadow backlog by even more than that: 10,911 applications.

How many people are waiting?

So far, we’ve looked at the number of asylum applications in the system. But it’s often the case that a single application can cover more than one person seeking asylum in the UK – for example, when multiple members of the same family apply for refugee status.

Today’s data reveals that the number of people in the asylum backlog (legacy and shadow backlogs combined) is now over 170,000. We understand that this is the highest it’s been since comparable records began in 2010.

Though we should say that the number of asylum claims in the system has fallen slightly in the latest figures – from 136,233 to 133,607. Analysis from the House of Commons Library suggests this is much higher than we’ve seen in the last two decades – though roughly comparable to a brief period at the end of the 1990s under the last Labour government, when the claims backlog rose above 120,000 at its peak.

A spokesperson for the government told Channel 4 News: “We are on track to clear the historic asylum backlog which today’s statistics show has already been reduced by 11%.

“The number of decisions being made overall is up by 35% and we are also doubling the number of caseworkers to further speed up the system.

“The best way though to relieve pressures on the asylum system is to Stop the Boats. That is why the government has introduced new legislation which will ensure people arriving in the UK illegally can be detained and swiftly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.”