Urgent appeal to the Home Office for decent asylum assistance

money in hands  c. Jenny Wicks
Set at around £5 per day, asylum support is too low for asylum seekers to meet their basic living needs.

Blog by Rachel Hamada, who recently started working as part-time Media and Communications Officer at Scottish Refugee Council. She is also a freelance journalist focusing mainly on Africa

Few of us know what it must really feel like to live on £5 per day for everything, including all food, drink, clothing and toiletries. However, this is the reality for single asylum seekers who would otherwise be homeless and without any means to support themselves or even a support network. Eligible parents can access a paltry extra amount to provide for the children in their care.

This means that people often already dealing with severe trauma have to manage without what most of us would consider essentials.

Celebrations such as Refugee Week Scotland and campaigns like that of the Glasgow Girls have demonstrated that people here in Scotland can be absolutely fantastic at offering refugees seeking safety here a warm welcome – and for people who have fled frightening events, kindness from fellow humans can be a real source of comfort and strength. We would like such hospitality and warmth to be reflected in the support rates that are provided to those asylum seekers who are destitute and do not have any other means to support themselves.

Living in real poverty

We recognise that this may be a time of difficulty and cuts for many in the UK, but those eligible for asylum support receive on average less than 70% and in some cases only half of the equivalent Income Support rates. The men, women and children trying to survive on these sums are living below the poverty line, sometimes for years on end. Without the fallback of being able to work, there is real vulnerability.

This can have consequences for health and wellbeing, especially of children, who are physically and mentally developing. Things that can be a struggle to buy include warm clothes for winter; fresh fruit and vegetables, which can be too expensive; and books and toys, which are not included in the rates, but without which children’s development can be severely hampered.

According to the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, “Bringing up our children in poverty is extremely challenging and only makes harder the everyday stresses of finding our way through a very complex asylum process haunted by memories of what we have fled, to rebuild our lives here in the UK.”

Small change for a big difference

As things stand at the moment, asylum support, even including accommodation, actually makes up less than 0.1% of the UK social security budget*. Asylum support rates are already low, but to add to this they haven't, unlike most benefits, even risen with inflation.

It would cost us very little to extend a better living budget to those who are desperately in need of it. From the security of the UK, it can be hard for us to understand and empathise with the enormity of the events that make people flee their countries and often their families to reach safety here.

From those who are threatened for standing up to oppressive regimes overseas to those who have been raped or seen family members killed, the range of reasons for people ending up in Scotland is wide – but all of these people need our humanity.

And if that means that they can be spared the indignity of struggling to afford absolute basics, then that is something that we should all support.

Home Secretary Teresa May is expected to announce new methodology for calculating asylum support rates by 9 August, as its previous way of deciding this was  found to be “unlawful” after a court challenge from Refugee Action.

If you would like to support the call for a fair, across-the-board increase in rates, then please do sign this petition and encourage your friends and family to do the same. https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/bring-back-dignity-to-asylum-support

*Sources: DWP spending: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AonYZs4MzlZbdHNXNW4yTlNMZllOZmRSOTRWTDNwWXc#gid=11

Asylum support spending (see 3.12) http://icinspector.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/An-Inspection-of-Asylum-Support-FINAL-WEB.pdf

(4) Comments

  • Catherine Tshezi
    05 August 2014, 13:36

    Life is very difficult for asylum seekers, living on £5 and some have no access to cash as they are using Azure cards. Let's work hard and have this policy changed.

  • adele mitchell
    06 August 2014, 08:11

    Asylum is a humanitarian act. Lets treat asylum seekers like humans please!

  • Rachel Statham
    06 August 2014, 18:01

    The uk government ought to respect and protect the basic human tights of asylum claimants. This involves reassessing a system that presently denies dignified living standards to some of our society's most vulnerable individuals.

  • Jig Griff
    07 August 2014, 22:16

    Asylum seekers are not able to use their Azure cards to;

    get a haircut,
    travel on public transport,
    shop in corner shops,
    shop in smaller, less well known, or discount supermarkets,
    buy fast-food or take away food,
    buy from charity shops,
    visit a cafe or restaurant,
    buy from specialist food shops,
    visit the cinema, gym or swimming pool
    ...the list goes on.

    They rely heavily on charitable people and are often denied the right to purchase basic items such as sanitary towels and socks.

    Asylum seekers are human beings who should not be made feel they are a burden or unwanted in our country; they are often treated unfairly and victimised because of; their situation, the colour of their skin, their nationality, the language barriers they face, their religion and sexual orientation. We should be supporting these people in any way we can, not treating them as second class citizens.

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