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Destitution

Destitution is a state of extreme poverty which leaves people ere the person affected is homeless, without an income and no means to support his or herself. We believe destitution puts people’s lives at risk, is an affront to human dignity and, with political changes to the UK’s asylum system, is almost entirely avoidable.

What is the problem?

People are at risk of becoming destitute at various stages of the asylum process. However the people most at risk of destitution are men and women whose asylum applications have been refused and who do not, or cannot, return to their home countries.  

At this point, the UK’s asylum system withdraws all support, including accommodation, and bars people from seeking emergency homelessness support and other vital services provided by local councils. As people in this situation are not allowed to work, they are left with no effective means of survival and are forced into destitution.

We, and the United Nations, believe destitution among people who have been refused asylum is a serious human rights concern.

Risks

People in this situation face serious risks to their health and wellbeing. 

Homelessness, hunger, isolation and the impact of destitution on people’s mental health make it extremely difficult for people to get the help they need. From our years of supporting people in this situation, we know that unless people’s basic needs are met, it is almost impossible for them to make decisions about their futures, including decisions about their asylum claim and other complex legal issues. 

People in this position are at increased risk of exploitation because of the precariousness of their living situations. We know of people experiencing sexual, domestic and labour exploitation in order to find a place to sleep at night or to meet other basic needs. 

What is the solution?

Destitution is designed into the UK’s asylum system as part of the Westminster government’s hostile environment agenda. But this does not make it inevitable. We need to see a fundamental change of policy by the Home Office to make sure that people receive essential support throughout the asylum system. 

Other changes at national and local levels would reduce the impact and extent of destitution. In Scotland we want to see:

  • Immediate accommodation options for people facing destitution. No one should face street homelessness in Scotland. 
  • A Scottish Government strategy designed to lessen the worst impacts of destitution on people. Including practical measures such as allowing people to continue with their education and providing concessionary travel to allow people to attend important appointments.
  • National guidance and training for public service providers such social workers, health professionals, and police officers who have responsibilities for people at risk of destitution,
  • Discretionary leave to remain granted to people who face barriers to return which are beyond their control.

 What are we doing to end destitution?

  • We are working with the Scottish Government and COSLA to make sure the forthcoming national strategy to prevent and mitigate migrant destitution contains measures to provide accommodation and advocacy for people in need. 
  • We are working with Glasgow Night Shelter, Glasgow City Council and Scotland’s homelessness sector to pilot an accommodation pathway to end asylum homelessness.
  • We are working with Govan Community Project to coordinate a new group of experts who have experienced destitution, to play a central role in shaping and monitoring key national and local destitution interventions.  
  • We coordinate the #StopLockChangeEvictions campaign to stop Serco and the Home Office using summary evictions to make people homeless. 
  • We are calling on the Home Office and UK Government to radically reform the asylum support system, removing forced destitution from the system. We believe people should be safe and supported at all stages of the asylum process, including post refusal, so that people are able to make informed decisions about their future.
  • We provide one-to-one support for people experiencing destitution through our destitution advice service.

Further reading

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