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Opinion

How will the Home Office justify entrenching refugee poverty?

22 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Image: Asylum Matters. Credit: Walking With and Sadia Sikandar

Nathan Phillips Wales Campaigns Manager, Asylum Matters

If I asked you to guess where you’d find 91% of a cohort of people unable to afford food, or 97% of that cohort unable to afford clothes, I can’t imagine your first guess would be the sixth largest economy in the world. 

However, that is the reality for people seeking asylum here in the UK, according to a damning new report.

People who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and forced to flee for their very lives – due to war, persecution, torture or trafficking – are faced with even more suffering when they arrive in this supposed place of safety, which takes the form of poverty and destitution.

Nation of Sanctuary

Wales is seeking to become a ‘Nation of Sanctuary’, and there is much the Welsh Government can do to make life easier for sanctuary seekers.

However, some of the most impactful levers lie in Whitehall, and specifically the Home Office, such as the rate of asylum support.

Government Buildings along Whitehall, London, England.

People seeking asylum are denied the right to work in the UK. They are left in limbo, waiting months and more often years for a decision on their asylum claim, languishing in overcrowded hotels or even closed camps on barracks and barges.

All they have to live off in this time is asylum support, which is set at an alarmingly low rate.

Basic needs

In December 2023, when the ‘Surviving in Poverty’ report came out, the rates were set at £47.39 per week, or £6.77 per day. They were even lower for those living in hotels and hostels – just £9.58 per day, or around £1.40 a day.

It’s of little surprise then that when surveyed, people on asylum support said this money was not enough to cover the rise in the cost of living we are all feeling and didn’t pay for the basic necessities such as medicines, toiletries, public transport and mobile data. 

The sobering report is full of heart-wrenching testimonies from people trapped on asylum support, and one of many quotes that stands out is this one:

“It makes me feel less human that I can’t meet my needs.”

Let that sink in. Somebody who has fled the most unthinkable and traumatic of circumstances, who has undertaken the most perilous of journeys, and it’s the poverty they are trapped in here in the UK that makes them feel less human.

Soon after the report was published the Home Office announced a change to asylum support rates. Was it a much-needed uplift across the board? No. 

In a move refugee charities described as “unfathomable”, people seeking asylum living in hotels had their support cut from the already measly £1.40 a day to just £1.25 a day. Even those in self-catering accommodation only saw their allowance increase by less than £2 a week, which won’t go far in the midst of this cost-of-living crisis.

Desperation

The new rates quietly came into effect in January, whilst the UK Government was blustering about its Rwanda plans.

People in our communities here in Wales, desperate to rebuild their lives in a place of safety, plunged into even further misery and destitution. Frontline charities in Wales say the lack of support makes buying food “almost impossible”. 

Vaughan Gething. Photo James Manning/PA Wire

Later this month, the Home Office is expected to release a report outlining the methodology it used to calculate the new rates.

It will be very interesting to read what logic underpinned looking at people who were already being made to feel ‘less human’ due to not living but ‘surviving in poverty’ and deciding to further cut their financial support. 

The new Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething already has a busy in-tray, but how he responds to the Home Office justifying entrenching poverty amongst asylum seekers in our aspiring Nation of Sanctuary should not be overlooked.

Watch this space.


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Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
18 days ago

This is disgusting treatment of very vulnerable people who have only committed the ‘Crime’ of fleeing from war and persecution! The UK Government should be vilified for their heartless and inhuman treatment of these human beings!

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
18 days ago

In addition to how poorly asylum seekers and refugees (ASR) are treated by the uk government as outlined in the article, the uk government also chooses to NOT provide healthcare to ASR!

In another article I provided links about how to international medical charities, Médecins Sans Frontières and Doctors of the World, are working together to provide the necessary healthcare to the ASR held at the former RAF base in Wethersfield in Essex!

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
18 days ago

Lack of government funding, compassion and empathy, for 14 years, is the main reason why there is so much poverty amongst those waiting to be accepted into the UK. This is disgusting. There needs to be an efficient and well funded immigration service where people are processed fast allowing them to contribute to our society quicker, when accepted. Another idea is that while they are waiting – they are allowed to work, thus benefiting them and the community. Meanwhile, people must stop believing the Tories and rabid right wing press that every imigrant is a murderer, rapist or some other… Read more »

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
18 days ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

Agree with you 100%

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
18 days ago

I agree the treatment of those seeking asylum here is harsh and inappropriate but so too is the treatment of much of the rest of the population. There are millions of people, including children, already living here going hungry and homeless in the UK. In Cardiff, for example, the waiting list for social housing is between 7 and 11 years with families lingering for years in temporary/hotel accommodation. For example a neighbours son with two young children is living in one room in a migrant hotel in Cardiff. Similarly a dentist or healthcare is becoming impossible to secure despite the… Read more »

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