Without the right to work, people seeking asylum in the UK face a continuous struggle to meet their most fundamental needs. Without the ability to earn for themselves, people are forced to rely solely on government-provided financial support for survival – asylum support – while their applications are processed. As the year comes to an end, there are calls on the government to do more to ensure vulnerable families are not left without basic essentials this winter.
Those seeking asylum cannot undertake any form of work, even for a voluntary organisation, unless they have been granted permission to work under Paragraph 360 or 360C of the Immigration Rules.
As of November 2023, families seeking asylum received £47.39 per week or £6.77 a day. For those living in hotels, the amount is just £9.58 a week – that’s around £1.40 a day. The stark reality is that this low level of support means people don’t have enough money to feed themselves and their families, buy adequate clothing or afford public transport to get around. They find themselves trapped in a never-ending state of financial uncertainty.
This ongoing struggle forces people to make agonising choices, where one essential need must be sacrificed for another. The consequences are far-reaching, affecting their physical and mental health, and most painfully, casting a shadow over the lives of their children.
Following its latest report, Asylum Matters, an organisation that works to improve the lives of refugees and people seeking asylum, were told from one individual: “I survive eating one meal to save money to go on a trip to see the lawyer.”
Another person stated: “Most of the necessary food is relatively expensive. In most weeks the financial support runs out in the middle of the week, and we complete the week without a single pound available to the family, which is very difficult.”
A third individual stated: “We face a big problem even for a doctor’s appointment at the hospital because our weekly [asylum support] does not even cover a bus trip. Most of the time we have long walks for several hours with our children.”
The reality for families receiving asylum support in the UK:
- 91% don’t always have enough money to buy food
- 75% can’t always afford the medicines they need
- 85% struggle to afford the cleaning products they need
- 97% can’t always afford all the clothes they need
- 65% struggle to afford the toiletries they need
- 95% can’t always afford to travel where they need to by public transport
- 88% don’t always have the data and phone credit they need
- 83% say asylum support payments aren’t enough to cover the rise in the cost of living.
Living in this continuous struggle to meet their basic needs has a profound effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing. It puts a huge strain on their lives, limiting what they can do.
An individual who had been receiving asylum support for five years stated: “Staying [for] a period of five years in that condition creates a huge impact on your mental and emotional health. You see yourself as a parasite and a prisoner.”
What is asylum support?
People seeking asylum, who have nowhere to live and/or no money to support themselves, can apply for asylum support to help them financially while their asylum claim is being considered. This is the time period during which the person seeking asylum will be interviewed by the Home Office and then wait for a decision on their asylum claim.
People who come to the UK to claim asylum are unable to access mainstream welfare benefits and are effectively banned from working under current legislation. This means most people can’t earn their own money while they wait for a decision from the Home Office. Decisions can take many months. At the end of September 2023, there were over 90,000 cases where the applicant had been waiting more than six months for an initial decision.
Small changes now have the power to change tens of thousands of lives
Asylum Matters has stated: “Daily we are working with people who’ve fled their home countries and are struggling to get by on asylum support. Every day they must make devastating decisions about whether to buy food, clothes or school uniforms for their children.”
They continue: “With the cost of everything rising, people are forced into poverty without the ability to work while they wait for their asylum claim, which can take months. This can have a devastating impact on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of both adults and children. No one should be made to live like this.”
The organisation has outlined three things that could be actioned now to make a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK:
- The Home Office must further increase rates of asylum support to allow individuals and families to meet their essential living needs. They must also ensure that the methodology for setting asylum support rates is fit for purpose and should reflect the real-life experiences of people seeking asylum.
- People seeking asylum should have the right to work after six months of waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, unconstrained by the Shortage Occupation List.
- Free bus travel should be made available for people seeking asylum on a UK-wide basis, as is currently the case in Scotland.
Asylum Matters stated: “The Illegal Migration Act, which is not yet fully enacted, is planning to dismantle the UK asylum system. However, while we wait to see the outcome of these plans, tens of thousands of people seeking asylum in the UK are living on asylum support which is provided by the Home Office under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.”
This harsh reality of trying to live on asylum support underscores the urgent need to reform the system, both in terms of funding and as a whole, including the right to work, so people have the chance to rebuild their lives in the UK.