Hundreds of people around the UK have written to prospective parliamentary candidates about ending the deliberate policy of destitution faced by people seeking asylum in Britain. The responses show a big difference in the approach of the main political parties.
The Conservatives stood by their policy of deliberate destitution. One typical response justified the current weekly income of £36 per person for someone seeking asylum by saying
“. . . research was undertaken into the actual cost of particular essential items including food stuff, clothing, toiletries, household cleaning stuff, non-prescription medication as well as travel and communication. They even went on to claim that “ . . . asylum support payments provided to larger household groups comfortably exceeded what is necessary to meet essential living needs.”
Minimum income standards research shows that a single person needs £328 a week to cover material needs and allow participation in society.[i] Benefits for UK nationals of £73.10 a week for a single person are “incapable of providing a healthy diet as well as other necessities.”[ii] People seeking asylum are living on half that amount. The assessment of “essential living expenses” referred to has been widely criticised as it did not allow for toys for children, assigned only £3 a week for travel and claimed that no money was needed to maintain a social life of any kind. Before the election was called, the Conservative government were to cut all support to “failed” asylum seekers including families.
In contrast the Greens committed themselves to the “uplifting of the financial support paid to asylum seekers.” They also conceded to another demand outlined in the letter sent to candidates saying that support for asylum seekers “ . . . should be in line with the welfare assistance paid to UK nationals.” Crucially the Greens agreed that asylum seekers should get legal aid and that indefinite detention should be scrapped.
Labour candidates referred to the party’s manifesto which commits to reforming the unfair asylum process. Some spoke unequivocally against the “policy of destitution” acknowledging that people seek refuge “having escaped from terrible hardship and persecution” and that the “current arrangements for housing and supporting these fellow humans are not fit for purpose”. Some spoke of their own experience as the children of refuges and committed themselves to working to “stop the discrimination and destitution that you describe”. Others voiced their commitment to addressing “institutional and community racism.”
The Liberal Democrats response rightly labelled enforced destitution as showing “a complete lack of humanity”. Central to their proposal to address destitution was giving people the right to work and ensuring that “current restrictions on which occupations asylum seekers can work will be lifted.” Considering that over 50% of women asylum seekers have fled rape and other torture, and are likely to be traumatised and sick, it is important that the Lib Dems acknowledge that if people can’t work they will still be entitled to benefits. They also acknowledge the injustice of people getting an income in the form of a “Azure Card” rather than in cash saying it “restricts the ability to pay for basic goods.
The letter sent to candidate is below:
DRAFT TEMPLATE LETTER TO CANDIDATES FOR MP FOR JUNE ELECTION
I live in the constituency where you are standing for election. My address is …
I am currently trying to decide who to vote for in the upcoming election.
An urgent priority for me is the destitution and racism faced by people seeking asylum.
[SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF HERE AND WHY CONCERNED ABOUT THIS ISSUE]
I include below some information gathered by the All African Women’s Group and Legal Action for Women about the situation of people who are applying to stay in the UK on human rights grounds or because they face persecution if they are returned to their country of origin.
- People seeking asylum are living on benefits that are less than 50% of the poverty line benefits that others in the UK get (a single person on National Asylum Support (NASS) gets just £36.95 a week). mother
- Mothers In July 2015 support for the children of asylum seekers was cut by 30% despite research that 40% of asylum seekers already struggled to feed themselves and their children and 88% said they did not have enough money to buy clothes. Children are increasingly taken away from destitute families.[iii] Destitution of women is particularly hidden as women are less likely to sleep rough and instead have to exchange housework, childcare, sexual favours . . . to survive. Thirty-five percent of destitute homeless women asylum seekers report being raped in the UK.
- When an asylum claim is refused all support is withdrawn. Many asylum claims are refused despite compelling evidence of persecution. Home office decisions continue to be crap. One in four refusals is overturned on appeal. LEGAL AID only available for new asylum claims and limited appeals.
- Rape victims face institutionalised hostility and disbelief.[iv]
- In addition people seeking asylum face terrible discrimination and racism. They can only stay in approved (frequently sub-standard) accommodation; have to submit to being dispersed to any area in UK without notice; are frequently illegally banned from using the NHS; are banned from taking waged work for a year (and then can only apply for a “shortage job” with a wage of at least £21,000). Schools, landlords, employers and health care professionals are being press ganged into doing passport checks.
- Racist attacks from name-calling and spitting to physical assaults went up by 58% in the week following the Brexit vote)[v]. Yet people are afraid to go to the police for fear of being deported or imprisoned.
Two-thirds of the members of the All African Women’s Group are destitute and they have documented the impact of austerity and racism here.
This crisis cannot be allowed to continue. I would like to know whether, if you are elected, you will oppose destitution, sexism and racism. I cannot vote for any candidate who is not ready support the deliberate policy of destitution, reinstating benefits for people seeking asylum and supporting urgent action to overturn other discriminatory policies that asylum seekers and immigrant people suffer that relate to housing, health care, education and employment.
I look forward to hearing from you.