A tale of two immigration announcements

It is a significant day for migration policy, with a government announcement on access to benefits for EU nationals and an important legal judgement on asylum support.

It is a significant day for migration policy, with a government announcement on access to benefits for EU nationals and an important legal judgement on asylum support.

First, the good news. In a landmark legal case brought by the charity Refugee Action, the High Court has ruled that home secretary Theresa May acted irrationally – thus unlawfully – in her decision not to uprate asylum support. Refugee Action’s judicial review has been the culmination of their campaigning work on the destitution of asylum-seekers.

When asylum-seekers arrive in the UK they are forbidden to work pending a successful outcome of their asylum application, although those who have waited longer than 12 months for a decision can apply for permission to work. Most asylum-seekers who have no other income instead apply to the UK Border Agency for a cash allowance and accommodation or a cash only package.

Housing is almost always provided out of London and the South East and organised by through contracts with companies who include G4S, Serco and Clearel, the largest provider. The National Audit Office has recently published a report that is critical of the quality of provided by G4S and Serco, an issue previously highlighted by refugee charities.

Most asylum-seekers who need support also receive a cash allowance administered through an electronic card which they can use at major retailers and charity shops. The level of support that adults receive through this system has always been set at levels lower than income support level.

Initially, asylum-seekers received sustenance at about 70 per cent of income support level, but in recent years this has not been uprated. Asylum-seekers have had no rise in their level of support in real terms since 2007 and in absolute terms since 2011. Today an adult asylum-seeker has to survive on £5.23 per day, which leaves many asylum-seekers missing meals and unable to buy food. This destitution can go on for many months, as it can take a long time for some decisions.

This government – and previous Labour governments – have argued that asylum support levels are deliberately set low, so they do not act an incentive to come to the UK. However this does not excuse a decision to fix them at a level far below that needed to buy nutritious food or clothes. The home secretary has yet to respond to the High Court judgment, but many hope that this is a victory for decency and basic human rights.

The second announcement is not good news. Rather, it is bad policy driven by bad motives. In future, citizens of EU countries will need to have lived in the UK for three months in order to claim ‘child-related welfare payments’, which include child benefit and child tax credit.

Given there are no exit and entry controls for EU migrants, this is an unworkable policy as it is very difficult for EU citizens to prove residence in the UK. It is also not clear whether this measure will apply to returning British citizens.

Indeed, this announcement is pure dog whistling to try and halt further support for UKIP in the May elections.

Tonight at 7pm, Left Foot Forward is holding its first event and it is about immigration. If you have strong views on either of these issues, perhaps you would like to come along and share them.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Her book on integration and social cohesion will be published by Policy Press in 2015

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