Support levels for asylum-seekers are lower in the UK than in almost all western European countries - and the government plans to make things tougher
This weekend the press set out a Home Office proposal to cut support for asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected by the Home Office. The government cited this as a way of making the UK less attractive to would-be migrants at Calais.
While ministers aimed to sound tough, the mooted policy change is not based on evidence and will do little to reduce numbers.
At present, asylum applicants are barred from working. Instead, they have the option of applying to the Home Office for cash support, or cash support and accommodation. Their housing is commissioned by the Home Office and is almost always provided out of London and the south east.
A single person gets £36.95 cash support every week and a child under 16 receives £52.96, although on 10 August everyone’s payment will be reduced to £36.95. That works out at £5.28 a day for everything apart from gas, electricity and water. In contrast, a single person on Job Seekers Allowance gets £73.10 per week (£10.44 per day), although they do not have their utilities paid for them.
Support levels for asylum-seekers are lower in the UK than in almost all western European countries. In France, for example, asylum-seekers receive the equivalent of £6.70 per day to cover food and clothing, in Denmark they receive £18.80.
Some 30,476 asylum-seekers were being supported by the UK government as of 31 March 2015. They receive this cash support until any appeal is exhausted. After this, it is hoped that asylum-seekers will leave the UK voluntarily, or else face removal. However this does not always happen, even if asylum-seekers are willing to return.
It can be costly or difficult to return individuals to some countries and travel documents need to be obtained. Some countries have no functioning governments, some have governments who refuse to co-operate with returning their citizens. At times, too, the UK government has suspended returns to particular countries (for example, Zimbabwe) while making no attempt to resolve the cases of asylum-seekers who application has failed.
As a result, some individuals and families remain in limbo for years: not legally entitled to remain in the UK but not able to leave either. Those facing this situation are entitled to what is known as Section 4 support, first introduced under the terms of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Those supported this way have to live in designated accommodation and receive no cash, instead getting £35.39 per week loaded on to an ‘Azure’ payment card, which can only be used in designated outlets.
Some 4,941 people were supported this way during the first quarter of 2015. The government proposes to scrap this, citing it as a pull factor, encouraging migration to the UK and contributing to the situation in Calais.
Study after study has dismissed benefits as a pull factor for refugees and for those whose motives for migration are largely economic. The residents of the Calais camps want to come to the UK because it is safe and because it is possible to find work here. Having family and friends in the UK is also an attraction, as is the English language, as many of them have been educated in this medium.
What is clear is that people do not risk their lives for a pre-payment card that gives them just over £5 per day.
Worst of all, if the government’s latest proposals are implemented they will leave a small number of children and adults totally destitute. Meanwhile they will do nothing to reduce the numbers of refugees and migrants living in Calais.
These tough-sounding policy changes represent a further over-promising on immigration control that simply cannot deliver results. As such they risk further reducing public trust in politicians to manage migration.
This weekend’s proposals from the government are an example of the worst type of migration politics.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.