Asylum seekers like Maria have to rely on foodbanks because most aren't allowed to work. Why are the Tories stopping them?
Earlier this year, the well-intentioned Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Private Members Bill failed to make it through the Houses of Parliament.
This bill by was sponsored by Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine and a second bill, Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) (No. 2), was sponsored by Labour MP Catherine West. As both names suggests, the bills would give people seeking asylum in the UK the right to work.
The current system effectively prohibits asylum seekers from working. The rules do, however, allow asylum seekers to seek permission to work – if they have been waiting for over 12 months for their case to be resolved, and can fill a job on the government’s restricted shortage occupation list.
The majority of asylum seekers who’ve made the treacherous journey to the United Kingdom have often fled persecution in their own country. Many of these people are unlikely to qualify for jobs on the government’s shortage list which includes: electrical engineers in the oil and gas industry; programme directors in the decommissioning and waste management areas of the nuclear industry, and skilled classical ballet dancers.
Unable to work, people seeking asylum are forced to survive on Section 95 support, at a rate of £5.39 per day. This puny payment is supposed to buy food, clothes, toiletries and pay for trips to medical appointments. Impoverished, destitute and in poor health, both physically and mentally, many asylum seekers are left vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation.
It shouldn’t be this way. Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention states ‘No one shall be subjected to torture, or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Lacking the agency to provide for themselves, many asylum seekers may feel their human rights are still under attack.
Take for example my friend Maria, (not her real name), who arrived in the UK from a South American country a couple of years ago. In her country, Maria was head of department in a school in an impoverished neighbourhood.
However, as a consequence of campaigning for human rights, Maria was bundled out of her country and put on flight to Europe. Her plane stopped in the UK providing her with the opportunity of seeking asylum here rather than continuing to mainland Europe.
Due to Maria’s status as an asylum seeker she is prevented from working. Over the past eight months I’ve known Maria, she often speaks of feeling like a burden on this country’s resources. All she wants to do is work. “I am being tortured slowly here because I can’t work and I can’t help myself or my family back home. Even the foodbanks in my area only allow people to use them once a month,” Maria tells me.
Despite a willingness to work, not to mention being highly qualified, Maria has to survive each day on the cost of a Chicken Legend meal from McDonald’s.
However, public attitudes appear to be changing. Recent polling by the think tank British Future and the advocacy group HOPE not hate shows there is broad support for allowing asylum seekers the right to work. In one poll, roughly 70 percent of respondents agreed that the right to work was as important as learning English when attempting to integrate.
The amount of time asylum seekers are prevented from working, due to UK policy restrictions is one of the lengthiest in the world. An asylum seeker in the USA or Spain can work after six months. It’s three months in Germany and in Canada they can work from day one.
Although MPs and the Lords were able to filibuster the Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill, both Catherine and Christine intend to continue pressing for a change in policy.
Catherine said: “I had cross-party support for my bill and will certainly reintroduce it during the next Parliamentary Session. The previous Home Secretary Sajid Javid, in answer to my question, said he would review the law. [Now] we’re back in Parliament I will challenge the new Home Secretary Priti Patel to follow this through.”
The United Kingdom has a long history of championing and upholding human rights. It’s a great credit to our nation that people seeking asylum are choosing to make the UK their home. With respect, asylum seekers aren’t flocking to Russia, Hungary or Mexico.
Maria, and the other 44,257 people who received government support last year are happy to pay their way and would contribute financially to our great county.
It goes without saying that allowing the widest range of people to share in making progress – and receiving a fair share of its fruits – is one of many reasons the United Kingdom must pass the Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill.
Nigel Gordon is a freelance journalist.
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