Asylum Seekers forced to survive on £5.39 a day after MPs filibuster vital bill

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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9 Responses to “Asylum Seekers forced to survive on £5.39 a day after MPs filibuster vital bill”

  1. Tom Sacold

    Why should they be allowed to take British workers jobs?

    We need a proper controlled socialist system for immigration based on skill needs. Not a capitalist open market for all.

  2. Peter Chave

    In reply to Tom Sacold. If the asylum seekers are to be living in the UK for an indefinite time, possibly permanently if they’re unlucky, then surely they should have the right to work here. If they live on state benefit they will be called ‘scroungers’ or worse by our noble white citizens so let’s give them some chance of a future and some self respect.

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  4. ChrisC

    An entirely open question, because I would genuinely like to know the answer: wouldn’t this mean that anyone who wants to work in Britain (for a while, until the Home Office addresses their case) would simply rock up here, apply for asylum even if they have no credible case for it, preferably claiming it on grounds which take a long time to investigate, and when they are finally deported after considerable expenditure of public money on the investigation, leave with a pocketful of money and say “thanks for the opportunity”? And if so, wouldn’t that discredit genuine asylum seekers?

  5. Angus McKay, Glasgow

    Allow asylum seekers to work? OK. Allow asylum seekers to work and do not give them the all free asylum package – let them find their own jobs and pay for their own accommodation, gas, electricity, food, clothes et al – they would be destitute, homeless, street beggars. Most asylum seekers are better off with their all free asylum package. Asylum seekers, in most cases, do not have the qualifications to be employed – that be part reason they opted for the asylum route rather than applying for a work visa. For those who do find some kind of legal employment their low earnings will usually have to be topped up with benefits and not paying tax. Also, why would any employer hire any person whose background cannot be checked out.

  6. Angus McKay, Glasgow

    £5.39 a day, plus …
    On choosing the UK to be her ( “Maria, not her real name”) host country to seek asylum, not her real name Maria and other seekers are allocated a case worker to ensure they get the all free asylum package … free furnished, repair free accommodation, free heating and lighting, free money, free NHS treatment, free dentistry, free specs, free school and college education, free translation service and free legal aid to keep them here when their cases comes up again and again for review. £5.39 a day?

  7. Muhammad

    As I am acquainted in-depth with Maria’s high-profile case due to my work in South America and I will try to respond to the comments here predominantly in relation to this case.

    No doubt there are absolutely some genuine people sadly being deported but also some dishonest people who are getting through the system.

    @Tom “Why should they be allowed to take British workers’ jobs”. Let’s say I agree with you, but given that Maria is here now since just over 2 years, and she won an award in her state for best teacher, was short-listed for a similar award in the whole of South America (before she had to flea for her life), doesn’t it make sense to utilise her services in our overcrowded classrooms for the past two years, which she would have been willing to do voluntarily/in-exchange for the support she’s receiving. Wouldn’t that appease you at least temporarily? She’s not taking “jobs”, but, rather, is giving? She in fact volunteers in the local church already. Consider it from this angle, why is it fair to take the skilled citizens of other countries, or even for our skilled citizens to take the jobs of locals (if locals are employable). The market dynamics just don’t work in such straightjacketed ways that we all neatly fit into nation states; we only permit capital and highly experienced people in. The rest of the world can be a hell-hole. We are interdependent and the success, security and well-being in other places affects our country too.

    Maria has had several of her students murdered. She was targeted (including by police) because she reported crimes against such children. She was instrumental in bringing these police to justice (see Amnesty International’s Human Rights Report 2012, p. 87). She also provided crucial evidence in the recent John of God case.

  8. Muhammad

    @Chris raises a valid point. Permitting immediate work (which many do anyway) could serve as a conduit for economic migrants. Therefore, in order to prevent that a time-disincentive buffer might discourage that, or perhaps they could simply pay a “immigration services” tax (depending on their wage/salary) to offset costs to the tax payer. You are right if people just left after making a neat income it would discredit the service, so these things need to be thought through more thoroughly with greater input by stakeholders (especially including charities and asylum seekers themselves).

    @Angus there are ways to check things out, especially for former state employees ( has advice on it; pretty much how we check current employees from overseas – the NHS has its fair share). The same way that if a UK citizen works overseas a few years and then comes back we can check them. Of course, you cannot guarantee everything for the future in all cases, that is the case with in-country employees too, although arguably less risky. As above, offset the costs of what they earn for an added immigration services tax, which would mean, you would deter the need for black market workers, thus not driving down “local” wages and crucially if their case was not deemed to have met the criteria, the tax collected could be ploughed into an immigration-cases fund. If successful, they could get back the excess paid in taxes, once they were given refugee status, to help them build their lives.

    @Angus (II) for the past 6 weeks, Maria has received £0 on her Aspen card (so not even £5.39). This is because her card was lost. The real winner is Migrant Help (a charity that gets £9 million a year) for providing poor services. She has called every week day with no answer (sometimes 2-3 hours per day), and emailed them several times but had no response. Her housing provider said they cannot issue her vouchers for food, unless Migrant Help asks them too (and of course the HP can’t bothered to ring them), if you need a repair they’re even more lackadaisical. Last time this happened about a year ago was when she was mugged in Stratford shopping centre, her new card didn’t arrive for 11 weeks. In both times, it was my friend and a relative who supported her via a locally-operating charity.

    Heating: her (room) central heating has not worked for several months. She lives in a bitterly cold place according to a local charity worker who keeps me updated about the case.

    Glasses: These were paid for by a voucher from a local charity.

    Free Education: she paid £100 for a local course in a college.

    Translation Services: this was paid by yet another charity. Her solicitor promised, but never translated the required documents.

    As for legal aid: she has received 55 sessions from a solicitor’s firm, which should be fined. An independent solicitor had said it should normally take about 5 sessions. If it is complex perhaps 10. This case is complex. But to draw it out this long, is simply malpractice for which such firms should be fined. In Maria’s case. After having received 30 sessions, the workload was handled over to the second trainee solicitor, who dismissed the previous trainee’s work and started again. The direct evidence is that I was asked to come to London yet again to give a witness statement, which I had already given. I could afford it, but to ask a traumatised victim of human trafficking (who had been subjected to the most pernicious attempts at stifling them through multiple brutal assaults and attempted murder) to retell their entire story of moving to 12 cities in five different states within the country should be subject to investigation; especially when three appointments don’t go ahead simply because of double booking etc.

  9. Muhammad

    So it is not as rosy and glorious as you suggest Angus, especially if you factor in the abuse and bullying that goes on in some of these asylum houses, in response to which the police do not do much. Domestic violence comes in many forms and for the most vulnerable who are already suffering from acute mental health problems the experience is exacerbated by a lack of know-how about how local services function. It is naïve to believe that everyone who comes here wants to somehow leech of the system and was in a situation of pecuniary desperation.

    Those who have met Maria knows that she has not come here because she wants to make money, or to live a life here in the UK, while her family and children are at very high risk of being harmed or murdered back in her home country. At the same time, she remains grateful for the support she has received; yet never asks for money, begs, or feels entitled.

    Many people earn their employment through immigration services, but it should be fair and proportionate. Too many times asylum seekers get all the stick. Legal firms should not be able to milk the system especially if providing a shoddy service. The above legal practice took 1 year and 5 months to prepare the case which in my opinion and that of other legal professionals could have been dealt with within 10-12 weeks. In all this time tax payers money is being used until the case is reviewed; towards which legitimate employment would have contributed regardless of her fate through the asylum process. Also, organisations like Migrant Help should be regularly assessed for the services they claim to provide and the same goes with housing providers and housing associations. If the above were regulated better and fined where they are not performing, in the short term we’d likely have a puny immigration bill and soon a much higher quality service: efficient and effective; not dehumanizing.

    In the past five years, an average of 15,000 people were granted asylum per year in the UK (4300 of which were Syrian). That is not relatively a huge number, but it is still our benefaction (and we do much good around the world these days with our amazing 0.7 overseas aid etc), but for those that we provide the service it should be humane, respectful and fit for purpose, as well as efficient. Everything should not be quantified in monetary terms. There’s a lot of suffering in the world and we should be proud of ourselves that we do our bit. It’s fine to gripe and want things to improve for Brits but a genuine asylum seeker, who is both a professional and a decent human being is a boon to our country and it’s a shame that her life has been in limbo for so long causing her much suffering – about which a book could easily be written.

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