With just 3p a week more, asylum seekers still go hungry

Asylum seekers are given just £5.66 a day and banned from working.

As we adjust to life under lockdown once again, it’s worth recalling how the impact of a lockdown impacts everyone in the UK differently and unevenly. With this in mind, suffice to say it’s going to be a unremittingly grim time ahead for asylum seekers, whose asylum support was increased from last month by the grand total of just 3 pence per week. 

The toll on mental health that comes from detaining asylum seekers or holding them in camps has been documented, at times erupting into disturbances with police being called in, as happened on Tuesday at a new ‘migrant camp’ in Penally, Wales.  Asylum seekers living in cramped, shared living space there, also sought on Wednesday to protest over their conditions. 

Meanwhile, living on an asylum support budget of £5.66 a day without permission to work, will mean asylum seekers continuing to live in government-enforced poverty, with the added challenges of lockdown restrictions making it difficult to access support from charities. The 3p-a-week increase in asylum support clearly will do nothing to alter this. 

A report in early November from the campaign group Asylum Matters reflected just how barely sustainable conditions or unsustainable living conditions will continue to be, based on a two-week data survey of asylum seekers over summer with 184 respondents (108 with children) that was given to the Home Office prior to its review.

Respondents to the survey reflected that the £5.66 per day didn’t cover the essential living needs of food and drink, clothing, toiletries, household cleaning items, everyday medication, travel and communications, with as many as 84% saying they didn’t always have enough for food, 64% saying they couldn’t always afford medicine, and 95% saying they couldn’t afford public transport.  Looking at families, only 47% say they’ve been adequately able to buy baby items, and, during the last lockdown only 26% of children were able to do home-schooling. 

“People seeking asylum are forced into a constant state of financial precarity, whereby they often have to trade off one basic living need for another,” the reported noted, explaining how they survive on a day-to-day basis.

Asylum Matters argue that asylum support should be restored to its pre-2008 level, calculated as 70% of mainstream welfare benefits, for people seeking asylum to meet their essential needs. But given that toughness on immigration has been a cornerstone of the government’s agenda and election pledging, it could seem too optimistic.  

The group also advocates that an uplift similar to the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit running to April in response to the pandemic should also be applied to asylum support, and in the light of this, a 3p-per-week increase could only seem absurd and insulting, particularly as winter sets in, and its ‘hostile environment policy’ could become a deathly one too.

This year has already been beset with asylum-seeker deaths like that of Mercy Baguma, a 34-year-old from Uganda found dead beside her baby. On top of this, 16 asylum seekers died between September 2019 and March 2020. Sadly, more deaths are likely to be on their way.

Raoul Walawalker is a feature writer at Immigration News, part of an organisation of UK and Ireland immigration lawyers.

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