The end of January brought with it the publication of the report from the Parliamentary Inquiry into support for children and families seeking asylum in the UK . The report details the poverty, desperation, and suffering that many children and parents seeking protection face daily in Britain.
Sarah Teather, MP and Chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry, writes that: "There are moments in politics when what you hear makes you ashamed... What was clear from the evidence we received was that systemic failures from successive governments are leaving many destitute."
The Inquiry's report goes on to document widespread destitution and lack of essential living needs for children and families in the asylum support system. Evidence from over 200 sources shows that children's health and well-being, education and future opportunities are negatively affected by the low level of support.
Within the two-tiered system, asylum seekers waiting for their cases to be heard receive Section 95 support at just over £6 per day while individuals whose cases have been refused but who cannot be returned are on Section 4 support. This second category of support is currently at £5 per day which is supposed to pay for food, but is also the only money asylum seekers have to pay for transportation like a bus ticket to their GP appointments or mobile phones to speak to their solicitors.
This is not enough for anyone to live a decent life in London and is not how we should treat other human beings.
The Inquiry heard the stories of families sleeping on the floor of a mosque for months and a mother carrying her new born baby long distances in the snow for doctors appointment. These are not one-off cases: it was recently confirmed that nearly 10,000 children are living on asylum support - 779 of which are on Section 4 in severe destitution.
Let's be clear what this means: 779 children are living in families where their parents cannot work, they are given £35 per week for food for each adult and less for each child, and they are frequently re-housed in inadequate and crowded accommodation.
Forcing destitution on these children and families should not be used as a policy to encourage people to return to their country of origin, especially when return is not in the interest of the children. Not only is this policy immoral, it is not effective. Destitution does not encourage return. Refused asylum seekers on Section 4 are staying because they have no other options: they often have no legal 'home country' to return to or the British government acknowledges that it is too dangerous to send them to their homeland because it is a warzone.
The tragic conclusion for anyone who reads case after case of truly dire circumstances is that this policy is just cruel. It is cruel to create a separate system for asylum seekers with lower rates of support.
Look around. We have created a system where a new mother receives half the amount of support for her baby (£250 vs £500) because she is an asylum seekers. It cannot be justified as a deterrent for future migrants or masqueraded as a generous safety net for foreigners. It is institutionalised cruelty and the victims are families and children.
In light of these dark conclusions, the Inquiry put forward seven recommendations of which I will highlight three:
Make It Fair - Asylum support should be the same level as mainstream benefit rates paid for living expenses for all people in need.
Cash Based System - The government should abolish Section 4 support and put in place a single cash-based support system. The current system of Azure cards creates significant barriers to purchasing essential items and it costs more for the government to administer.
Let Them Work- Permission to work should be granted to asylum seeking parents and young adults if their claim for asylum has not been concluded within six months. Refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their country of origin should also be allowed to work.
These proposals represent the beginning of what should be comprehensive reform to the asylum support system. It is unacceptable that children who come to the UK seeking protection are forced to live in destitution and it is a scandal that these 779 children should face such needless cruelty.