Campaigners have warned the delays are taking a “horrendous toll” on the mental health of some of society’s most vulnerable people.
While waiting for a decision from the Home Office, the vast majority of people seeking asylum are not allowed to work, and are expected to live on less than £40 a week.
“While more people are waiting ever longer for a decision on their asylum claim, they are forced to live on just £5.66 a day,” explained Emma Birks, a campaign project manager for Asylum Matters.
“People are trapped sometimes for years living on this meagre amount, as they are effectively banned from working.”
Data published by the government on Thursday revealed that, of the 60,548 people waiting for an inital asylum decision at the end of September, 46,108 – more than three-quarters – had been waiting more than six months.
It represents a 76% year-on-year increase in the number of asylum seekers left in the lurch for more than half a year about their future, up from 26,125 in September 2019.
This comes despite an 8% annual decrease in the number of asylum applications, as of the end of September.
Stephen Hale, chief executive of the charity Refugee Action, condemned the delays.
“It’s appalling that more than three in four people are now waiting longer than six months for a decision on their asylum claim,” he said.
“Forcing people to live in limbo on a measly allowance of just £5.66 a day for sometimes years on end can take a horrendous toll on their mental health.”
“Forcing people to live in limbo on a measly allowance of just £5.66 a day for sometimes years on end can take a horrendous toll on their mental health.”Stephen Hale, Refugee Action
Home Office data also showed that the number of people waiting for their initial asylum claim to be processed had increased every single quarter except one since March 2017, rising from 27,048 to 60,548 in three-and-a-half years.
Another 2,861 cases were awaiting further review at the end of September.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said that vulnerable people were suffering as the “mismanagement of the Home Office goes from bad to worse under this government”.
“This scale of backlog in dealing with cases is unacceptable, especially as we know many asylum seekers are confined in intolerable conditions,” the Labour MP said.
“Ministers should commit to a rapid turnaround of all cases and a removal of the backlog as an urgent priority.”
Andy Hewett, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, echoed Abbott’s call.
“Despite extensive media coverage suggesting the contrary, 2020 has not seen a surge in asylum claims. In the year to September 2020, asylum claims fell by 8%, and no refugees were resettled,” he said.
“Clearly, the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the asylum system, with pre-existing systemic problems, such as the asylum case backlog, worsening and causing tens of thousands of people to be stuck in the asylum system for months on end, unable to plan for the future and struggling to survive on £5.66 per day.
“The government urgently needs to address the growing backlog of cases, and grant people waiting more than six months the right to work.”
In a statement, home secretary Priti Patel said the need for change in the UK’s asylum system “has never been clearer”.
“With over 48,000 asylum cases stuck in this broken system, I will bring forward new legislation next year to ensure vulnerable people get the support they need instead of being stuck in the system waiting for a decision and unable to get on with rebuilding their lives.
“This also means ending abuse of the asylum system,” the Tory frontbencher said.
“Our new legislation will introduce a new firm system to expediate removals of foreign criminals, stop people coming here illegally and instead prioritise those most in need who play by the rules.”
The Home Office is currently facing a fresh row over its plan for a charter deportation flight to Jamaica on December 2.
While the government has insisted all the people set to be on the flight are “foreign national offenders”, campaigners say non-British nationals are being punished twice for their crimes.
They have also warned that the move will put lives at risk amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1.4m people around the world.