A High Court ruling has today found that Theresa May's decision that current support for asylum seekers is adequate was 'irrational' and based on insufficient information.
There are currently more than 23,000 people seeking asylum in the UK who receive financial support from the government. They have to rely on this support as they are not allowed to work, even though many asylum applicants are highly qualified and highly skilled.
At the beginning of 2013, I chaired a cross-party parliamentary inquiry, supported by the Children's Society, into the levels of asylum support for children and young people. In our report, we found that systematic failures from successive governments had left many destitute, with levels of support inadequate to meet even basic living needs. As one mother told the panel, "I would buy one meal which I will share with my son. My son, is my priority, therefore I will provide his nutritional needs before my own and occasionally starving myself."
The government said that they would take our findings into consideration, but I was extremely disappointed when, in June last year, the Home Office announced that they were freezing the support rates. This meant that support rates have not increased in absolute terms since April 2011, despite the prices of essential everyday items increasing. This was a cowardly, politically motivated decision that completely ignored the growing body of evidence that support rates were forcing people into poverty. For single adult asylum seekers the level of support is just £5.23 a day.
As a result of that decision, the charity Refugee Action decided that they needed to challenge the home secretary in the courts on the grounds that she had acted irrationally over whether support rates meet essential living needs and secure a dignified standard of living. Refugee Action has over 30 years experience of the asylum process and has first-hand knowledge of the dehumanising effect that the low levels of support have on people. But, after years of presenting the evidence they had collected to the Home Office, only to have it ignored, Refugee Action took the unprecedented step of taking the home secretary to court.
Over three days of hearings in February, the High Court took evidence from lawyers representing Refugee Action and from those defending the home secretary. This morning, the Hon. Mr Justice Popplewell handed down his judgment.
In a landmark ruling, he found that the Home Secretary's decision was flawed. In his judgment - which runs to some 68 pages in total - Mr Justice Popplewell states that the home secretary failed to take into account the extent of the decrease in asylum support rates in real terms since 2007, and the freezing of rates in absolute terms since 2011. He added that she had also "failed to take reasonable steps to gather sufficient information to enable her to make a rational judgment in setting the asylum support rates for 2013/14."
As a result of the judgment, the decision not to increase support rates last June has been quashed and Theresa May will have to take it again, this time making sure that she correctly applies all the relevant information. I am today urging her to accept the ruling of the court and immediately carry out a full, transparent inquiry into the way support rates are set to ensure that those people seeking asylum are able to do so in dignity. You can join in this campaign too, by signing up on Refugee Action's website and by writing to your MP today to ask them to call on the home secretary to provide asylum seekers with the support they need to meet their essential living needs.
This country has a long and proud record of giving protection to those fleeing persecution and war. Refugee Action, along with their legal team, has struck an important blow in upholding this record. Now we must support them to ensure it isn't wasted. Together, we can make sure that our treatment of those who seek our help matches the high standards our reputation would expect.