Allow Parliament to debate and scrutinise levels of asylum support

By Jonathan Bartley
March 8, 2010

On Sunday a migrant family of three facing deportation died after jumping from the 15th floor of a high-rise flat.

Reports suggest that they tied themselves together before making the 150ft suicide leap from the YMCA-managed property in a run-down district of Glasgow.

The Scotland-based charity Positive Action in Housing, has called for a public inquiry, in particular to discover what impact the UK Borders Agency had on their lives.

Whatever such an Inquiry uncovers, what the tragedy has highlighted is the dreadful conditions that many refugees, and those who have been refused refuge, are forced to live in.

It is surely time to inject some accountability into the system, and allow Parliament to have some direct input into the levels of support for asylum seekers, as the Government has slowly and steadily run them down.

Refugees are not allowed to work. When the National Asylum Support System (NASS) was introduced 10 years ago, asylum-seekers awaiting decisions on their application were to get 75 per cent of the amount paid to someone on income support.

The government subsequently reset the payments to 70 per cent of income support. New rates will be introduced next month which reduce it further to 66 per cent of income support for families, and a mere 55 per cent for single adults over 25.

Surveys by charitable agencies in October 2008 and by Hannah Lewis on behalf of Joseph Rowntree in April/May 2009 found destitution and high levels of physical and mental ill-health among long-term asylum seekers and refused refugees. In Leeds, 85 rough sleepers were recorded among failed asylum seekers from countries such as Zimbabwe, Iran, Eritrea and Somalia.

Rowntree estimated that minimum utility spending for a single adult of working age came to £14.99. So, taking this from the income support payment of £64.30 for such a person, the rest of their needs would require £49.31. The actual amount they will receive from April is £35.31.

As Lord Avery says, “this is enforced destitution with a vengeance. It means more sleeping on the streets, more illegal working to survive, more ill-health caused by undernourishment, among vulnerable people escaping from persecution. It's a despicable way to treat them, and the government should be ashamed.”

Next Monday (15 March) in a debate in the House of Lords, the peer will ask the Government about the reduction in support payments for asylum seekers. The worst feature of the law as it stands, says Lord Avery, is that it gives the government carte blanche to decide the amounts to be paid, without reference to Parliament.

Some oversight must clearly be introduced, by subjecting changes to approval by affirmative resolution. This would mean that the current decision by the government to cut still further the support rates that are already below subsistence level would at least be debated in both Houses.

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