Alarmingly low levels of asylum support are forcing thousands of children and their families seeking safety in the UK into severe poverty.
The situation is also putting babies’ and mothers’ lives at risk, a parliamentary inquiry revealed this week.
The cross-party parliamentary inquiry into Asylum Support for Children and Young People, led by former children’s minister Sarah Teather MP, launched its report into how asylum seeking children and families are supported by the Home Office on 30 January 2013.
The panel, supported by The Children’s Society, found widespread examples of families on levels of support far below mainstream benefits, leaving them barely able to put food on the table or buy a winter coat.
Those on the lowest rate of support only receive their allowance on a card, meaning they get no cash, effectively leaving them stranded - unable even to take the bus to the doctor's or take their children to school.
The inquiry heard how children and families are being forced to live in cramped, crowded, dirty and unsafe accommodation in areas where they are subjected to racial abuse.
Evidence revealed how some families do not have any privacy, with housing providers entering their homes unannounced, leaving single mothers with children feeling vulnerable and frightened. Families said they were frequently moved with no consideration for their needs – often at short notice – wrenching children from school and breaking links with vital support networks.
Sarah Teather MP commented: “Woeful levels of support for asylum seekers are pushing children into severe poverty and are far below what they need to have a decent life. The evidence we have heard is shocking and appalling. It is an affront to this country’s proud tradition of giving sanctuary to those fleeing danger and violence. We have to ask ourselves, what sort of country do we want to be? One that protects vulnerable children, or one that allows them to go destitute, scared and hungry?”
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society added: “Thousands of children and families are being abandoned and literally left destitute because the system is failing them. Children and their families are being forced to live in appalling conditions that are unacceptable by anybody’s standards. No child, no matter who they are or where they’re from, should be treated with such a complete lack of human dignity”.
Among its recommendations, the report urges the government to make sure asylum support for all children is in line with mainstream benefits. It seeks the abolition of the cashless system immediately (‘Section 4’). It also wants parents to be allowed to work, so that they can provide for their families and prevent them from being pushed into destitution.
The panel chaired by former children’s minister Sarah Teather MP comprised Neil Carmichael MP, Caroline Dinenage MP, Nic Dakin MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Lord Avebury, Baroness Lister, the Rt. Reverend John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, Nadine Finch, Children’s Rights Barrister, Garden Court Chambers and Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
It received written and oral evidence from over 200 individuals and organisations, including local authorities, safeguarding boards, academics and children and families with direct experience of the system.
Asylum support is set out in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Destitute families with dependent children receive support under Section 95 of the Act until they are granted refugee status and can access employment or mainstream support or if they are refused asylum, until they leave the UK.
But for single adults and couples without children this support is stopped if their claim is refused. If they cannot return home and they have a child, they may be eligible for lower, non-cash support under Section 4 of the Act under strict restrictions.
Although no central data is available, it is estimated that around 10,000 children are supported under asylum support. Around 800 of these are supported under Section 4 for refused asylum-seeking adults.
* More on The Children's Society: www.childrenssociety.org.uk