Living on the edge: The gulf between asylum and benefit support

Published on Friday, 13 April 2012 16:33
Written by Ilona Pinter

Orija* and his family fled their home in Africa eight years ago fearing for their lives. Since 2009, he has been living in Britain seeking sanctuary, but rather than being able to build a life, Orija is forced to live far below the poverty line

Under asylum support, he and his family of six receive just £292 per week – £80 less than an equivalent sized family receives on income support. “Any money I need for taking my daughter to school, buying clothes and other basics has to be taken from this money. We struggle to survive,” he said.

New analysis from The Children’s Society reveals that asylum support for children and families can be as little as half that received through the mainstream benefit system. In some cases, families would need nearly three times the amount they are currently given to be pulled out of extreme poverty. 

Most people who claim asylum are destitute when they arrive in the UK. Immigration restrictions mean that they are not allowed to work, forcing families to be dependent on inadequate levels of support for their survival. Many have to rely on donations in order to get the basics they need for their children such as nappies, milk and clothes.
Asylum seekers can apply for support under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 while their claim is being processed, which is provided either as accommodation and/or cash support. Families with children continue to receive this until they are granted refugee status, at which point they may work or claim mainstream benefits. If they are refused asylum, they receive it until they leave the UK.

However, single adults or couples without children lose this support and accommodation when their claim is refused.  Any child born after, is not entitled to any Section 95 support. As a result many families, particularly lone mothers with young children, are left homeless and destitute.

Some may be able to access Section 4 support, which is meant to provide short-term, voucher-based support to destitute adults. At £35.39 per person, it is substantially less than Section 95 support and some families who are unable to return to their country of origin are forced to live in severe poverty in some cases for years.
The government is concerned that increasing asylum support would increase the numbers of asylum seekers coming to the UK. But research shows that most asylum seekers have little control over their route to the UK and little knowledge of our benefits system before they arrive.

By failing to provide adequate support for these children, the government is failing in its commitments under the UN Convention in the Rights of the Child to protect all children within its borders and to promote their welfare. 
As it reviews the levels of asylum support, we urge the government to ensure that all children and families are able to access cash-based support that promotes their welfare in line with mainstream support. We also believe that the government should enable parents to work if their asylum claim has not been concluded within six months or if families cannot be returned to their country of origin through no fault of their own, so that no child is condemned to a life of poverty.

Ilona Pinter is the Young Refugees and Migrants Policy Advisor for The Children’s Society. The Children’s Society supports nearly 50,000 children and young people every year through its specialist services and children’s centres and works with almost 2,000 young refugees and migrants through 10 specialist centres across England as well as through children’s centres and other mainstream services. 

*not his real name


©The Children’s Society 


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