Last week, GMIAU Policy Officer Rivka gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee as part of their inquiry, Equality and the UK Asylum Process. The evidence session focused on access to services for vulnerable people in the asylum process: financial support, accommodation, healthcare, children’s services and education. Here’s a rundown of what Rivka told the Committee. You can watch the full session here.  

1.       The asylum system is trapping people in poverty. 

The financial support offered to people seeking safety in the UK – £40 per week – is not adequate for them to build safe or dignified lives or afford basic necessities. Combined with delays meaning it’s common to wait well over a year for an asylum decision while being unable to work, the system keeps people trapped in poverty for months and years.  

While a little over £5 per day is clearly inadequate, delays mean thousands of people in the asylum system are not even receiving that. While waiting for applications to Section 95 support, people are accommodated under the emergency Section 98, under which they are given £5-8 per week. 

The best way to alleviate this poverty would be to clear the asylum backlog by granting refugee status to the thousands stuck in limbo within it. 

2.       The asylum system is leaving thousands of people in inappropriate accommodation for far too long. 

It’s estimated that over 37,000 people in the asylum system are currently in initial and contingency accommodation – intended to only be used for a short period after someone’s arrival in the UK. In the last 2 years its increasing use for inappropriately long periods has raised serious concerns. At GMIAU we’re supporting people who have been in initial or contingency accommodation for well over 6 months. Even after moving on into “dispersal” accommodation, we’ve heard of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment by housing officers, unsafe and unclean accommodation, and a lack of response and care for people’s additional needs based on disabilities. People feel belittled, ignored and disrespected when they try to raise issues with the Home Office. 

One major problem with asylum accommodation is the policy of “no choice dispersal”, meaning that requests to be accommodated in a certain area will almost always be refused. It means people are removed from communities where they have built up networks of support, and may be receiving mental health treatment, other healthcare, and in education, all of which is severely disrupted.  

Rather than addressing these glaring issues and risks, the Home Office instead is planning to open up more detention-style mass accommodation, as well as their unthinkably cruel plans to “offshore” asylum processing to Rwanda.

3.       The asylum system destroys people’s health and wellbeing.  

For a variety of reasons, people in the asylum system are not able to access the healthcare they need. This might be because of dispersal; because their asylum claims have been rejected; they may be wrongly denied free healthcare; they may be receiving inconsistent or inadequate input from services in contingency accommodation. The reality is that people in the asylum system don’t feel that their needs are taken into account or even that they’re treated as human beings. 

One person GMIAU supported was very ill and spent long periods in hospital before claiming asylum. Her health problems were compounded by the stress of being in the UK without status. She was being charged thousands of pounds for her care, and was being harassed for payment – even, in her own words, at her bedside. She then claimed asylum and was accommodated under Section 95. The housing she was given was not clean or safe and the facilities she should have had to support her disability in her accommodation were not provided. She is still facing a huge bill of tens of thousands of pounds. Healthcare charges, part of the hostile environment, actively endanger lives. 

4.       The asylum system leaves children without the support they need due to knowledge gaps in children’s services.  

Social workers are often unaware of the specific needs and problems experienced by children in the asylum system, and of their rights. This gap affects children in families seeking asylum as well as unaccompanied children. There is no mandatory training on immigration or asylum issues for social work students, meaning that many are unequipped to help – despite the fact that 1 in 10 looked-after children in the UK are not British.  

GMIAU works in relationship with Manchester City Council, which has committed to improving its service with a specialist team and a public pledge to identifying children’s immigration needs and supporting them to access legal advice. A national pledge has been launched and we encourage local authorities to sign up to it and for it to be made part of the DfE’s statutory guidance. 

5.      The asylum system delays access to education at a vital time in the lives of children and young people. 

The vast majority of asylum-seeking young people, whether unaccompanied or in families, are very motivated to learn and want to attend school or college and build their futures. However, many are facing significant delays to starting or continuing their education in the UK. Children in initial and contingency accommodation are waiting up to 6 months in Manchester for school places; their education is being disrupted once again by no-choice dispersal; and unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people, like those in our All4One youth group, are waiting months for college places. 

Delays in the asylum process, which more broadly destroy the mental health and wellbeing of children in the system, also make them less likely to engage with their education.  

There are glaring issues, delays, risks and failures in the system that the government could be addressing. Instead, ignoring warnings from experts, they have now passed their Anti-Refugee laws which will only exacerbate the problems outlined above. To keep up with our work as we continue to fight for the right to seek safety in the UK, sign up to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter