Jonathan Ellis has seen first-hand how much asylum seekers suffer while they live off a payment card that just doesn’t work. As head of policy, research and advocacy at the British Red Cross, he shares three crushing tales.
The Azure card causes unnecessary suffering to the people forced to live on it.
I already knew this, but began to understand it even more during a recent trip to Plymouth, to visit our refugee service. While there, I met some people who have to live off this card.
Children lose out
One woman was supporting her family on the card.
The woman had been most distressed when her daughter came home and asked if she could buy a school raffle ticket, like all her friends. Of course, living on the Azure card, there was no access to cash – so she couldn’t. Her daughter just couldn’t understand the reason.
People on this kind of support do not qualify for free school meals, either – unlike asylum seekers waiting for the government’s initial decision.
Refused asylum seekers cannot go home, for reasons beyond their control. They have to live here on even less money – and yet they lose this entitlement.
Why do we treat people like this?
Shops make up the rules
I also met a man who had witnessed different shops making up different rules, despite the guidance from the Home Office.
Some stores prevented the man from topping up his mobile. This is strange – since the only way people can check their Azure card balance is to ring a helpline.
The service is not free to mobiles, so the man could not find out how much of the £35 he had spent that week. This was certain to lead to embarrassment at the till.
The man also told me that one store refused to let him buy a newspaper.
Why should shop staff be able to make up their own rules – and increase the discomfort felt by people living on this payment card?
Computer says ‘no’
I then met a man who had waited three weeks to receive his Azure card.
When he finally got it, since it had been unused for three weeks, the balance was wiped clean.
So now he had an Azure card – but no money on it.
The Red Cross was having to help chase up whether the balance could be restored on the card.
Scrap the suffering
Three small human stories. But to these three individuals, those moments were crushing and dispiriting.
Why do we make people, who have suffered so much just to get here, suffer so much now? Why do we persist in making asylum seekers live on this card when it causes so much misery?
The view of the Red Cross could not be clearer: this card must be scrapped.
Let’s give people cash – and a little more dignity.