accessibility & help

Asylum destitution on the rise as further cuts to support loom

9 May 2016

destitute asylum seeker

At least 3,373 refugees and asylum seekers in the UK have been destitute in the first three months of this year, according to British Red Cross figures.

The number of people supported by the charity’s destitution services, which include food parcels, clothing and small amounts of emergency cash, has risen by more than 10% since the same period in 2015, during which 2,975 people were seen.

The Red Cross has warned that government plans to remove support payments for refused asylum seeking families, regardless of whether or not they can safely leave the UK, will plunge even more into poverty.

Alex Fraser, Director of Refugee Support at the British Red Cross, said: “These figures show that people who seek safety in the UK after fleeing conflict and persecution are increasingly at risk of becoming destitute in the most literal sense of the word.”

“We frequently see families who rely on our support to be able to feed and clothe their children. We also know that we don’t see everyone who is destitute, so the true figures are likely to be even higher.”

“The UK can do better than this and do more for those fleeing unimaginable situations in countries such as Syria and Iraq. Yet the Immigration Bill will only make it harder for asylum seekers to receive basic support such as housing while their application to remain in the UK is being assessed, and could plunge families unable to leave the country into poverty.”

“It’s clear that the UK’s asylum system can leave anyone destitute – whether you are young or old, fleeing the conflict in Syria or political persecution in Eritrea, have just arrived having made the journey through Europe or are a refugee who Home Office accepts to be in need of protection - and this shows no sign of slowing down. Cutting off support, as the Immigration Bill proposes to do, is a red line that should not be crossed.”

37% (1,253) of those assisted by the Red Cross between January and April 2016 were from Eritrea, Sudan, Iran or Syria, all of which are recognised as being amongst the world’s top refugee producing countries due to conflict or political persecution.

The youngest person supported was not even a year old, while the oldest was 91.

Destitute refugees and asylum seekers are found across the UK, with the Red Cross supporting people most frequently in Leicester, London and Birmingham.

12% of those supported had been granted refugee status by the Home Office. The government has recently committed to reviewing the window which new refugees have before asylum support comes to an end, which is currently 28 days, in recognition of growing evidence that the process of applying for work or mainstream benefits and finding somewhere to live can take much longer.

Karl Pike, Policy and Advocacy Manager for Refugees and Asylum at the British Red Cross said: “Destitution should not be a reality for anybody. Yet often people are forgotten or let down by a system of support that too often is inflexible, cumbersome and difficult to access.

“This is a quiet crisis. Many of those affected don’t know where to turn, which is why the Red Cross provides this support.

“We continue to work with the government to fix many of the bureaucratic problems that put vulnerable people into crisis, often just a few weeks after they have reached a place of safety.”



The British Red Cross is the largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and supported over 9,000 people through its destitution services in 2015

For further information, interviews or case studies please contact Anna MacSwan on +44 0207 877 7519 or +44 077103 91703 (out of hours)

What is destitution?

The Red Cross defines an individual as destitute if they don’t eat sufficiently, have no fixed abode, cannot afford essential items (such as clothes and toiletries) and/or are experiencing worsening health.

Research carried out by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire has found that amongst asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, two-thirds experience repeated hunger on a regular basis, with a quarter experiencing it every day. Over 60% had no fixed accommodation, and were therefore reliant on informal networks or relatives, friends or other acquaintances for a place to sleep at night. Over half reported worsening health over the last year.

Why do refugees and asylum seekers become destitute?

Whereas refugees have permission to work and claim mainstream benefits in the UK, asylum seekers do not and rely on asylum support payments of approximately £36 a week (also known as Section 95 support).

The most common reasons for asylum seekers becoming destitute are problems with asylum support payments, or support being stopped or suspended when an asylum claim is refused.

Asylum seekers whose claims have been refused are not all the same and can include people who:

  • Are legally appealing a decision to refuse refugee status
  • Are unable to leave the UK through no fault of their own (for example, people who are stateless or who do not have the identification papers to prove their nationality)
  • Come from a country which is recognised as too dangerous to deport to

New refugees also frequently become destitute upon being granted leave to remain in the UK, at which point there is currently 28 days before all asylum support, including housing, comes to an end. The UK Government has now committed to reviewing the 28-day window and has agreed to evaluate how long it takes new refugees to find work, apply for benefits and find somewhere to live.

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