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Record number of UK asylum seekers destitute

13 January 2016

Female refugee

More than 9,000 asylum seekers were left destitute last year, according to new figures from the British Red Cross.

The charity has seen a 15 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers using its services, who do not have adequate access to food, accommodation and healthcare.

In 2014, 7,700 asylum seekers used the Red Cross’ services. This figure jumped to 9,000 in 2015. This includes people granted refugee status, but not given enough time to move to mainstream benefits.

The figures are published alongside a report -Poor health, no wealth, no home: a case study of destitution - launched to coincide with the House of Lords debates on the government’s proposed Immigration Bill today (Wednesday 13 January).

Two-thirds go hungry

Research carried out by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire found that amongst asylum seekers who have no recourse to public funds – meaning they can’t claim the majority  benefits, tax credits or housing assistance paid by the state – two-thirds go hungry on a regular basis, while one quarter go hungry every day.

Over 60 per cent had no fixed accommodation, and were reliant on relatives, friends or charities for a place to sleep at night.

And more than half those surveyed said their health had worsened over the last year.

‘Don’t let them fall between the cracks’

Karl Pike, policy and advocacy manager for the British Red Cross, said: “Levels of destitution in the asylum system are getting worse, including for people who have been granted protection status by the Home Office.

“Refugees should not be left destitute having fled awful violence and persecution.

“This is a silent crisis where the Red Cross and other organisations like us are picking up the pieces.”

  • To prevent destitution among asylum seekers, the Red Cross report recommends:
  • Give financial support to people who fall destitute, up until they have refugee status or can return to their home country.
  • Extend the time refugees have to ‘move on’ from asylum support to mainstream benefits from 28 days to 40 days before asylum support is withdrawn.
  • If a refused asylum seeker cannot return to their country, through no fault of their own, grant them limited leave to remain in the UK. Don’t let them fall between the cracks.
  • Give free health care to all asylum seekers, no matter what their status – as is the case in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Immigration bill debate

The figures have been released to coincide with the House of Lords debate on the government’s proposed Immigration Bill, which is expected to reduce low levels of asylum support even further.

The bill proposes the removal of statutory asylum support (Section 95) for asylum seekers with children who have exhausted their right to appeal decisions on their claim.

Refused asylum seekers will also lose the right to appeal decisions by the Home Office to refuse or discontinue their support – despite a majority of appeals (61 per cent) being successful.

Thousands more could suffer

Alex Fraser, head of refugee services at the British Red Cross, said: “Our experience tells us that asylum support is not a matter of privilege, but a means of providing a lifeline and some basic dignity to those who have come to the UK in search of a place of safety.

“It is a way of ensuring that families who have left everything behind can feed and clothe their children, and give them a place to sleep at night.

“Cutting it is not only wrong in principle, but foolish in practice. Previous attempts to incentivise people to leave the UK by withdrawing support have shown that increasingly desperate people simply disappear.

“This bill will do little to encourage asylum seekers to return home, but will have a huge humanitarian cost.”

Amend the bill


The Red Cross is calling for changes to the bill so that families refused asylum, who cannot safely return to their home country, are allowed to continue to claim limited state support, and still have the right to appeal against a Home Office decision to refuse or discontinue asylum support.

It is also calling for refugees to be given 40 days to move on from asylum support in to mainstream benefits, new housing and potentially a job, rather than the current 28 days.


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