05 February 2018

Press release - UK asylum system leaving thousands of people in poverty

  • 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers left destitute last year
  • Nearly a 20 per cent increase in emergency food parcels, a 43 per cent increase in people needing baby packs – with overall distributions at a five year high
  • British Red Cross calls on UK government to extend ‘move-on’ period for new refugees to 50 days

 

Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are living in poverty in Britain, according to the British Red Cross.

The charity supported 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers experiencing destitution in 2017. It revealed that demands for its destitution services increased in 2017, as it saw nearly a 20 per cent increase in food parcels being handed out and a 43 per cent increase in people needing baby packs, with overall distributions at a five year high. 

At least 23% of those people seeking support from the Red Cross had refugee status, and therefore a legal right to protection and to remain in the UK.

New refugees frequently become destitute upon being granted leave to remain in the UK, at which point there is currently 28 days before asylum support, including housing, comes to an end. The charity, which is the UK’s largest independent provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers, is calling on the government to extend this to 50 days. 

Alex Fraser, Director of Refugee Support at British Red Cross, said:

"No one who has fled conflict and persecution should be left destitute as a side effect of being granted protection in this country. 

Not only does destitution severely impact a persons’ ability to provide for themselves and their family, but in our experience can also lead to an increased risk of exploitation.

Through our front line services, we know that after being given refugee status, the process of finding work and somewhere to live often takes much longer than 28 days.” 

With destitution services in 50 towns and cities across the country, the Red Cross provides basic support to those not in receipt of any support from statutory services; food parcels contain non-perishable items such as rice, pasta, oil, and tins of fruit and vegetables and baby packs typically contain baby clothes, nappies, wipes and baby food.

The most common reasons people approach the charity for destitution support includes: 

  • Upon being granted refugee status in the UK, people only have 28 days to find work, apply for benefits and find somewhere to live before all the financial and housing support they received from the Government stops
  • Problems with asylum support payments, or support being stopped or suspended when an asylum claim is refused
  • People who have exhausted their appeal rights, but cannot return to their home country 
  • People who have had their asylum claim refused - the charity saw an 11 per cent increase last year in people seeking support whose asylum claims have been refused, and therefore not entitled to asylum support

For more information: Freya Carr 
Contact details: fcarr@redcross.org.uk 
+44 0207 877 7461
+44 077103 91703 (out of hours)  

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The British Red Cross is the UK’s largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers and has destitution services in around 50 towns and cities across the country. These provide services ranging from food parcels, clothing and small amounts of emergency cash to help finding housing, individual casework and nappies and maternity packs for new mothers.
  • The top 5 nationalities of destitute refugees and asylum seekers seen by the British Red Cross in 2017 were as follows:

    1. Iran (1,404)
    2. Eritrea (1,307)
    3. Nigeria (1,191) 
    4. Sudan (1,180)
    5. Syria (1,051)
  • London saw the most destitute refugees and asylum seekers (1,947), followed by Glasgow (1,561) and Leicester (1,196).
  • People seeking asylum whose claim has been refused can include those 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
  • These figures reflect the number of people supported by British Red Cross destitution services and their dependants. The true number of destitute refugees and asylum seekers in Britain is likely to be even higher, but conclusive figures on this do not exist as they are not collected by the Home Office.
  • For further information, case studies or interviews please contact Freya Carr

What is destitution?

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

The Red Cross report ‘Poor health, no wealth, no home: a case study of destitution’, carried out in South Yorkshire in 2015 has found that amongst destitute asylum seekers, 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.

In the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the UK Government defines an asylum seeker as destitute if they do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it, or cannot meet other essential living needs.

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.