Ending refugee poverty

We speak up for ending refugee poverty

Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are left in poverty in the UK without any support

What’s wrong?

There's been a rapid increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers facing poverty.

From new arrivals to refused asylum seekers, thousands each year find themselves cut off from government support. Many depend entirely on the British Red Cross. Our figures show that more and more asylum seekers need food parcels and clothing.

Whereas refugees have permission to work and claim mainstream benefits in the UK, asylum seekers do not. They rely on asylum support payments of £37.75 a week (known as Section 95 support).

The most common reasons for asylum seekers becoming poor are problems with asylum support payments. There can be delays in applications for support being processed, and sometimes support is stopped or suspended when an asylum claim is refused.

New refugees also frequently become poor. After being granted leave to remain in the UK, there is a 28-day period before all asylum support, including housing, comes to an end.

Red Cross research found that finding work and somewhere to live, and applying for benefits, often takes much longer than 28 days. In some cases it can take up to three months.

Our figures show that at least 21 per cent of the poor people we helped last year suffered from this problem. Simply because of the time it takes to get them set up on the system, many are falling into poverty through no fault of their own.

Refugee poverty is also a problem in Scotland. Our report, A Healthy Start?, reveals the challenges pregnant women in Scotland face when seeking refugee protection in the UK.

Who’s affected?

In 2017, we helped 15,000 people who had been left penniless.

This included giving out nearly 20 per cent more food parcels than in the year before. We also provided 43 per cent more baby supplies, such as nappies and baby food.

Refugees and asylum seekers are living in poverty across the UK, with the Red Cross seeing people most frequently in Leicester, London and Cardiff. Many come from countries affected by conflict or political persecution, including Sudan, Syria or Eritrea. They include men, women and children aged from just a few months old to 92.

Red Cross research in South Yorkshire found that among asylum seekers with no right to apply for public funds, two-thirds couldn’t afford to buy enough food. A quarter went hungry every day.

Over 60 per cent of this group had no fixed accommodation. Instead, they relied on informal networks or relatives, friends or acquaintances for a place to sleep at night. Over half reported worsening health over the last year. More than half have no fixed address, which adds to the risk of serious – including sexual – exploitation.

What needs to change?

The UK government has now committed to reviewing the 28-day window based on an evaluation of the average time it takes new refugees to find work, apply for benefits and find somewhere to live. We are seeing changes like this in Northern Ireland, where a £55,000 crisis fund supports migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum facing emergency situations. We manage this fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Our calls to decision makers:


  • Give financial support to people who fall into poverty, up until they have refugee status or can return to their home country.
  • Sometimes a person has their asylum application refused and cannot return to their country through no fault of their own. In such cases, grant people limited leave to remain in the UK. Don’t let them fall between the cracks.
  • Give free health care to all asylum seekers in England, no matter what their status – as is the case in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


  • Allow no one who seeks asylum or refuge in Scotland to fall into poverty and become destitute.


  • Support organisations to raise awareness of and reduce poverty among asylum seekers in Wales.

Northern Ireland

  • Give asylum seekers access to free primary care, as well as the opportunity to learn English on arrival. Publish specific Northern Ireland data on asylum seekers to help policy makers plan services.

Support our calls

England - contact Jon Featonby:


Scotland - contact Kenneth Watt:


Wales - contact Georgia Marks:


Northern Ireland - contact Stephen Browne: