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?

Too many refugees and asylum seekers are living in destitution, unable to afford even the most basic of things, like food, shoes or toiletries.

From new arrivals to refused asylum seekers, thousands each year cannot meet their needs, even when in receipt of asylum support. In the year ending June 2023, British Red Cross refugee support teams had supported 10,226 people experiencing destitution.

Whereas refugees have permission to work and apply for mainstream benefits in the UK, asylum seekers do not. They rely on asylum support payments of £47.39 a week (known as section 95 support). For people in accommodation where meals are provided, like some hotels, people receive £9.58 a week. With a large backlog in asylum cases, people remain on asylum support for months, if not years, increasing their risk of falling into destitution. In this time, people are unable to work and start to contribute to life in the UK.

There are other reasons people seeking asylum and refugees become destitute too. Some people seeking experience delays in applications for asylum support being processed, and sometimes support is stopped or suspended when an asylum claim is refused before people can apply for section 4 support. Section 4 support is given to some people whose asylum claim is unsuccessful who do not have accommodation and/or can’t afford to meet their essential living needs.

New refugees frequently become destitute as well. After being granted leave to remain in the UK, there is a 28-day ‘move-on’ period before all asylum support, including housing, comes to an end. 

Recently the move-on process changed, leaving some people with as little as seven days to move out of their asylum accommodation. This could lead to devastating levels of destitution. 

British 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.

Who’s affected?

Refugees and people seeking asylum are living in poverty across the UK. Many come from countries affected by conflict or persecution, including Sudan, Syria or Eritrea. They include men, women and children aged from just a few months old to 92.

In the year ending June 2023, we helped over 10,000 people who were unable to meet their basic needs. This included giving out food parcels and baby supplies, such as nappies and baby food.

The British Red Cross and Refugee Survival Trust report How will we survive? Steps to preventing destitution in the asylum system found that experiences of destitution are widespread among people seeking asylum. 

People with lived experience told us that the first six months is the most difficult. This is caused by:

  • delays in receiving asylum support
  • inadequate financial support
  • lack of knowledge about the asylum system and their rights within it
  • language and cultural barriers
  • not knowing how to access support advocacy and advice
  • being repeatedly moved within asylum accommodation
  • being unable to establish and maintain social connections and support networks.

Financial hardship is a well-recognised factor that makes people vulnerable to exploitation. Research by the British Red Cross and UNHCR At risk: exploitation and the UK asylum system found evidence of people in receipt of asylum support experiencing prolonged financial hardship and periods of destitution. People with lived experience gave accounts of how financial hardship and destitution while trying to live on the weekly allowance of asylum support had increased their risk of exploitation.

What needs to change?

The weekly asylum support allowance should be increased to an amount that reflects the real cost of living and be provided consistently. The move-on period should be extended to at least 56 days to prevent homelessness and destitution in new refugees.

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.

Contact our policy and advocacy team