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Call to improve support for asylum seekers


Letter, 220 signatories, Home Office, Priti Patel, Boris Johnson, financial support, asylum seekers, COVID-19, Women for Refugee Women, Asylum Matters, Safe Passsage, It is now barely 40 per cent of the allowance people over 25 receive on Universal Credit.

On 8 June the Home Office announced a shameful increase of just £1.85 a week to the financial support people seeking asylum in the UK rely on.

That is a meagre 26p a day; and leaves people still forced to live off little more than £5 a day.

That is impossible in normal circumstances, never mind during a global pandemic.

That is why over 220 other organisations have signed a letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and called on her to urgently reconsider her decision, and ensure that people seeking safety in the UK are able to meet their essential needs and stay safe, during the pandemic and afterwards.

The letter runs:

Dear Secretary of State,

Covid-19 pandemic: asylum support rates

As over 200 organisations working with and alongside people seeking asylum in the UK, we believe your decision announced to parliament yesterday to grant an increase of just £1.85 in the weekly rate of asylum support is wholly unacceptable.

It would not allow people to meet their essential living needs in normal times; and it completely fails to take account of the additional needs and severe pressures placed on individuals and families during a public health emergency. We urge you to immediately reconsider this decision.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all, but it is not affecting us all equally. The challenges for those left to live on little more than £5 a day have been further exacerbated in the current crisis.

We know that people seeking asylum have serious problems being able to afford enough food to feed their families, and are making impossible choices between food, cleaning materials, nappies and over the counter medication.

We know families are struggling with the realities of home-schooling without internet access or sufficient educational resources to support their children’s development.

We know people worry about their ability to self-isolate as they cannot afford to stock up on provisions.

Following Public Health England’s recent analysis, we know that people from BAME backgrounds, which includes the vast majority of people seeking asylum in the UK, are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Following government guidance to ‘stay alert’ or ‘stay at home’ is profoundly more difficult when you are living in poverty.

Welcome measures taken by the UK Government to “strengthen the safety net” for those in receipt of mainstream benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in increases to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by approximately £20 per week.

The speed with which these decisions were taken is in marked contrast to the length of time taken to reach a decision on asylum support rates. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, asylum support rates were already significantly less than mainstream benefits; following the uplift, it is now barely 40 per cent of the allowance people over 25 receive on Universal Credit.

People seeking asylum are effectively banned from working, leaving them entirely reliant upon asylum support to avoid destitution. It is imperative that the safety net for people in the asylum system is equally and immediately strengthened, enabling people to keep themselves and their families safe.

We are united in calling on the UK Government to reconsider its decision; and increase the rate of asylum support to allow people seeking asylum to meet their essential living needs during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

Due to the urgency of the current situation, we are calling on the Home Office to immediately ensure that asylum support rates receive the same £20 Covid-related uplift as Universal Credit.

In addition, we call for the link with mainstream benefits to be reinstated by setting asylum support at 70 per cent of Universal Credit to ensure people seeking asylum are able to meet their needs both during, and outside of, a public health pandemic.

Every week, organisations have provided the Home Office with evidence on how people seeking asylum are struggling to meet their essential living needs in these emergency circumstances. We believe it is both a moral and a public health imperative that asylum support rates are increased immediately.

In recent months the Prime Minister has confirmed to parliament on two separate occasions that the Government will address the wellbeing of people seeking asylum during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 25 March he told MPs that vulnerable groups including asylum seekers “will certainly receive the Home Office funding that they need and deserve” during the pandemic.

On 13 May he stated: “We will make sure that nobody in this country, let alone asylum seekers, is ill-treated”.

It is clear that this decision does not meet those commitments. We urge you to reconsider your decision as a matter of urgency.

We look forward to hearing from you soon and to working with your ministers and officials to address these matters in the very near future.

Yours sincerely,

Asylum Matters; Safe Passage; Women for Refugee Women – Natasha Walter, Director; Worthing for Refugees – Gay Jacklin, Church and Community worker; Women Centre Kirklees – Sobiya Din, Senior Mental Health Facilitator and Volunteer Coordinator; Yarls Wood Befrienders – Nicky Woods, Chief Executive; and over 220 others.

If you would like to add your name to this letter, click here.

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