Posted: 04 March 2013

Asylum support inquiry report instigates parliamentary pressure for change

A parliamentary debate led by Sarah Teather MP provided a good opportunity to put findings and recommendations of the asylum support inquiry report directly to Mark Harper, immigration minister, and enable him to set out the government's position on the issues raised in the report.

During the debate MPs from across the political spectrum highlighted a range of issues from the inquiry report including: 

  • strong representations on the abolition of Section 4
  • calls to increase asylum support rates and provide equal support for 16 and 17 year olds
  • the unjust exclusion of families with disabilities from disability benefits 

MPs made various suggestions about how to improve the asylum support system. For example, the government could actually save money by allowing asylum seekers to work and support themselves. 

Setting out Labour’s position on asylum support

Chris Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, said: 'A respect for asylum and a desire to protect refugees are essential parts of our British decency.' His speech referenced the UK’s respect for the rule of law and its history of providing freedom and liberty.

In response to the inquiry report, Bryant said: 'I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of the British people would be scandalised, upset and shocked by many of the stories told and much of the evidence presented.'

Bryant echoed the inquiry's findings, saying there was little evidence to suggest that asylum seekers choose a country based on its benefits system or whether they might be able to work; instead, the number of asylum seekers increases when the amount of danger in the world increases. With regards to dispersal policy he added that 'multiple removals are a waste of time, money and energy for the organisations involved, leaving aside the effect on families, and particularly on children who have to change school.'

Improving the transition from asylum support to mainstream benefits

Mark Harper, immigration minister, said that the inquiry’s report will 'certainly go into the government’s review specifically on asylum support rates.'

In response to evidence setting out that asylum support has fallen well below the poverty line and left thousands of children destitute, Mark Harper said that 'I accept that it [financial support] is not generous, but I do not think it is ungenerous.'

He explained that the UK Border Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions are working towards improving the transition from asylum support to mainstream benefits for those granted refugee status. In response to calls for greater support for those with additional health needs, he said that he would be happy to look at any cases in which local authorities were not providing the requisite additional support under the National Assistance Act or Children Act.

Pressure builds against ‘inefficient and cruel system’ of asylum support 

MPs highlighted the inadequacies of the inefficient and stigmatising Section 4 cashless payment card, which forces families to shop in designated shops on a budget of £5 per person per day.

Chris Bryant questioned the cost-effectiveness of Azure card Section 4 support. He said: 'The government must, of course, review the amounts, and it is time that they got on with that this year... If it is genuinely more expensive to provide than the savings it brings, that is obviously to cut off one's nose to spite one's face.'

Mark Durkan MP described Section 4 support as 'an inefficient as well as a cruel system.' Referring to comments from Ed Timpson, Children’s Minister, in the Commons second reading of the children and families bill that every child should have the same chances in life, he highlighted that destitution, 'creates many degrees and levels of risk for children, which we should, of course, be at pains to prevent.'

No more Section 4

An inquiry on asylum has been launched by the Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by the Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP. The Committee will look at the prevalence of destitution amongst asylum applicants and refused asylum seekers. It will assess whether the asylum support system, including Section 4 support, is sufficient and effective and suggest possible improvements.  It will also examine the reporting of asylum issues in the media. This is an excellent opportunity to examine the plight of thousands of children whose families are dependent on state support, forced into severe poverty. 

No more Section 4! As politicians debate how benefit levels compare to the cost of living as part of the welfare benefits up-rating bill, we insist asylum support for children should at the very least be pegged to mainstream benefits.

Please take part in our End Forced Destitution campaign - ask your MP to improve the support for children seeking asylum.

By Nadine Ibbetson - Policy team

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