Posted: 19 November 2012

The state of support for families seeking protection in the UK

Each year around 20,000 people, including unaccompanied children, seek asylum in the UK.

Having fled war and persecution, most of these children and families arrive destitute, having left most of their possessions behind. As a result, they can't afford basic essentials, such as accommodation, food, nappies and clothing for their children.

While the Home Office processes a family's asylum application the parents are usually not allowed to work or claim standard benefits like income support, child benefit or disability living allowance.

Instead they receive help from the Home Office for accommodation and/or subsistence, known as Section 95 or Section 4 asylum support. 

Asylum support has dropped significantly 

The level of 'mainstream' out-of-work benefits available for families with children is insufficient and leaves families living below the poverty line. Over the past two decades the level of asylum support provided to children and families has dropped significantly compared to these benefits. 

Before 1996, asylum seekers received 90% of income support, a comparable ‘mainstream’ out-of-work benefit. However, in 2000 this was reduced to 70% and in 2008 the link with income support was broken completely.

As our chart shows, levels of cash support vary for different families. This means that in some cases families on Home Office support today receive as little as 50% of the support received by families on income support.

chart indicating the levels of support for people on income support and asylum support

Asylum-seeking families can fall far below the poverty line

These levels of support leave families living far below the poverty line. An asylum-seeking couple with a young child lives on cash support of £5-6 a day for each family member, compared to the poverty line, which is around £11 a day for each family member.

The government argues that levels of asylum support should be lower because families that receive it have their accommodation and utilities paid for. However, families on income support who have nowhere to live may be able to access additional payments under housing benefit to help cover costs of accommodation. 

As our chart demonstrates, even when support with utility bills are taken into account, a family on asylum support may receive nearly £40 a week less than a similar family on income support, leaving them further below the poverty line. 

graph illustrating the amounts that a particular family falls below the poverty line

Families with disabled children receive no additional support

Adult and child asylum seekers are more likely to suffer from physical or mental health problems than the general UK public. 

The British Medical Association estimates that two-thirds of refugees have experienced significant mental distress, and one in six arrives in the UK with a physical health problem severe enough to affect their lives. In comparison, around one in every 20 children living in the UK has a disability.

Although asylum seekers are three times more likely to suffer from a disability than a UK citizen, they do not receive any additional financial support for their disability. (The 'mainstream' benefits system provides for the substantial additional costs of living with a disability. This amounts to around an extra £50 for a disabled child, £30 extra for a single disabled adult and £40 extra for a couple with a disabled adult.)

Inquiry into levels of asylum support for children and young people 

On 30 October a panel of MPs, peers and other experts, supported by us, launched an inquiry into the levels of asylum support for children and young people.

Over the next few weeks the panel will hear evidence from affected families, experts and academics. The panel will address whether the amount of support is sufficient, and if gaps are identified, how the system should be improved.

The call for written evidence ends on 7 December. For more information please contact Nadine Ibbetson by email or call 0207 841 4400 (ext 3016). 

By David Hounsell, Economic Advisor

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By David Hounsell - Policy team

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