12 Feb 2008

Study reveals reality of claiming asylum in the UK

12 February 2008

A new report released on Tuesday 12 February at General Synod, London by The Children's Society, gives a snapshot of the stark reality for child asylum seekers and refugees living in Britain.

Living on the edge of despair is a small study that shows children growing up in households without food, heating or toys, mothers forced to prostitute themselves to survive, young people in care cut off from any help at 18 becoming homeless, and pregnant women who cannot afford to eat.

The Children's Society interviewed 13 destitute families and young people and collected eight case studies from other voluntary and statutory organisations. In addition eight professionals were interviewed to determine the causes and consequences of destitution for children.

Professionals claimed the main cause of destitution was lack of legal representation. This reflects concerns that the legal aid available for asylum seekers is severely restricted and does not allow time to adequately deal with the complex immigration system within UK law.

Ten out of the 13 families interviewed did not receive adequate legal representation during their asylum claim. The professionals interviewed said that in their opinion the lack of proper legal advice was directly responsible for asylum claims failing. This can leave genuine asylum seekers and their families destitute, unable to work or claim benefits. Some of the parents within the study had experienced rape and torture before arriving in the UK. Many were depressed and felt powerless because they could not care for their children.

Lisa Nandy, policy advisor for The Children’s Society said: “This may be a small-scale study but the results are shocking - we found children only eating once a day and parents not eating for several days. If the findings of this study reflect the wider experience of asylum-seeking families in the UK then thousands of children are experiencing destitution. Regardless of their legal status these are children, entitled to better childhoods and we have a duty to protect and support them as we do all other children in the UK.”

The study found:

  • Children living in dirty, unsafe and overcrowded conditions
  • Transient housing accommodation
  • One family of six were housed in a single room
  • Many families were in hostels where they were afraid of other residents’ behaviour and their property and food was stolen.
  • Children living in accommodation without heating or electricity.
  • Children and their families in constant fear return to unsafe countries
  •  Living in unsafe places led to sexual exploitation. Two children in our study had been conceived as a result of sexual exploitation.
  • Pregnant women interviewed did not have enough to eat, and one was homeless during her pregnancy

Rt Rev’d Bishop Tim Stevens, Chairman of The Children’s Society said: "This report is a shocking indictment on the way we treat some of the country's most vulnerable children. The Church has witnessed first hand the terrible levels of destitution facing many asylum seeking families who come to Britain to escape persecution and torture. Refugee and asylum-seeking are children first and foremost and should be treated as such. "

Notes to Editors:

For a copy of the report and evidence summary visit: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/research

The National Audit Office estimates there are at least 283,500 refused asylum seekers in the UK.(1) Refused asylum seekers are not allowed to claim benefits or work, and so many are destitute

The study was conducted in the West Midlands where charities and community groups are very active in supporting large numbers of destitute people. But The Children’s Society’s experience suggests children are destitute in other areas of England.
The charity is supporting destitute children and young people in London, Oxford, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle.

Families claiming asylum, who are destitute, are entitled to asylum support. They are given accommodation outside of London and the South East (if they have nobody to stay with) and cash, at 70% of income support levels. They are not allowed to work.

Families recognised as refugees are allowed to work and claim benefits like anybody else in the UK. They have 28 days to leave their accommodation and find somewhere else to live when they are granted asylum. This can be a vulnerable time for families where they can end up temporarily destitute