Young person, experts give evidence on asylum support in parliamentary inquiry
On 27 November, the panel of MPs and peers examining the asylum support system for children and young people held its second evidence-gathering session.
A young person provided testimony, as did experts in child poverty, health and well-being, and representatives from a national charity and a local authority network.
A cold welcome
Dave Garrett, chief executive of Refugee Action explained that support rates are a fundamental problem within the asylum support system. Families are not allowed to work, which makes them reliant on support from the Home Office. However there is a shortfall in the levels of support provided to families compared with mainstream benefits levels which are provided for British children and families.
Garrett said that the way in which asylum support rates are decided is 'a random process', leaving people destitute for weeks and months.
He said that most Refugee Action clients will have a period of destitution as a 'welcome' to our country where they are seeking protection from persecution.
The panel also heard from Riyya* - now aged 16 - who came to the UK aged 11 with her mother, who has severe mobility difficulties.
She told the panel about how it took the Home Office several months to realise that her mum couldn't walk and couldn't fulfil their requirement to report regularly. As a result, they were denied support and had to rely on food parcels from friends, neighbours and charities to survive.
As her mother's carer, Riyya had to cook, clean and go to the shops without any help. At the time she could hardly speak English and didn't know anything about the new country in which she was living. She and her mother were housed in a tower block on an estate in Leeds, where they felt very unsafe.
When the family finally received support it was in the form of tokens, which Riyya had to take to the post office to exchange. She would come home alone, aged 11, sometimes after dark and was followed by men. They would leave notes for her with their telephone numbers saying, 'I really like you, I've been keeping an eye on you.' This made her very afraid and her mother was unable to protect her.
Although the family's advocates made numerous referrals to social services, asking for support for Riyya, it was mostly refused.
'I wanted to be 11 and just relax but I couldn't'
She said: 'When the GP refused us, I felt we were wrong or we were not equal. It made me feel very lost.'
Life at school was difficult for Riyya because she was always worried about her mum's health. Riyya used to take her mother to the emergency service two or three times per week and stayed with her all night. This put a lot of pressure on Riyya and sometimes she had to stay home from school.
She told the panel: 'I wanted to be 11 and just relax but I couldn't. I couldn't really enjoy my school life.'
As Riyya learned English, she was increasingly relied on to interpret for her mother and was the main point of contact with lawyers, social workers and other professionals. She even had to interpret for her mother during her psychologists' interviews.
Final evidence session on 19 December
The final oral evidence session is on 19 December when the panel will hear from David Laws MP the minister responsible for child poverty, and from families who have experience of the support system. Find out more about the inquiry.
For more information please contact Nadine Ibbetson on by email or call 020 7841 4400, ext 3016.
* 'Riyya' is a pseudonym. (Return to text.)