30 Jan 2013

Alarmingly low levels of asylum support are forcing thousands of children and their families seeking safety in the UK into severe poverty, putting babies’ and mothers’ lives at risk, a parliamentary inquiry reveals today.

The cross-party parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, led by former children’s minister Sarah Teather MP, today launches its report (summary, full text) into how asylum-seeking children and families are supported by the Home Office.  

The panel, supported by The Children’s Society, found widespread examples of families on levels of support far below mainstream benefits, leaving them barely able to put food on the table or buy a winter coat.  

Those on the lowest rate of support only receive their allowance on a card, meaning they get no cash, effectively leaving them stranded - unable even to take the bus to the doctor's or take their children to school. 

'No child...should be treated with such a complete lack of human dignity'

The inquiry heard how children and families are being forced to live in cramped, crowded, dirty and unsafe accommodation in areas where they are subjected to racial abuse. 

Evidence revealed how some families do not have any privacy, with housing providers entering their homes unannounced, leaving single mothers with children feeling vulnerable and frightened. Families said they were frequently moved with no consideration for their needs – often at short notice – wrenching children from school and breaking links with vital support networks.  

Sarah Teather MP said: 'Woeful levels of support for asylum seekers are pushing children into severe poverty and are far below what they need to have a decent life. The evidence we have heard is shocking and appalling. It is an affront to this country’s proud tradition of giving sanctuary to those fleeing danger and violence. We have to ask ourselves, what sort of country do we want to be? One that protects vulnerable children, or one that allows them to go destitute, scared and hungry?'   

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society said: 'Thousands of children and families are being abandoned and literally left destitute because the system is failing them. Children and their families are being forced to live in appalling conditions that are unacceptable by anybody’s standards. No child, no matter who they are or where they’re from, should be treated with such a complete lack of human dignity'.


Among its recommendations the report urges the government to:

  • Make sure asylum support for all children is in line with mainstream benefits 
  • Abolish the cashless system (‘Section 4’) immediately
  • Allow parents to work so they can provide for their families and prevent them from being pushed into destitution.

The report is being launched in the Jubilee Room, House of Commons, Wednesday 30 January, 2-4pm. Speakers include: Sarah Teather MP; Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society; and Abdou Sidibe, Senior Practitioner at LEAP Project in Leeds. A question-and-answer session with the panel will follow.


The inquiry's report

Download the reports created by the cross-party parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people:

Media enquiries

For more information or to attend the launch, please contact Beth Herzfeld, Senior Media Officer in The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422/ 07775 812 357 or email beth.herzfeld@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

Notes to editors

  • The panel chaired by former children’s minister Sarah Teather MP comprised Neil Carmichael MP, Caroline Dinenage MP, Nic Dakin MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Lord Avebury, Baroness Lister, the Rt. Reverend John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, Nadine Finch, Children’s Rights Barrister, Garden Court Chambers and Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
  • The inquiry received written and oral evidence from over 200 individuals and organisations, including local authorities, safeguarding boards, academics and children and families with direct experience of the system.
  • Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 requires the Home Secretary to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the asylum and immigration system.
  • Asylum support is set out in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Destitute families with dependent children receive support under Section 95 of the Act until they are granted refugee status and can access employment or mainstream support or if they are refused asylum, until they leave the UK. But for single adults and couples without children this support is stopped if their claim is refused. If they cannot return home and they have a child, they may be eligible for lower, non-cash support under Section 4 of the Act under strict restrictions. 
  • Although no central data is available, it is estimated that around 10,000 children are supported under asylum support. Around 800 of these are supported under Section 4 for refused asylum-seeking adults. 
  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.