New refugees and destitution

You are an asylum seeker in Glasgow. You have been in the asylum process for several years, working to persuade the Home Office that your claim for asylum is genuine and that you cannot return to your home country. Finally a decision is made – you have been granted refugee status! Time to celebrate, surely? Not yet. First you need to apply for mainstream social security. You’re lucky in this case, as your English is fluent and you are able to negotiate the language of UK bureaucracy. Time is ticking, as your Home Office support and accommodation are only provided for 28 days from the day you get status. Weeks pass with no sign of mainstream support. You are evicted from your housing and left destitute, with no money for food or accommodation.

The recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees report “Refugees Welcome?” examines crucial flaws in the asylum system, such as the above example, and how these impact on asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. The report highlights a number of problems which will be frustratingly familiar to many refugees, asylum seekers and people who work to support those in the asylum process. The two-tier nature of the asylum process is laid bare, with people coming to the UK as part of one of the government-led resettlement schemes being provided with accommodation and casework support, while for those who have made their way to the county and then gone through the asylum process independently there is no government support for either of these things.  Casework support covers such crucial aspects of integration into a new society as support to access ESOL provision, assistance with negotiating the social security system once eligible, support with finding employment, education and volunteering opportunities. Without support in these areas many people will struggle to navigate the systems of UK society and can become isolated as a result. 

While people are in the asylum system they are forbidden from working, so in most cases are reliant on Home Office-provided housing and asylum support (£36 per week, or approximately half of Job Seekers Allowance). When people receive a positive decision on their case the period between this support being cut off and the person transferring to mainstream benefits is currently a 28 day “move on” period. The Scottish Refugee Council’s report Rights, Resilience & Refugee Integration in Scotland shows the average time from a person being granted refugee status and receiving their first Jobseekers Allowance payment is 41 days. The delay is significantly longer for receiving Child Benefit (90 days) and Child Tax Credits (110 days), putting families at a significant disadvantage. Alongside the challenges of negotiating the private housing market and the general lack of support for these new refugees in this period there is a very real risk of people being left homeless and destitute.  If you are a new refugee at the end of the move-on period and haven’t yet been fully installed on the mainstream social security system you are evicted from your housing and made homeless, with no access to the support you are now legally entitled to.

At this stage new refugees in Glasgow can be referred to RST for a grant to cover their costs during this period, to prevent people from becoming homeless and destitute. In 2016-17 we provided 65 grants to new refugees awaiting mainstream social security support, totalling £6,356.00. We supported 86 adults and 58 children who had been newly granted refugee status but instead of being able to celebrate their application being successful were on the brink of being made homeless and left with no money for food.

The issues facing new refugees in this period are soon to both worsen and be felt by a much larger section of society with the rolling up of several existing forms of support into Universal Credit, which has a six week wait for the first payment as standard. The short move-on period is just one of the crisis points built in to the asylum system, periods of transition between parts of the process whereby people are much more likely to fall into destitution. Others include the initial process of claiming asylum which in the majority of cases requires an application to be made in person in Croydon, and the period immediately following a negative decision on a case. In these periods refugees and asylum seekers are able to apply for a small RST destitution grant to tide them over. However each of these stages is present in the system by design, and while we have provided grants to tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers over our 21 year existence it should not be the role of the voluntary sector to catch people when they fall through the cracks in the system. The system is broken and unfit for purpose. 

Take action 

  • Help RST continue to provide destitution grants to sustain people through these crisis points in the system – donate here.
  • Ask your candidates in the General Election to sign the Refugee Council’s pledge to remember the importance of refugee protection.
  • Contact your local representatives and let them know your thoughts on the current asylum system. Immigration is devolved to Westminster but MSPs can still take action in various ways – see for example the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s recent report Hidden Lives – New Beginnings: Destitution, Asylum and Insecure Immigration Status in Scotland.
  • Volunteer your time to help RST’s work – for more information about volunteering please contact Katherine Mackinnon,
  • Find out more about the diverse experiences of refugees and asylum seekers and the community groups and organisations working with them by taking part in Refugee Festival Scotland.

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