Destitution in Leicester 2010

Launched during Refugee Week, June 2010

Executive summary

Between 1 and 26 February 2010 six organisations (Refugee Action, British Red Cross, the ASSIST Surgery, LASS, the Leicestershire Congolese Mutual Group and the Welcome Project) from within the LVSF collaborated to conduct a snapshot survey of destitute asylum seekers and refugees seeking help and assistance from each of the projects.
• A total of 225 individual asylum seekers presented who were destitute at the time they were surveyed.
• 24 reported that they had slept rough the previous evening.
• 37 confirmed that they were ‘sofa surfing’ between friends’ houses on an ongoing basis.
• 131 had been technically destitute for more than a year.
• 145 did not have an HC2 at the point of survey.
• 48 had been destitute for a period of more than five years; the longest of which was 13 years.
• 96 became destitute as a result of their asylum applications being rejected (and any rights of appeal having been exhausted).
• Seven had become temporarily destitute because of delays in receiving housing and benefit support after receiving a positive decision on their asylum applications.
• 28 described themselves as depressed/anxious; 15 reported problems with sleep and 16 reported headaches; overall 56 described symptoms, which suggest stress and/or depression.
• 34 reported that they were being treated for mental ill health (eg depression).
• 55 reported that they were caring for between 1 and 4 dependent children.
• One person stated that they had TB, one Hepatitis B, one Cancer and one Sickle Cell Anaemia; 10 disclosed that they were HIV positive.
• 44 disclosed other health problems.
Our survey demonstrates that there is still a significant number of destitute refugees and asylum seekers in Leicester, many of whom have been dealing with destitution for five years or more. In fact, the number appears to be rising again and destitution
always brings a large amount of human suffering. We remain very concerned about:
• the increasing percentage of clients whose health and/or mental health is deteriorating
• the number of clients with dependent children who have to access support from voluntary sector organisations.
For the majority of clients destitution results from having their asylum case refused (end of process cases). However, there is a significant number who should be able to obtain support but are unable to do so. These include both those still within the asylum system and others who could be eligible for local authority or health sector support but who seem unable to access it.
As has been the case for the last five years, clients continue to utilise a patchwork of support in order to survive and display an enormous amount of ingenuity and resilience in doing so. But in the end living in such an insecure environment takes its toll and many clients are demonstrating mental and physical health problems as a consequence.
We are led inescapably to the conclusion that current policies are not working. It is hard to make new recommendations as little has changed. However, this should not devalue either the recommendations themselves or the excellent work being carried out by all of those in Leicester supporting people suffering from the consequences of destitution.
The major issues are highlighted below.
The evidence still suggests that destitution is not a significant ‘push’ factor in relation to voluntary return
Despite consistently high numbers of destitute asylum seekers in the UK the number of people returning voluntarily is still a long way short of its peak of 5,329 in 2006. While numbers have started to rise recently the increase has been fairly small. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2009 the figure was only 2,973. This implies that fears about safety on return continue to dominate people’s thinking.
Denying people the opportunity to support themselves by working continues to be a waste
The waste is not only of their skills and talents but for the communities in which they are living. It also deprives this country of tax revenue, thereby reinforcing the notion of asylum seekers as a burden on those few services to which they can get access.
This view was strongly articulated by contributors to the recent edition of Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire, which featured interviews with destitute asylum seekers in Leicester.
Deterioration in people’s health and well-being has detrimental long term consequences
Both the individuals and the communities in which they are living suffer. It is not prudent or cost-effective to push people into the margins, where they find it hard to get access to proper health care and it exposes them and others to risk.
Being locked into destitution is a terrible waste of people’s lives and potential
Destitute asylum seekers are overwhelmed by the sense that they are in a limbo where their lives have become meaningless and wasted. This is no more acceptable today than it has been in previous years.
We are in danger of creating a society where destitution becomes an acceptable way of life
For some people, destitute becomes something of a ‘learned’ habit. This pattern has been seen in homelessness and, to some extent, in households where children grow up with unemployment and poverty as the norm, and learn to expect that. This is desirable neither for the individuals concerned nor for the country.
Increasing numbers of people approaching destitution services have actually been granted refugee status or are still within the asylum system
Reportedly in Leicester and other regions there are people unable to obtain support because of administrative barriers. The voluntary and statutory sector agencies continue to work with the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) to try to ensure
smooth transition from asylum seeker on UKBA support to refugee on mainstream benefits, but difficulties remain and there is much still to do.
The continuing ingenuity and dignity of the refugees and asylum seekers affected by destitution is humbling. Despite appalling conditions many retain a sense of humour and integrity; they are survivors. However, after having fled some dreadful situations
it is quite wrong that they should be tested in this way now.
While the LVSF surveys have highlighted the problem of destitution, creating changes in the system to reduce the incidence of destitution is much more difficult.
The recent downturn and continuing difficult economic climate has led inevitably to cuts in services and neither UKBA nor the voluntary sector is immune from this. Cuts in services often hit the most vulnerable the hardest, and destitute asylum seekers
may find it even more difficult to get help than they have to date.
The LVSF continues to work well together as its member organisations try to address the issue. Pooling our knowledge, skills and resources has enabled us to provide a better service to destitute asylum seekers and refugees in Leicester and we remain
determined to try to achieve some change in this area.
The recent general election has further added to the uncertainty of the situation and, as this report goes to press, it is difficult to predict what changes lie ahead over the next few years for those entangled in the asylum system.

Read the full report here: Destitution in Leicester_2010 final report