Children and young people have specific rights that should be protected above considerations of immigration control, and should be central to the decisions made about them.
End-to-end cash-based support
The government should implement a single end-to-end cash-based support system for asylum seekers as well as those who have been refused asylum to ensure that no child has to survive below an acceptable level. This support should be at 100% of income support for children under 18 and at least 70% for adults where accommodation is provided. Support should be adjusted annually in line with mainstream benefits.
Local authority support
Leaving care provisions should be available to all looked-after children regardless of their immigration status and they should be supported until at least the age of 21 (or until 24 if they are in education). This could be achieved by amending Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to ensure that leaving care and children in need provisions are always made available to children and young people to meet their welfare needs. This should include support provided to children in need and their families under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989.
‘No-one believes what he says but he’s got an incredible character that hasn’t been broken by his experience of being destitute, despite having suffered so much loss.’ Practitioner about a young person‘I don’t feel human’: Experiences of destitution among young refugees and migrants
Permission to work
Permission to work should be granted to asylum seeking parents and young adults if their claim for asylum has not been concluded within six months through no fault of their own in order to help ensure that children are not growing up in destitution. Refused asylum seekers who temporarily cannot be returned to their country of origin through no fault of their own should be allowed to work.
Children and vulnerable young people should be able to access legal aid for advice and representation in relation to their civil cases including their immigration claims to ensure that they have a fair chance to have their cases considered. The provision of early legal advice, which was first piloted in Solihull in 2006-2007, should be rolled out nationally and made available to all children, young people and families who need it.
To be reflective of the true extent of poverty, child poverty statistics should capture the numbers of all asylum-seeking and migrant children living in poverty, including those who experience destitution, to ensure that effective policies are developed to tackle this issue. This could be done through independent national surveys or by adapting and analysing existing data sets.
Child poverty strategy
As part of the child poverty strategy, including its progress reports and corresponding local needs assessments, both central and local government should consider children and young people from asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant communities in order to ensure that eradicating child poverty is achieved for all children regardless of immigration status.
The Home Office should be made accountable for the number of children living in poverty as a consequence of immigration policy.
Building resilience among young people
Central and local government should explore strategies to build children and young people’s resilience through participation and empowerment work by involving young refugees and migrants in projects that celebrate their stories of overcoming adversity.
Young refugees and migrants should be involved in local and national decision-making like other children, for example through the Department for Education’s consultations with children in care and young carers and
through local children in care councils, in order to capture their unique and innovative perspective.
In his preface to the Asylum Matters report by the Centre for Social Justice which sets out a series of policy recommendations on restoring trust in the UK asylum system, the now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,
Iain Duncan Smith MP referred to the policy of forced destitution and illegal working by asylum seekers as a ‘black hole’ and heavily criticised the previous government for this ‘failed policy’:
‘UK policy is still driven by the thesis, clearly falsified, that we can encourage people to leave by being nasty.’
The experiences of children and young people presented in this report raise serious child protection concerns. The risks facing these children when they are destitute are acute and need to be addressed urgently by local and central government agencies. In order to ensure compliance with its safeguarding duties and its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government should urgently review all immigration policies and legislation that force children, young people and families into destitution, and ensure that support is provided to all children and
young people who need it, regardless of their immigration status.
The gap between asylum support and mainstream benefits
Our analysis outlined in this briefing has revealed that the asylum support given to children and families can be as little as half of mainstream benefits. The amounts provided are often not enough to provide even the basics like food, nappies or medicines, forcing families to live in extreme poverty for long periods of time.
I don’t feel human
Our latest report, I don’t feel human, experiences of destitution among young refugees and migrants, reveals that incredibly vulnerable young people are being left homeless and hungry. They are forced to resort to increasingly desperate means in order to survive.
Young people who were destitute reported serious illness and mental health problems. Some self-harmed and attempted suicide while others supported by our services have even been forced into sexual relationships in exchange for food or shelter.
Generating parliamentary responses
Based on findings from our reports, the House of Commons Education Select Committee held an oral evidence session on child destitution. The children’s minister, the immigration minister and representatives from our organisation gave evidence to the Committee.
Please watch the hearing, featuring Enver Solomon, Policy Director and Andrew Jolly, Senior Practitioner at our West Midlands Refugee Programme.
End Forced Destitution
The asylum system often lets down young people and their families, leaving them vulnerable and forced to survive far below the poverty line.
While that is something we have gathered through our projects and our research, a parliamentary inquiry recently uncovered the same situation for these vulnerable families. They described a situation that often leaves young people vulnerable and far below the poverty line, and the report called for the Home Office to make urgent changes to the asylum-support system.
Please join us in demanding change, so that no child, no matter where they are from, ever has to suffer inhumanely.
What needs to change
Part of the current asylum-support system leaves asylum seekers with no cash at all – they get a tiny amount of money on a special card, which doesn’t allow them to do fundamental things like ride a bus to hospital, or save for a coat to keep their child warm in the winter.
That system must end. We’re also calling for support rates to be brought into line with basic benefit levels. Right now, they are much lower, and leave families – who do not have the right to work – way below the poverty line.
Since 2009, the Home Office has had a legal duty to promote and safeguard the welfare of all children, regardless of where they’ve come from. We are demanding that they live up to this duty, so that no child, no matter where they are from, ever has to suffer like this.