To date EDM 99 has been supported by 39 MPs. This is a good start, but we need to keep the momentum going and build on this. So if you haven’t done so already, please write to your MP and ask them to sign it. I have attached again the file which has a draft letter for MPs on this issue along with a “Briefing on issues in the EDM” – if you use this as a framework, please try and personalise it. To see if your MP has signed, go to: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/99 To find out who your MP is, type in your postcode at: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/
Alternatively, the Children’s Society have an action framework on their website that you can use at:http://action.childrenssociety.org.uk/page/speakout/refugees along with a blog about the EDM at:http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-views/our-blog/landmark-judgement-could-end-poverty-refugee-children-0
Briefing on issues in EDM No. 99 on the High Court judgment on asylum support
Why are asylum support rates an issue?
Under Section 95 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act, asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their application and who would otherwise be destitute had their support reduced from 90% to 70% of Income Support on the basis that their accommodation with utility bills would be paid for separately.
However, in recent years asylum seekers have seen the value of this support severely reduced. Some asylum seekers, including single adults over 25 and lone parents, now receive around just 50% of Income Support and the majority of asylum seekers have to pay for necessities such as food, clothing, toiletries and transport, on just over £5 a day.
Still Human Still Here does not believe that this is sufficient to allow asylum seekers to meet their essential living needs and pursue their asylum applications. Previous research by Still Human Still Here found that 70% of Income Support is the absolute minimum required to meet basic needs. This conclusion was reached by taking the basket of basic goods compiled by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for its minimum income standards report and then stripping this down so that only items needed to avoid absolute poverty were included.
More recent research has also provided evidence that the current level of asylum support is inadequate. For example, in 2013 Refugee Action interviewed 40 clients who were in receipt of Section 95 support and found that 70% (28/40) of interviewees were unable to buy either enough food to feed themselves; fresh fruit and vegetables; or food that met their dietary, religious or cultural requirements, since being on asylum support.
Furthermore, 90% (36/40) of interviewees could not afford to buy sufficient/appropriate food and clothes. Of the four people who said they could meet both these essential needs, three stated that the level of support did not allow them to maintain good mental and physical health. The only individual who did not report difficulties in this respect received food and other essential items from friends.
Similar detailed research by Freedom form Torture found that all 17 respondents on S95 support who responded to detailed questions stated that overall their income was insufficient to meet their essential needs. As with the Refugee Action research, this survey indicated that
asylum seekers usually had to sacrifice one essential item in order to meet another one.
In 2013, two parliamentary inquiries reached similar conclusions. A cross-party inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, which received information from more than 150 local authorities, local safeguarding children boards and child protection committees, found that: “the levels of support for asylum seeking families are meeting neither children’s essential living needs, nor their wider need to learn and develop. The levels are too low and given that they were not increased in 2012 they should be raised as a matter of urgency and increased annually at the very least in line with income support.” It further recommended that the “rates of support should never fall below 70% of income support” and that “asylum seekers should be granted permission to work “if their claim for asylum has not been concluded within six months.”
In October 2013, the Home Affairs Committee issued a report in which it highlighted “concerns about the level of support available to those who seek asylum in the UK” and noted that the “relative poverty” of those on Section 95 “is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of asylum applicants have not legally been allowed to work since 2002.”
Asylum seekers are often dependent on Section 95 support for considerable periods of time. At the end of March 2014, more than 7,800 asylum seekers had been waiting more than six months for an initial decision on their application. According to the Government, an asylum seeker spends an average of around 18 months on Section 95 support. As indicated above, asylum seekers are effectively prohibited from working to support themselves.
The High Court judgment
In 2013, the Government announced that there would be no increase in asylum support rates to take account of inflation for the second year in succession. This triggered a legal challenge, brought by Refugee Action, which argued that the amount paid to destitute asylum seekers was unlawful because it was insufficient to meet their essential living needs or to provide a dignified standard of living.
On 9 April 2014, the High Court handed down its judgment in a case which the Judge described as considering “what was sufficient to keep about 20,000 people above subsistence level destitution, a significant proportion of whom are vulnerable and have suffered traumatic experiences.” The Judge found that the Government’s assessment of the amount needed by asylum seekers to avoid destitution was flawed and ordered the decision be taken again.
The ruling states that the Government failed to take account of items that must be considered as essential living needs (e.g. non-prescription medication; nappies, formula milk and other requirements of new mothers; basic household cleaning goods; and the opportunity to maintain relationships and have a minimum level of participation in society).
The Court also found that errors had been made by the Government in calculating what amount is required for asylum seekers to meet their essential living needs (e.g. the Government failed to take into account the extent to which asylum support had decreased in real terms in recent years, misapplied available data and failed to take reasonable steps to gather sufficient information to enable a rational judgment to be taken in setting the rates for 2013-14).
The Government did not appeal this judgment and has until 9 August to comply with the ruling and take a new decision on whether to increase asylum support rates.
What should the Government do now?
Still Human Still Here considers that many asylum seekers who have to survive solely on Section 95 support for extended periods of time will suffer a negative impact on their mental and physical health. While the High Court judgment is silent as to whether the level of Section 95 support should be raised and only compels the Government to take the decision again, Still Human urges the Government to comply with the spirit of the ruling by implementing the following recommendations as a matter of urgency:
- Raise asylum support rates to the equivalent of at least 70% of Income Support, with the system recognising the additional needs of children.
- Link annual increments to asylum support rates to inflation or increases to Income Support rates.
- Grant asylum seekers permission to work if they have been waiting for six months or more for an initial decision on their application.
 Still Human Still Here is a coalition of nearly 70 organisations which includes the Red Cross, Crisis, the Children’s Society, Mind, OXFAM, Citizens Advice Bureau, Doctors of the World, National Aids Trust, Amnesty International, several City Councils and all the main agencies working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. For details, see: www.stillhuman.org.uk
 Refugee Action’s research took place in May 2013 with asylum seekers who visited offices in Liverpool, Manchester, Leicester, Bristol, Sheffield or Rotherham for advice sessions and agreed to complete a questionnaire.
 Freedom form Torture carried out research into the impact of poverty on torture survivors in July 2013. A total of 117 clients took part in the research across the UK, including 19 individuals who were in receipt of Section 95 support at the time and completed a detailed questionnaire about their experiences.
 Report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, Children’s Society, January 2013, pages 24-25.
 Home Affairs Committee, Asylum, Seventh report of session 2013-14, paragraph 77 and Press Release 10 October 2013.
 House of Lords Hansard, 5 March 2013, Col. 1457.