‘The system of asylum seeker support is a confusing mess….[we] recommend the introduction of a coherent, unified, simplified and accessible system of support for asylum seekers, from arrival until voluntary departure or compulsory removal from the UK.’
These words aren’t taken from yet another JCWI briefing, they’re the findings of the UK’s parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR). The JCHR is the UK’s parliamentary mechanism for safeguarding human rights, and mainstreaming human rights concerns into the law and policy making process.
In its report, the JCHR basically trashed a number of aspects of the UK’s inhumane asylum support system. Their criticisms are too numerous to list in full but amongst their concerns were: 1. the messy structure of the asylum support scheme which provides for 3 different levels of support during asylum process; 2. the poor treatment of those who had been refused asylum. This includes those who have gone on to make further human rights claims for example on account of changed circumstances in their countries and those who are trying to leave the UK but cannot ( e.g. Palestinians with no travel documents). These people live on supermarket vouchers worth five pounds a day together with some basic form of accommodation; 3. the failure to let those listed above at point 2 work and 4.the use of ‘late asylum claims’ tests as a basis for denying financial support. In short, and in practice this allows the UKBA to refuse cash only support if they don’t claim asylum within 72 hours of arrival.
So, some three years later, after a series of critical reports from everyone from the JCHR to the CAB, hours of painstaking discussions with reps from the NGO sector, some pretty sympathetic media coverage, and the odd protest here and there, what does the UKBA come up with? 1. an overall messy structure that allows for varying standards of support during asylum process; 2. a structure that seems likely to be implemented in a way that will exacerbate the poor treatment of former asylum seekers through the use of fixed caps on support which will continue to remain as above (with the exception that vouchers are being replaced by cards), 3. no suggestion that failed asylum seekers who cannot return home will be allowed to work and 4. the use of ‘late asylum claims’ tests as a basis for denying financial support;
Needless to say, we’re not happy about this this. We’ve sent in a legal submission to the JCHR not just taking the above up, but also taking up their astonishing reliance on secondary legislation, their intentions in relation to families, and the lack of protection the scheme affords the numerous asylum seekers/former asylum seekers who subject to incorrect decisions about their support. Our briefing is here. There’s also a current consultation on the issue that we would urge you to respond to. It’s here.
The JCHR generally do a super job with their reports with analysts like Murray Hunt (previously of Matrix Chambers) on the case, but we’re not optimistic about the ultimate outcome. They’re extremely over-stretched and naturally focusing on more pressing Bills that are to pass through Parliament in this coming session. Plus they’re legally and politically limited in what they can do – the language of human rights never did quite permeate the policy making process in the way that some of us hoped it might…