The Children’s Society recently published I don’t feel human Experiences of destitution amongst young refugees and migrants. The report looks at the ongoing effects of the policy of enforced destitution originally introduced under the Labour Government. Enforced destitution refers to the withholding/limiting of welfare support in order to expedite the return of refused asylum seekers to their country of origin which has in turn left thousands of people including children without basic support for indefinite periods of time.
The legal framework
The report starts by explaining the legal framework governing support of asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers and immigrants. Asylum seekers and failed asylum applicants were plucked out of welfare state by the previous Government, and have subsequently been catered for by a separate and far less generous system. In cases where there is an asylum outstanding claim, and an asylum seeker is destitute, they are eligible to receive some limited state financial support (set at lower levels than that received under the welfare state) together with accommodation in low demand housing on a no choice basis, and are not permitted to work.
There is some limited provision for basic support for failed asylum seekers –‘ hard cases’ support is only available where strict requirements are met, and is limited to payment card (which in some cases is less than half of Income Support) which can only be used at certain supermarkets. For those children who seek asylum alone there is provision for local authority support.
Why children, young people and families become destitute?
There is a dearth of reliable state monitoring, and data in relation to the numbers of asylum children who are destitute or accessing the very limited form of hard cases support though data shows that around 21% or 765 children were accessing the very limited ‘hard cases support’. It is also notable that at the end of 2007 there were around 155,000 irregular migrant children living in the UK, it would be reasonable to expect that many of these would no access to the welfare state or any other form of asylum support. The Children’s Society itself is actually engaged in providing services and assistance to children and families including those who are made destitute through the immigration and asylum process. It notes on the basis of its experiences that there has been a rise in the number of destitute clients using their services.
Beyond immigration/asylum law restricting access to support, and limiting access to the labour market, the report identifies other features that make young people particularly vulnerable to destitution.
The report points out that most of the destitute young people that the Children’s Society supports come from countries with well documented human rights abuses such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Such individuals may not necessarily fulfil the criteria/ be deemed to fulfil the criteria for securing status in the UK, but are none the less understandably very reluctant to return to countries in which such significant abuses take place. In these kinds of circumstances whilst young people might be eligible for ‘hard cases’ support, the report points out that given the limited nature of this, it is unsatisfactory for children particularly given that they may be required to depend on this for years.
The report also identifies delays in processing applications during points when they transition within the immigration process, and transfer to different types of support. Additionally asylum seekers and those refused asylum are not permitted to work, and although the Home Office is technically entitled to grant permission to work if there is no initial decision on a claim, in reality only a small number of people succeed in such claims.
Age disputes are identified as another cause for concern. In short children become destitute because their age is disputed with the consequence that local authorities refuse to provide them with support. Another identified problem relates to care leavers who are either asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers- there are large inconsistencies in the approach of local authorities to provision of support. Additionally trafficking, cases of domestic violence and family breakdown, and lack of resources in local authorities also play a role.
What happens to young people when they are destitute
The report identifies that young people sometimes go missing, and adopt coping strategies. These entail working informally, commercial sex work, and engaging in sexual relations in order to secure accommodation and food. It highlights the health problems encountered by such groups including mental health problems and self harm which in serious cases has led to suicide attempts. Young people who were interviewed for the report also spoke of their concern about being the subject of attacks.
Conclusions and recommendations
The report concludes by making a serious of recommendations which are as follows:
- Provide end to end cash support which should be at 100% of Income Support for children aged under 18 and 70% for adults
- Leaving care provisions should be available to all looked after children regardless of immigration status and should be extended till at least 21
- Permission to work should be granted to asylum seeking parents and young adults if their claims have not been concluded for 6 months, and those refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their country of origin through no fault of their own should be allowed to work
- Child poverty statistics should be compiled in order to monitor destitution
- Asylum, refugee, and immigrant children should be included in child poverty strategies
With the Coalition being keen to present itself as anti-immigration, but pro-immigrant, there may be some scope for progress in this area, however the current economic climate, together with the restructuring of the welfare state for nationals may well combine to create a number of challenges for those who might like to see more progressive change.