Asylum seekers needlessly made destitute

Asylum seekers needlessly made destitute


Written by: Anne Singh

The Refugee Survival Trust (RST)’s report What’s going on? examines the causes of destitution among asylum seekers, the circumstances which surround destitution and concludes that the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) is failing those seeking protection in the UK.

‘What’s going on?’ is a study into the destitution and poverty faced by asylum seekers in Scotland. Sponsored by the Oxfam UK Poverty Programme, the RST study examines and analyses 1,000 applications made to the RST for grants for subsistence needs by destitute asylum seekers between January 2000 and May 2004. Detailed case studies give invaluable insight into the social causes and consequences of destitution.

The report clearly documents the positive correlation between successive policy and procedural changes both in the asylum system and more specifically in the NASS support system and an increase in material destitution amongst asylum seekers. It illustrates the basic premise of NASS support – that poverty is the norm amongst people seeking asylum in the UK (an adult seeking asylum in the UK is granted 70 per cent of the income support entitlement of a UK citizen) – and exposes the consequent heightened vulnerability of asylum seekers to destitution.

The study examines the profile of applications for RST subsistence grants and concludes that the problems of destitution are not concentrated on a single policy issue or at a particular stage in the asylum or support system but occur throughout the asylum process and are undoubtedly inherent in the system.

The RST analysis shows that the principal reasons why a person could be left without support were:

  • Administrative error and procedural delay
  • Changes in the individual’s circumstances
  • Policy ‘exclusions’ from support

Of these, the main cause of destitution was administrative error and procedural delays with over ninety-seven per cent of these cases attributable to the ineffectiveness of NASS. Delays were particularly significant in applications for ‘hard case’ support and where a dependant applied to be added to support or to be considered in their own right. The unequivocal conclusion is that asylum seekers are bearing the consequences of an ineffective NASS system.

The RST study also examines the effects of poverty and destitution on those seeking protection in the UK. It catalogues the hidden human cost on a person’s emotional and psychological well-being and confirms that material destitution is commonly related to homelessness and a deterioration in a person’s mental, emotional and physical health, often exacerbating the trauma of their experience of fleeing persecution.

Further, and contrary to common perception that families are, in theory, less likely to experience destitution, forty-two per cent of applications for RST subsistence grants were from people with dependant children.

Whilst the report calls for the UK government to improve performance both in the asylum decision-making process and the administration of NASS and to ensure an effective safety net to avoid policy and procedurally induced destitution, it clearly exposes a support system based on a political caricature of asylum seekers as undeserving and abusing the UK’s support and asylum systems.

The RST study verifies that the UK asylum and support system is shamefully failing ‘to provide protection at a fundamental level, shaking the very values of human rights and the right to seek asylum from persecution’.

Related links

Refugee Survival Trust

Oxfam UK Poverty Programme

Download a copy of What's going on? from the Refugee Survival Trust.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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