Enforced poverty amongst asylum seekers and refugees

Enforced poverty amongst asylum seekers and refugees


Written by: Nicky Road

Nicky Road reviews a publication on refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

A new Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) Working Paper has been published which analyses the link between poverty and refugees and asylum seekers in the UK from the 1980s to the present. Focusing on three main groups: asylum seekers; refugees; and refused asylum seekers, it also examines the impact on women, children, unaccompanied asylum seeking minors, families, elderly people, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) people, disabled people and members of cultural and religious minorities.

The working paper looks at the evidence on the livelihoods of asylum seekers and refugees, through issues such as their access to asylum support; the difficulties with their refugee status determination, their right to work and survival strategies and the difficulties accessing the labour market. It examines the reduction in support over the years – currently asylum support rates have fallen to between 50-60 per cent of Income Support levels – whilst refugees are not subject to the curtailing of rights and are entitled to the same benefits as British citizens. However, with the reduction in English as an Additional Language (EAL) classes and other support systems refugees too live in poverty and isolation. The review discusses the impact of housing deprivation and insecurity experienced by refugees and asylum seekers as well as their health status and their access to healthcare.

Academic evidence supports their view that creating enforced destitution and poverty is a planned outcome of public policy to disincentivise asylum seekers who remain and to act as a deterrent to those that may wish to come to the UK.

The working paper also reviews the UK government’s dispersal policy, as well as examining issues such as homelessness, especially amongst young asylum seekers and the role of NGOs.

The review finds that reducing the incidence of poverty would improve the quality and fairness of the asylum process and lead to improved refugee health, well-being and integration.

This working paper is a very useful summary of the evidence and data produced over the years, showing the effects of government policy changes. It shows how the numbers seeking asylum are directly linked to political conflicts across the world. It also provides clear evidence of actual numbers and powerfully counteracts the misinformation that is promoted by those hostile to the view that the UK should continue to honour its UN obligations.


Read Poverty among refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. An evidence and policy review, here

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

One thought on “Enforced poverty amongst asylum seekers and refugees

  1. I have to disagree with Nicky about this publication.

    Yes there are useful sections which will be of interest to campaigners especially the background to the recent successful challenge to rates of subsistence for asylum seekers, but it is certainly not ‘a very useful summary of the evidence and data produced over the years’.

    As an academic piece of desk research it is partial and inadequate.

    Here are just one or two omissions from the the IRIS document.
    Over the past couple of years the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have both held public sessions on G4S,and SERCO the contractors for asylum housing since 2012.Both issued detailed critical reports and published mountains of critical written evidence on their websites.There are no references in the bibliography to these reports and evidence although there are sections dealing with housing.
    In my own research field of asylum housing the document is hopeless – just one reference to a controversial report from UK Citizens in Nottingham in 2012.There are two references to housing conditions twelve years ago and an obscure reference to ‘APPG’ evidence from 2012 but no reference in the bibliography.The researchers simply using Google would have found dozens of articles by me and other researchers on Open Democracy and IRR News.
    Although media images of refugees is mentioned and academic work is cited there is no reference to the most comprehensive research in the field from Glasgow University published as ‘Bad News for Refugees’ in 2013.
    Finally and perhaps most damning for IRR readers – perhaps the best book on dispersal and the ‘monstrous’ system of asylum support Frances Webber’s ‘Borderline Justice’ is simply not referenced at all.
    Perhaps the real problem is that real ‘evidence’ for asylum policy according to the document cannot come from activist research or
    ‘NGOs who produce research based on their own practice and client base, leading to inevitable, yet rarely acknowledged biases.'(p9)
    This crude ‘academic’ bias makes the document of only limited use to campaigners and asylum seekers themselves who are after all the most likely agents for change in public policy.

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