After conducting research on destitution among asylum seekers in Leeds in 2006 and 2008, the Joseph Rowntree Trust has published a third report which shows that the situation is getting worse.
The report, titled Still destitute: a worsening problem for refused asylum seekers, uses data gathered from agencies offering support to asylum seekers over a four week period in April-May 2009. The participating agencies were: East Leeds Health for All, the Health Access Team for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers and the Refugee Council One Stop Service. The research consisted of surveys completed by workers at these agencies, documenting each destitute client (excluding those receiving Section 4 support), and interviews with representatives of organisations dealing with refugees. Whilst outlining the continuing problem of destitution, the report also makes a number of recommendations.
The research recorded 273 destitute individuals, with an overwhelming number (80 per cent) being refused asylum seekers. However, the research also demonstrated that administrative delays and flaws in the New Asylum Model (NAM), a system introduced in April 2007 as a means of speeding up the processing of claims, causes destitution at all stages of the asylum process. In addition, poor quality, or a lack of, legal representation, caused by a reduction of legal aid, is widely seen as a significant contributing factor in creating destitution.
As in 2008, asylum seekers from certain countries of origin were particularly at risk of destitution, with over 50 per cent coming from Zimbabwe, Iraq, Iran or Eritrea.
This most recent survey illustrates that destitution for individuals is prolonged and increasing numbers are affected. An increase in individuals sleeping rough, from 75 to 85 instances since 2008, was recorded, with others known to be sleeping in squats. One agency also informed the researcher that one of their female clients was raped after she resorted to sleeping rough, which highlights the serious risks asylum seekers face through destitution.
The agencies involved voiced great concern over groups that they considered particularly vulnerable, such as those released from prison or discharged from hospital. A failure to arrange support can often lead to homelessness, which also renders ongoing treatment plans for patients difficult to implement. Pregnant women in the asylum application process are not eligible for Social Services support, and can only access Section 4 support at the later stages of pregnancy. Administrative delays can result in women giving birth whilst still homeless.
Furthermore, the Leeds agencies, which took part in the research, have to deal with specific operational challenges; the city serves as a hub for residents in the surrounding area who travel to the city to access available support and service. Inaccessibility to funding puts enormous pressure on maintaining a consistent level of service and one agency was forced to temporarily close. It is also common for clients to be unable to access the full advice service offered, as there are not enough sessions to cope with demand.
In reviewing the data, the report identifies areas that require further investigation including, amongst others, gaining an appreciation of why families with children may fear approaching support services. It is also imperative to investigate the relationship between destitution and the potential it opens for further exploitation, for example, sexual exploitation and forced labour.
To deal with the worsening problem of destitution, the 2009 inquiry makes both principled and practical recommendations whilst proposing that those outlined in the earlier reports continue to be extremely relevant. It suggests that:
- The whole system requires an overhaul as efforts to improve the provision of support have proved futile. Abolishing Section 4 support and introducing an end-to-end support system would avoid destitution during gaps between stages of the asylum process and reduce the administrative workload. Streamlining this service would also keep asylum seekers within the system and in communication with the Home Office.
- Information sharing and liaison between agencies needs to be improved so that those groups considered particularly vulnerable are safeguarded. The government should also ensure that sufficient information is supplied to asylum seekers, enabling them to better assess the services available and make informed decisions.
- An independent arms-length body should be created to make asylum decisions, which would reduce the effort spent on preventing and hindering access to support.
- Asylum seekers should be given the right to work, allowing them to be more self-sufficient and reducing pressure on agencies.
Download the full report here (pdf file, 528kb)
Download the summary of the report here (pdf file, 93kb)