A MOTHER who had to walk
home from hospital in the snow with her newborn baby in her arms
was among the victims of a "woeful" support system for
asylum-seekers cited in a parliamentary report last month.
The Report of the
Parliamentary Inquiry into Asylum Support for Children and Young
People, published last month, concluded that "successive
governments have failed children by delivering an asylum support
system that keeps children in poverty, leads to dependency on the
state, and denies asylum-seeking families the resources they need
to meet their needs."
The example of the
mother, which was provided by the Refugee Council, was one of more
than 200 contributions to the inquiry. She had applied for a
maternity grant more than a month before the birth, but received it
only two months afterwards, and had no money to buy a buggy or pay
for a taxi.
Sarah Teather MP, who
chaired the inquiry, said that there had been many moments when she
had felt ashamed during the inquiry. The panel had been most
appalled by "the personal stories of disrespect" that many families
had recounted. In July, as Minister of State for Children and
Families, Ms Teather defended the system (
News, 13 July).
The Bishop of Ripon &
Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, a member of the panel, said: "I was
frankly shocked at the some of the stories we picked up in our
report, with witnesses telling us how officials would just let
themselves into asylum-seekers' accommodation. On one occassion, a
child was downstairs in his home, and was absolutely
The inquiry concluded
that the current levels of support provided to families are "too
low to meet children's essential living needs". It recommended that
the Government should abolish Section 4 support, which is provided
to people who have a child after their asylum claim has been
refused, and who cannot leave the UK. Instead of cash, they receive
£35.39 per person per week - lower than the support provided to
those still seeking asylum - on the Azure Card, which can be used
only at certain shops to purchase essential items.
Almost 800 children are
estimated to be living on this support. Rates of support should
never fall below 70 per cent of income support, the panel argued,
and permission to work should be granted to asylum-seeking parents
if their claim had not been concluded in six months.
The report also described
an "urgent need to address the public discourse around asylum and
refugee issues", to "correct the misconceptions which persist".
Matthew Reed, the chief
executive of the Children's Society, which supported the panel,
said: "Children and their families are being forced to live in
appalling conditions that are unacceptable by anybody's standards.
No child, no matter who they are or where they're from, should be
treated with such a complete lack of human dignity."
In a letter to Ms Teather, the Minister for Immigration, Mark
Harper, who declined to give evidence to the inquiry, said: "No one
who has sought the UK's protection need be destitute; and I do not
think that, when taken as a whole, the value of cash and non-cash
support is ungenerous." He was not "minded to increase incentives
for failed asylum-seekers to remain in the country: where the
courts have found that they have no need of protection, my strong
view is that families ought to return home."