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Asylum-seekers failed by system, says report

22 February 2013

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 petrified."

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."


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