The 'Poverty Barrier' report draws on the testimony of over 100 survivors of torture and the expertise of 18 different members of Freedom from Torture's clinical department.
Together they paint a bleak picture of financial insecurity, social exclusion and hopelessness, confirming a disturbing reality for survivors of torture living in the UK; namely, that their experiences of poverty compound their trauma related to torture and impede their rehabilitation.
- Poor quality decision-making on asylum claims - including the mishandling of torture disclosures - means survivors are required to lodge appeals and fresh claims, acting as an important root cause of destitution; and
- The ability of torture survivors to engage effectively with the asylum system is undermined by poverty which exacerbates poor mental health related to torture and makes it difficult for survivors to report to the Home Office and maintain contact with legal representatives.
- The level of financial support provided to survivors in the asylum system is inadequate to meet essential living needs, including those in relation to food, clothing and health and hygiene; and
- Poor administration in the asylum system causes delays and gaps in support, leaving many survivors at risk of destitution.
- The lack of secure accommodation, the poor quality of some of the accommodation provided, and the denial of accommodation to torture survivors - resulting in dependency and destitution - deprive torture survivors of the 'safe recovery environment' needed to effectively engage in torture rehabilitation.
Transition for those granted permission to live in the UK
- Poverty - including difficulties securing basic income and adequate housing, accessing support from the mainstream welfare benefits system, and finding a job for those well enough to work - often continues for those who have been granted protection, which makes this an unexpectedly difficult period psychologically for many survivors of torture.
- Poverty and insecurity in the UK reinforces symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by many survivors as a result of torture - this makes it especially difficult for them to cope with poverty;
- Lack of funds (even if these would be reimbursed) to travel to appointments and to maintain contact with Freedom from Torture clinicians and other healthcare providers is a common problem; and
- The ability of torture survivors to engage effectively in therapy is also impeded by chronic diet inadequacies leading to poor cognitive functioning, and chronic dependence, disempowerment and a lack of agency which exacerbate psychological health symptoms associated with torture and reaffirm the sense of worthlessness and humiliation that survivors experience as a result of their torture.
Some of the key recommendations made by Freedom from Torture in this report include:
The Government should:
- raise asylum support rates to provide for a standard of living equivalent to mainstream welfare support provision. If utilities are provided as part of the provision of accommodation, the asylum support rate should be equivalent to at least 70 per cent of income support rates. This rate should then be increased in line with annual cost of living increments for mainstream support; and
- implement the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights for 'a coherent unified, simplified and accessible system of support for asylum seekers, from arrival until voluntary departure or compulsory removal from the UK' such that Section 4 support is abolished and Section 95 support is transformed into an 'end to end' cash-based support system.
The Home Office should:
- rollout new guidance on handling asylum claims involving allegations of torture or serious harm with facilitated training for all asylum decision-makers to improve the quality of decision-making, save the cost and distress for applicants of unnecessary appeals and fresh claims, and prevent destitution;
- ensure decisions concerning the provision of accommodation to torture survivors comply with Section 4 of the Asylum Seekers (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005. In particular, those receiving or accepted for treatment at one of Freedom from Torture's centres should be accommodated close by to that centre. Torture survivors, including those who have experienced rape, should not be forced to share bedrooms with strangers and self-contained accommodation should be provided wherever this is clinically necessary; and
- ensure that asylum support is not withdrawn until the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs are ready to commence mainstream welfare provision via an identified bank account.
The Department for Work and Pensions should:
- create a strategic lead tasked with developing an action plan to ensure the mainstream benefits system is more responsive to the needs of refugees including torture survivors; and
- implement the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee aimed at improving Employment and Support Allowance decision-making and the Work Capability Assessment process, and in particular the recommendation 'to review the operation of the work capability assessment for vulnerable groups'.
The Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency should:
- abandon plans to introduce a residence test for legal aid and ensure there is no curtailment otherwise of the current legal aid eligibility for asylum seekers and refugees seeking judicial review of decisions related to asylum support, provision of immigration status papers and access to mainstream welfare entitlements.
Freedom from Torture is grateful to the European Union which funded the research for this report. Disclaimer: This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Freedom from Torture and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.