Joint-letter on increasing asylum support rates in response to the Covid-19 crisis

We have written to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking that they increase asylum support rates in line with Universal Credit.

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Read our letter to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in full below.

Joint letter re: Increasing asylum support rates in line with Universal credit

Dear Home Secretary, dear Chancellor of the Exchequer,

We are writing to draw your attention to the impact of Covid-19 and measures to tackle it on some of the most vulnerable people in this country, and to request an immediate intervention to ensure that refugees and people seeking asylum can look after themselves and their families during this difficult time, and ensure that the public health response is truly effective.

We were pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s commitment last week to support the most marginalised in society, including asylum seekers, those who have been refused asylum and others without recourse to public funds, “to get the Home Office funding they need and deserve.” We also welcome the Chancellor’s announcement on 20 March to increase the amount of financial support that people receive through Universal Credit by £20 per week, to “strengthen the safety net” during the Covid-19 pandemic. This increase reflects an acknowledgement of the additional living costs that people are incurring during this crisis.

As part of the public health response, we urge you to immediately increase the support available to those in the asylum system, who are in desperate need of the same financial uplift in order to meet the essential living needs of themselves and their families.

At present, people in the asylum system receive £37.75 if they are supported under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, or £35.39 if they are supported under section 4 of the 1999 Act. This amounts to a little over £5 a day per person. Unlike people on section 95 support, those on section 4 support cannot currently receive payments in cash. Under section 98 of the 1999 Act people are supported in either full-board ‘initial accommodation’ with no cash support provided or in self-catered housing with a cash allowance.

Even before the Coronavirus outbreak, people on asylum support struggled to meet their essential living needs on an amount of support far lower than mainstream benefits, leading to extremely difficult decisions on what to prioritise amongst essential expenditure. Asylum seekers, including torture survivors and other highly vulnerable people, tell us that, in the current context, they are finding it even harder to buy the items that they need to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe.

The response to Covid-19 has meant that many of those already under financial pressure cannot now travel long distances and are relying heavily on local shops where food options are often more limited and more expensive. People receiving asylum support are paid weekly, which makes it difficult to buy sufficient volumes of food and other essentials items that would enable them to comply with guidance on social distancing. Those in receipt of section 4 (cashless) support experience even greater limitations as to how and where they spend their weekly allowance. Additionally, shared dispersal accommodation provides limited kitchen and freezer space for each occupant, making storing essentials difficult.

Asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their support application (those on section 98 support) are likely to be in initial accommodation now for far longer periods than intended, so it is vital that they receive additional financial support to meet their living needs.

Many of those in receipt of asylum support would ordinarily use cafes to access free Wi-Fi as they cannot ordinarily afford mobile data or credit. Given that many support and advice agencies have had to revert to an entirely remote service either by telephone or online, coupled with the fact that the most up to date information from the government is distributed online, the need for additional funds to ensure communication with this isolated population is greater than ever.

We are asking for an immediate increase of £20 per week to section 98, section 95 and section 4 support for the next 12 months in the first instance, in line with the increase in Universal Credit. We are also asking that Section 4 support be paid in cash.

The virus does not discriminate and neither must we.

We also urge that the need for additional financial support be kept under review during the pandemic. It is especially vital that everyone is able to safely and securely sustain themselves and their family at this time. We must ensure that no one is left behind during our collective efforts to overcome this virus.

Yours sincerely,

Sonya Sceats, CEO, Freedom from Torture

Maurice Wren, CEO, Refugee Council

Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council

Andrea Cleaver, Interim Chief Executive, Welsh Refugee Council

Kerry Smith, CEO, Helen Bamber Foundation

Alice Webb, Director, Asylum Support Appeals Project

Bella Sankey, Director, Detention Action

Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice

Sarah Teather, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service

Natasha Walter, Director, Women for Refugee Women

Ros Bragg, Director, Maternity Action

Lucy Jones, Director of Programmes, Doctors of the World UK

Hazel Williams, Director, NACCOM

Rick Henderson, CEO, Homeless Link

Sonia Lenegan, Legal Director, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association

Leila Zadeh, Executive Director, UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Refugee & Migrant rights programme Director, Amnesty International UK

Ake Achi, Founder & Director, Migrants At Work

Jon Beech, Director, Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network

Alison Moore, CEO, Refugee Women Connect

Sally Daghlian, CEO, Praxis

Lisa Matthews, Coordinator, Right to Remain

Daf Viney, Director of services, Hackney Migrant Centre

Cristal Amiss, Project Coordinator, Black Women’s Rape Action Project

Emily Crowley, Chief Executive, Student Action for Refugees

Mel Steel, Director, Voices in Exile

Sue Bent, CEO, Central England Law Centre,

Abi Brunswick, Director, Project 17

Tanya Long, Director, Samphire Ex-Detainee Project

Katie Commons, Director, Action for Refugees in Lewisham

Rabbi Alexandra Wright, Senior Rabbi, The Liberal Jewish Synagogue

Sarah Taal, Director & Advocate, Baobab Women’s Project

Janet Fuller, Project Manager, Derby Refugee Advice Centre

Rosario Guimba-Stewart, Chief Executive Officer, Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network

Maya Esslemont, Director, After Exploitation

Karris Hamilton, Detainee Advocacy Coordinator, Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group

Karolina Maroszek, Manager, Haringey Migrant Support Centre

Will Sutcliffe, Chair, Bradford City of Sanctuary

Traci Kirkland, Head of Charity, Govan community project

Joanne MacInnes, Director, West London Welcome Centre for Refugees and Migrants

Karen Pearse, Director, PAFRAS

Amanda Church-McFarlane, Destitution Project Coordinator, Abigail Housing

Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)

Loraine Masiya Mponela, Chairperson, Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group

Beth Wilson, Director, Bristol Refugee Rights

Sian Evans, Refuges from Rape & Destitution Co-ordinator, Women Against Rape

Celia Sands, Director, South London Refugee Association

Matt Atkins, Director, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum

Jane Henson, Chair, HOST Nottingham

Pete Hobson, Chair, Leicester City of Sanctuary

Nick Watt, Director, Together with Migrant Children

Felix Kupay, Chairperson, ENTRAIDE (Mutual Aid)

Peter D.Hall, Co-ordinator, Croydon Refugee Day Centre

Helen Syrop, Hope Housing Manager, Hope Housing

Lucille, All African Women’s Group

Jan Foster, Trustee, Doncaster Conversation Club

Maggie Pearse, Coordinator, Bradford Immigration & Asylum support & Advice Network

Antonia Young & Neil Young, Balkans Peace Park Committee UK

Fran Woodcock, Bradford Friendship Choir

Judy Rogers, Skipton Refugee Support Group

Avril Sharp, Policy and Casework Officer, Kalayaan

Carol Iddon, Deputy Chief Executive, Action for Children

Alison Garnham, CEO, Child Poverty Action Group