Torture survivors face 'shocking' poverty levels

By Derren Hayes

| 24 July 2013

Torture survivors seeking asylum in the UK, some of them young people, are experiencing "shocking" levels of poverty that hinders their recovery from trauma, research has found.

The report highlights the extent of poverty experienced by torture survivors.

Charity Freedom from Torture found that three-quarters of clients that completed a detailed questionnaire described themselves as living in poverty. It said the research revealed "shocking levels of poverty among torture survivors – during and after their passage through the UK's asylum system".

More than half of the respondents were never or not often able to buy enough food, clothing or health and hygiene products, and many said the government financial support offered to asylum seekers was insufficient to pay for essential travel and communication costs linked to their asylum claim.

The research of torture victims of all ages discovered that most received little or no support from local authorities. Only four respondents were receiving this at the time of the research, two of whom were supported under the Children Act 1989. Another four had been refused this support, some because their torture disclosures were not believed.

Particular problems were reported with the provision of support for young people leaving care and with age disputes that affect entitlements.

Those being supported through the asylum system complained that accommodation was often of very poor quality, while some were living in multi-occupancy housing. Most accommodation was nowhere near essential services and moves were commonplace making it hard for families to access health, social care and education support.

Seven people had been forced to sleep rough, two of whom had been raped while living with no support.

Clinicians who work with torture survivors reported that destitution had an extremely negative impact on their mental health and that of their family.

Jocelyn Avigad, manager of the children, young people and families team at Freedom from Torture, said the current climate was the most challenging in the 11 years she has been in post. She described the circumstances of one family, who had five children aged between five and 19, to illustrate the problem. 

She said: "For more than six months the family was accommodated in one room with minimal cooking facilities and heating, insufficient beds and bedding and with no money either from benefits or emergency statutory payments on which to survive. The impact of this on the physical and mental health of the family as a whole and each of its members was devastating and of major concern to clinicians working with the family."

The Poverty Barrier research was conducted with 117 Freedom from Torture treatment clients: 85 completed a detailed client questionnaire, 22 participated in focus groups and 10 in semi-structured interviews. Clinicians working in its centres in Birmingham, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Newcastle were also interviewed.
The charity’s report calls on government to improve the level of support available to torture survivors and makes a series of recommendations for changes to how Whitehall departments work with those claiming asylum.

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