Benefit policies ‘push asylum-seeking children into poverty'

By Joe Lepper

| 06 August 2014

A government funding freeze on support for asylum-seeking children in the UK has been heavily criticised in a report by The Children's Society.

Many asylum-seeking families with children have to live on half the level of benefit of mainstream claimants.

The report, From Persecution to Destitution, estimates more than 10,000 children seeking asylum in the UK, often those fleeing from war, violence and persecution, are being pushed into poverty.

It details how financial support has remained at 2011 rates, which is effectively a 7.5 per cent cut in real terms.

The report found financial support can be as little as half of that available to mainstream benefits claimants and many asylum seekers are not allowed to work. The charity is calling for a rise to at least 70 per cent of mainstream benefits and increased in line with inflation each year.

Among the worst hit are 16- and 17-year-olds in asylum-seeking families. They receive £13.16 a week less in benefit than children under 16, says the charity, which is calling on the government to ensure they receive the same rate as other under-18s.

The Children’s Society’s chief executive Matthew Reed said: “The UK is pushing children seeking safety from violence and persecution into poverty. Instead of giving them and their families the help they need, they are being forced to live on shockingly low levels of support.
 
“Many are unable even to afford the most basic necessities for their children. The government has a chance to change this and make sure that all refugee children have what they need for a decent start in life. It is critical that the government does not miss this opportunity.”
 
The report follows a High Court judicial review ruling in April that criticised Home Secretary Theresa May’s decision making on the level of support. The government has until 9 August to reassess its rates to ensure they meet basic living needs of asylum-seeking families.

Mr Justice Popplewell said at the hearing: “In my judgment the information used by the Secretary of State to set the rate of asylum support was simply insufficient to reach a rational decision to freeze rates.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Asylum seekers are provided with an essential living allowance and free accommodation, are exempt from paying utility bills and Council Tax, and have access to free healthcare and schooling.

“We periodically review allowance payments to ensure they continue to meet essential living needs. We have taken account of the court’s findings and the results of our latest reassessment will be announced very shortly.”

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