Sunday, 21 March 2010

'The government should be ashamed'


Lord Avebury writes ahead of his oral question on Monday 22 March on the reduction in support payments to asylum seekers.

When the National Asylum Support System (NASS) was introduced ten years ago, asylum-seekers awaiting decisions on their application were to get 75 per cent of the amount paid to someone on income support, and the rationale was that asylum seekers had to live in accommodation provided by NASS, with electricity, gas and water supplied free of charge.

Since then, the government reset the payments to 70 per cent of income support, and that linkage has lasted up to now, although surveys by charitable agencies in October 2008 and by Hannah Lewis on behalf of Joseph Rowntree in April/May 2009 found destitution and high levels of physical and mental ill-health among long-term asylum seekers and failed asylum-seekers.

In Leeds, 85 rough sleepers were recorded among failed asylum seekers from countries such as Zimbabwe, Iran, Eritrea and Somalia.

In 2007 the parliamentary joint committee on human rights called for the policy of enforced destitution to cease. In its response, the government reiterated that there was no such policy, even though there were all too many actual cases.

Two months ago the campaign Still Human, Still Here published a report on restoring the integrity of the asylum system, and underlining the inadequacy of the payments made under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

The worst feature of that section is that it gives the government carte blanche to decide the amounts to be paid, without reference to Parliament, and we should at least assert some oversight by subjecting changes to approval by affirmative resolution.

This would mean that the current decision by the government to cut still further the support rates that are already below subsistence level would at least be debated in both Houses.

As it is, the new rates being introduced next month are down from 70 per cent to 66 per cent of income support for families, and a mere 55 per cent for single adults over 25.

Rowntree estimated that minimum utility spending for a single adult of working age came to £14.99. So, taking this from the income support payment of £64.30 for such a person, the rest of their needs would require £49.31. The actual amount they will receive from April is £35.31.

This is enforced destitution with a vengeance. It means more sleeping on the streets, more illegal working to survive, more ill-health caused by undernourishment, among vulnerable people escaping from persecution. It's a despicable way to treat them, and the government should be ashamed.
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