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Mon, 6 April 2020

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EXCL Cutting off refugee help after four weeks leaving people 'destitute', Home Office warned

EXCL Cutting off refugee help after four weeks leaving people 'destitute', Home Office warned
5 min read

The Home Office is being urged to overhaul its asylum rules to stop people being left "destitute" just weeks after winning the right to live in the UK.


Under the department's longstanding 'move on' policy, people granted refugee status have just 28 days to move out of state-provided accommodation once they have been given the green-light to stay in Britain.

They also face losing access to a £37.75 a-week living allowance - meaning they must either find a job after months of being banned from working or gain access to mainstream benefits in four weeks.

But MPs and campaigners have argued that does not leave refugees with enough time to build a new life - and could be hindering attempts to help them integrate and contribute to the economy.

Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire will on Wednesday challenge ministers to double the grace period to 56 days, a move the British Red Cross has argued could save taxpayers up to £7m by reducing pressure on other services.

The Shadow Brexit Minister told PoliticsHome that the current rules risked turning "a time of elation" into one of "despair for most refugees" - who run the risk of ending up “destitute”.

"I'm an MP. I have a good salary and if I suddenly had to start from scratch with four weeks' notice, I'd struggle," she said.

"And if you're a refugee, by definition, you usually come here without assets. You haven't had an income for at least six months other than the asylum allowance, which doesn't allow you to save.

"You don't have money for a deposit on a flat. And even if you have received your biometric residence permit, and you have your National Insurance number allowing you to make a claim for benefits, you're probably not going to get any money for at least five to six weeks."

UNIVERSAL CREDIT WARNING

Current Department for Work and Pensions rules mean anyone claiming Universal Credit - designed by ministers to get jobseekers into work - must wait at least 35 days to receive their first payment. But charities have warned that this fails to match up with the 28-day demand from the Home Office, and can leave refugees facing at least a week of being unable to access any help from the state.

"It's a critical time," Ms Debbonaire said. "You've got people who want to get going, and are desperate to start working.”

The British Red Cross, which works with thousands of refugees in the UK, told PoliticsHome that doubling the move-on period to 56 days would be “beneficial to everybody”.

The charity has commissioned analysis that argues the change would lead to “net financial benefits of £4million to £7million annually” by cutting the reliance of refugees on homelessness, rough sleeping, mental and physical health services as well as boosting the tax take by getting more people into work in the long-run.

Jon Featonby, the Red Cross's policy and advocacy manager for refugees and asylum, told this site: "We are talking about a group of people about who've been through the asylum system. And the Government has said it’s not safe for them to return home. They are going to need the protection of the UK.

“All the refugees that we work with want to be able to build their lives here in the UK and contribute. They want to be able to get a job and pay taxes. They want to be able to raise their family and to integrate with their local community.

“But at the moment, because of the way this bit of Home Office policy doesn’t really work in terms of syncing it up with other bits of government policy, you leave these families and these individuals at risk of homelessness and destitution. In terms of helping people to integrate successfully, that sets people off on the wrong foot."

'PROUD HISTORY'

The move to double the 28-day period has also been backed by the Liberal Democrats, who said the UK should do "all we can to protect people forced to flee their homes to escape war and persecution".

The party's home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine told PoliticsHome: "The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need, but this Conservative Government is treating them harshly and failing to respect their dignity.

"By cutting off support for refugees after 28 days, before they start receiving Universal Credit, the Government pushes many into homelessness and destitution."

She added: "We are calling on the Government to extend the ‘move-on period’ for refugees from 28 days to 56, and to give asylum seekers the right to work, so that they can earn money, support themselves and contribute to our society while they wait for a decision."

Ms Debbonaire will use a Commons debate on Wednesday to raise the issue, and said she would be trying to “test the water” to see if newly-elected Conservative MPs would back the changes.

“It actually costs money to keep people in this sort of poverty because you end up having to pick up the support that they need in other ways,” the Labour frontbencher said.

“If they can't get a job they are going to have to depend on benefits and if they can't get benefits then they eventually they are going to need other support."

She added: "I know there are plenty of MPs across the House - and I do include Tories - who do get that, that know there are benefits."

A Home Office spokesperson said the UK had "a proud record of providing protection to vulnerable individuals and helping them to rebuild their lives here".

They added: “The Government is committed to ensuring vulnerable refugees get the support they need to find work, get assistance from their local authority to find housing or apply for mainstream benefits.”

A Home Office source pointed out that the Migrant Help voluntary group - funded by the department - also contacts newly recognised refugees at the start of the 28-period period to offer help with Universal Credit claims, including informing them of “the importance of an early claim and the different types of support that are available”. 

The Communities Department is also trialling a new Local Authority Asylum Liaison Officer role, which the Government says will offer further support to refugees during the 28-day ‘move on’ period.

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