People seeking asylum in the UK are effectively prohibited from working. As a result, many are left to live in poverty, struggling to support themselves and their families, whilst the Government wastes the talents of thousands of people.
Yet article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
If people seeking asylum were able to work they would not need to be supported for extended periods and could contribute to the economy through increased tax revenues and consumer spending. Research has demonstrated that even with a modest labour force participation rate of 25% among people seeking asylum a saving of £43.5m could be made each year from the asylum support budget if the permission to work rules were liberalised. Further arguments why asylum seekers should be allowed to work on the Help Refugees website.
So why are they banned from working?
In an attempt to remove the perception that the United Kingdom was a “soft touch” for asylum seekers and the public perception that asylum seekers were taking away money from benefits that citizens of Britain are entitled to, the early 2000s saw the government introduce a number of controversial new laws. These laws provide that asylum seekers are not permitted to work, allow for administrative detention, limit the benefits provided, and enable benefits to be withdrawn if it is believed the applicant did not make a claim for asylum within a reasonably practicable time. Asylum seekers from countries that are deemed “safe” and those whose claims are “clearly unfounded” are detained and can be removed from the UK while they appeal the decision to deny them asylum.
Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provides that the Home Office has a duty to provide support to asylum seekers. Section 116 of this Act states that it is the responsibility of the Home Office to provide accommodation and support to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute.
While people are waiting for their asylum claim to be processed they receive £37.75 per week for each person aged over 3 in a household. In addition they receive free healthcare, education for children and furnished accommodation including utilities provided they agree to live where they are told, which could be anywhere in the UK.
The government has reported that as of March 2015 approximately 20,400 asylum seekers awaiting a final determination were being provided with support under section 95 of the Asylum Act. In the calendar year 2014–15 the cost of this support was estimated at £100 million.
Failed asylum seekers who are taking all reasonable steps to leave the UK but are unable to do so for reasons beyond their control may also continue to receive support under section 4 of the Immigration Act 1999 if they will otherwise become destitute within a fourteen-day period. This support is known as section 4 support and is £35.39 per person on a payment card. They receive no cash. As of March 31, 2015, approximately 4,900 failed asylum seekers were receiving support under this section at an estimated cost of £28 million.
The government has noted that the “large amounts of money” spent supporting failed asylum seekers “is wrong in principle and sends entirely the wrong message to those migrants who do not require our protection but who may seek to exploit the system. It also undermines public confidence in our asylum system.” It is seeking to reform the system of support for failed asylum seekers and has introduced an immigration bill that would repeal the requirement to provide support to failed asylum seekers, with certain exceptions.