Asylum seekers were given the right to work in the UK in 1986, a move introduced by the Conservative government. In 2002, the Labour government revoked this right. A small change implemented in 2005 means that a number of asylum seekers are now able to apply for the right to work if they have not received an initial decision on their claim for refugee status within 12 months. However, there is no guarantee that their request will be granted. The vast majority of asylum seekers in the UK do not have the right to work, and are left unable to adequately support themselves or their families. Reliant on the government for meagre handouts for months, or even years, their inability to work is degrading and adds to the stigma that asylum seekers already face.
The financial assistance that asylum seekers receive from the government is set at 70% of income support. A single adult receives just £42.16 a week. This amount is designed to just cover the basic needs. In reality, this amount often leaves items such as healthy foods, children’s toys, new clothes, bus tickets and health care products unaffordable. Barnados estimated last year that this minimal assistance has left 100,000 child asylum seekers ‘condemned to a childhood of poverty, uncertainty and fear’. Bearing in mind that asylum seekers enter the UK with only a few belongings or nothing at all, is this enough to sustain a reasonable quality of life?
The prolonged periods of unemployment asylum seekers face drastically reduces their employability for the future. A recent survey carried out by the University of London confirmed that asylum seekers in the UK are a highly educated and well qualified group of people. However, while they are unable to use these skills, their qualifications, particularly in more specialised fields, become quickly outdated.
Policy makers face a difficult decision in choosing whether or not to allow asylum seekers to undertake paid employment. If they ‘let them work’, they face public criticism for taking away jobs from British people, but the alternative means that thousands of pounds of tax payers money has to pay for the income support of asylum seekers. I would argue that it makes far more economic sense to put the skills of asylum seekers to use, let them support themselves and pay taxes, not receive them.
Student Action for Refugees (STAR), Trade Union Congress (TUC), The Refugee Council and a number of other organisations have mounted a campaign to ‘Let Them Work’. You can support this campaign, which calls on the government to let asylum seekers work, by signing a petition online at www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/letthemwork, or in person this Monday afternoon in Library Square.