Parliament: Benefits in kind attacked

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LABOUR LEFT-WINGERS yesterday attacked Government proposals to offer asylum seekers benefits in kind instead of cash assistance. They argued that cash benefits were the "cheapest and most humane way" to help such people while they waited for their applications to be considered.

Jeremy Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, said many in the Labour Party felt such removal of benefits, when first introduced by the Tories, was an "act of spite and vengeance against refugees"

But Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, insisted the current system of support was a "shambles" and radical reform was needed to help those in genuine need. Under the Immigration and Asylum Bill, asylum seekers will be given accommodation and support through vouchers for food and other essentials, instead of being able to claim social security benefits.

Opening the Bill's second reading debate, Mr Straw made clear that support would only be made available to those who were destitute or likely to become destitute. Cash benefits acted as a draw to "economic migrants", especially from eastern Europe, who had no reasons to make asylum claims, he added.

Amid the heated debate on the radical shake-up of the immigration and asylum system, leaders of all the major political parties have pledged not to descend into displays of racial prejudice. The pledge, drawn up by the Commission for Racial Equality, the Refugee Council and the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, also urges all MPs, officials, local councillors and the media to be careful not to stir up racial tensions.

But during the debate, Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, warned small groups of asylum seekers accommodated outside London could be "sitting targets for racist attacks" as a result of the proposals

Mr Straw said the legislation had been drafted amid public concern about bogus asylum seekers in Britain and criminal trafficking, a global trade estimated to be worth more than pounds 4 billion a year. It aims to fine lorry drivers carrying illegal immigrants into the UK.