Budget squeeze hits the weakest

Asylum-seekers among first victims of cuts in public spending as state support is slashed to £35 a week

Asylum-seekers have become early victims of the squeeze on government spending in the face of the economic crisis.

Allowances for people who claim refuge in Britain will be cut or frozen in the autumn in an effort to reduce the size of the asylum budget.

The "penny-pinching" reductions provoked fury last night with ministers facing accusations they were penalising some of the most vulnerable members of society. They were also warned that the reductions would force refugees into destitution. Under the moves, the subsistence allowance paid to single asylum-seekers aged 25 and over will be slashed from £42.16 to £35.13 a week in October. The cash is intended to cover their living costs while they wait for their claims to be assessed.

In future, single asylum-seekers – the majority of applicants – will be expected to exist on just £5 a day. Under government rules they are not allowed to increase their income by working. The revised rates will apply to new asylum applicants rather than those already in the system. The allowances paid to lone parents will be frozen at the current level of £42.16.

Asylum support payments have traditionally been raised in line with the rate of inflation in the previous September, which would have entitled claimants to an increase of more than 5 per cent this year. But the Home Office has ruled that such increases cannot be afforded this year.

In a letter seen by The Independent, the UK Border Agency tells asylum groups that the 5.2 per cent rate represented a "significant annual peak".

It says: "You'll appreciate that this review has taken place in a difficult economic climate and that our asylum support budget presents a significant financial challenge to the Agency.

"In this context, we have considered a number of different factors in setting the support rates for the coming year to ensure that the essential living needs of asylum-seekers are met within current budgetary constraints."

Support for failed asylum-seekers who are awaiting removal – a process that can take years – is also being frozen at £35 a week.

Sandy Buchan, the chief executive of the charity Refugee Action, said: "Everyone is aware we are facing difficult economic times, but we cannot understand why the Government would seek to penalise the poorest in this way.

"Those seeking sanctuary are already the most vulnerable members of society, and to target them, especially lone parents with dependent children, seems unjustifiably harsh.

"It is also difficult to see how the spectacle of ever greater numbers of asylum-seekers sleeping rough or begging on our streets will assist community cohesion or increase public confidence in ministers' management of housing and immigration policy."

Asylum-seekers who have nowhere to live when they arrive in Britain are dispersed to accommodation around the country.

Originally they were issued with vouchers to cover the cost of food. But the scheme was scrapped in the face of accusations that it was stigmatising asylum-seekers. It was replaced with cash payments from post offices.

The payments have been uprated in line with the level of the Consumer Price Index in September, which was 5.2 per cent last year.

Refugee groups learned of the revised rates, which will be introduced on 5 October, earlier this month. They have protested over the move in meetings with Home Office officials.

The over-25 single person rate is being reduced to bring it in line with allowances paid to asylum-seekers aged 18 to 24.

Refugee Action claimed single people over 25 would have had an increase of £2.19 a week if allowances had been put up by 5.2 per cent. Instead the support offered to new claimants is being trimmed by £7.03. A 5.2 per cent rise would have also boosted allowances for single parents by £2.19. Instead their support is being frozen.

Last night the UK Border Agency pointed out that some rates – such as that to support couples and asylum-seeking children – was being raised by 5.2 per cent.

But it explained that it did not believe asylum applicants aged over 25 needed larger allowances as they did not have housing costs, or water, gas or electricity bills because they lived in accommodation provided for them.

But Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Many asylum-seekers are already left destitute by the Government's incompetence and these penny-pinching cuts will make life harder still.

"Britain's proud record of providing sanctuary to the oppressed is undermined by forcing people to get by on £35 a week. The easiest way to cut the asylum budget would be to let asylum-seekers work to support themselves. It is ridiculous that the Government won't even consider this for people who have waited months for a decision.

"Ministers have managed to create a system that is both inefficient and inhumane."

Case study: 'We didn't know where to go'

Sysay Tedros, 26, from Eritrea, fled to the UK with her mother and younger sister in 2000 aged 17, after her father was arrested and imprisoned in Ethiopia. She has since been granted refugee status and now lives in Manchester with her young daughter. In 2003 she discovered that her father had died after he was beaten in prison, but she still does not know where he is buried.

"Three months after we arrived in the UK we were put on a bus and sent to Manchester. We were given some paperwork and some vouchers rather than money – it took 10 hours to get to our house. We arrived in a car park and a man picked us up in a car and took us to a house in Moston.

"He gave us some milk, cornflakes and bread and butter and went. We didn't know how to use the cooker and for four or five days we just ate cold food. We just knew we were somewhere in England and didn't know where to go. There was no electricity or heating or anything. We spent all our money calling the landlord, who never came. There was water coming through the ceilings, under the door and damp everywhere. My mother got £25 worth of food vouchers and £10 in cash. At the time there were only a few shops where you could use the vouchers. You couldn't use them in markets where you could get cheap fruit and vegetables, and when you took them out, people changed their view of you. It was hurtful.

"I used to walk to and from college every day for over a year, because we couldn't afford to spend any of the cash on transport. I was a teenager, but I couldn't go into town or the cinema or do any of the things a 17-year-old girl might do.

"It was hard for my mother, because she was illiterate and had left her husband and her whole life behind. She didn't have enough money to call her family, so she couldn't find out where her other children were, which made her feel extremely guilty all the time.

"Now, I work to support myself and don't have a problem, but lone parent asylum-seekers only get £43 per week. It's very difficult to survive on this as a single mum with children under five, especially during a recession. I see families who are struggling all the time."

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker