Mercy Baguma: Help available for asylum seekers, minister insists after Ugandan woman dies in Glasgow

‘It may need an application from them,’ says work and pensions secretary on destitute people in need of financial assistance

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 02 September 2020 10:49
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Financial help available for asylum seekers minister insists

Asylum seekers can apply to the government for emergency financial help, a government minister has insisted following the death of a Ugandan woman in Glasgow who was receiving no money due to her immigration status.

Mercy Baguma, 34, was said to be living in “extreme poverty” in the city when she was discovered dead alongside her malnourished baby son by police last weekend.

The work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey suggested destitute asylum seekers could apply to the Home Office for Section 4 support – £5 a day and emergency accommodation – if they have no recourse to any benefits.

“When people are in very difficult situations there are ways the government can help, but it may need an application from them,” she told Sky News. “People without recourse to public funds can apply to the government … so they can get support.”

Asked by host Kay Burley for her response to Baguma’s death “as a human being”, Ms Coffey repeated: “When people are in difficult situations like that … there are ways they can access that help.”

The SNP’s deputy leader Keith Brown said he found Ms Coffey’s remarks “absolutely appalling” accusing her of refusing to show any “compassion” over the death.

The MSP also said Ms Coffey had told the Scottish parliament she would not attend its social security committee hearing on the case.

Glasgow’s Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) charity said Ms Baguma had lost her job after her “leave to remain” status in the UK had expired and she was no longer allowed to work.

She had then claimed asylum, but had not been receiving any asylum support from the Home Office.

The Home Office – now investigating the death – declined to disclose when she had claimed asylum, and why she hadn’t been in receipt of financial support.

Ms Coffey also said “more than half” of staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are back in work, with 799 of her department’s 804 sites now open.

She said hoped that children returning to school would give parents more opportunities to go back to the office.

It comes amid a government push for civil servants to lead from the front and get back to their desks, as Downing Street attempts to encourage people back to the workplace.

“It’s important that employers and employees have that discussion about Covid-safe environments,” Ms Coffey told BBC Breakfast. “There’ll be more opportunities for parents to go back into the office if that’s what is the best thing for them and their employer.”

The minister also hailed the government’s new £2bn “kickstart” scheme aimed at helping young people into work as the labour market.

Businesses are able sign up to use the scheme from Wednesday, with the government paying employers £1500 to set up support and training for 16 to 24-year-olds.

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