A charity in Glasgow that counsels torture survivors is among 60 organisations who have written to the UK government calling for the asylum support allowance to be increased from £35 per week to £55.
Freedom from Torture (FfT) – along with Amnesty International, Migrant Voice and dozens of other groups across the UK – say that asylum seekers are experiencing dire financial problems due to the Covid-19 crisis, with some families going hungry.
They have called on the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to increase the allowance by £20 a week to bring it into line with Universal Credit. In response the Home Office said it was reviewing the amount in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
FfT – which supports more than 100 people in the Glasgow area – told The Ferret it has been dealing with requests from clients and their families who have been asking for food, describing it as “an unprecedented situation”.
Many of the charity’s clients are already trying to deal with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder after being tortured. They are now having to make “impossible decisions between buying food and paracetamol,” FfT said.
The letter points out that the £35 a week asylum allowance amounts to a little over £5 a day per person. It adds that even before the coronavirus outbreak, people on asylum support “struggled to meet their essential living needs” on an amount of support far lower than mainstream benefits.
This has led to “extremely difficult decisions” for people on what to prioritise amongst essential expenditure. Asylum seekers told the signatories to the letter that in the current crisis they are finding it even harder to buy items needed to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe.
The letter requests “an immediate increase of £20 per week” for the next 12 months in line with the increase in Universal Credit, and for some support to be paid in cash. “The virus does not discriminate and neither must we,” it says.
Every day, I am seeing people who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, including torture survivors, make impossible decisions like choosing between buying food and paracetamol. Fiona Crombie, Freedom from Torture
Fiona Crombie, clinical services manager at Freedom from Torture in Glasgow, warned that the coronavirus outbreak is “hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest” including many of her clients.
“Every day, I am seeing people who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, including torture survivors, make impossible decisions like choosing between buying food and paracetamol,” she said.
“People in Glasgow are going hungry. I have never dealt with this number of welfare related issues in over 20 years of supporting individuals. The government must understand that these are unprecedented times and increase support for the most vulnerable.”
Clients of FfT in Glasgow struggling financially include a 48-year-old man from Pakistan who lives outside the city centre. He is in poor health and is self-isolating, in line with the current lockdown rules.
He told The Ferret: “Before this trouble started £35 wasn’t enough to buy food for one person for a week. £5 a day is not enough. The virus trouble has made prices higher. Everything costs more. I can’t take a day ticket for the bus to get food elsewhere. Two days last week, I ran out of money and I didn’t eat.
“I can’t survive on £35 a week. It’s very, very hard. Three meals a day, seven days a week where one meal could cost £5. I make food at home but it only lasts five days.
“I know I don’t eat properly now. I often feel I could eat more but I know if I do I will be hungry sooner. I only eat small meals to make my money last.”
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director said: “It is particularly vital during the profound disruption in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that everyone can look after themselves and their family. We have a responsibility as a rights respecting society to ensure no one is left behind as we collectively work to overcome this virus.”
In reply to the letter a Home Office spokesperson said: “We are reviewing the level of the cash allowance, as we do every year as part of normal business, and we are taking coronavirus factors into consideration.”
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised over 28 people still held at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre, South Lanarkshire. Scottish members of the UK National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), an umbrella group that monitors detention, have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf MSP, highlighting the need to uphold the rights of people who are deprived of their liberty during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The letter refers to people in prisons and the Dungavel centre. It is co-signed by Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, acting in her capacity as chair of the UK NPM Scottish subgroup, and John Wadham, chair of the NPM.
The Scottish Refugee Council has also raised the issue. The council’s Chris Afuakwah said that Covid-19 poses a “serious threat to life in immigration detention centres” and he urged the UK government to urgently release all those held in UK immigration detention centres, including Dungavel.
Afuakwah added: “The government also needs to make sure that people have safe accommodation when they are released. According to our colleagues at Scottish Detainee Visitors, there are less than 30 people currently detained at Dungavel.
“There are many problems with the UK’s use of detention for immigration purposes at the best of times but in the current situation, with worldwide travel restrictions in place, there is no rationale or excuse really for people to be detained in this way.”
Kate Alexander of Scottish Detainee Visitors said the last update given to her group was that 28 people were still detained in Dungavel.
“Conversations with people detained suggest some people may have been released since then, however, we know that some people have been moved to other centres and at least one person has been moved to Dungavel from a centre down south,” she added.
“We have joined with colleagues at the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees and organisations supporting people in detention calling for managed, safe, and supported release of everyone in detention, as many hundreds of people are at real risk if the virus spreads within these secure environments.”