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Asylum seekers' allowance cut to £1.25 a day

Pittance meant to cover clothes, hygiene products - and transport, meaning many asylum seekers will be effectively confined to the immediate environs of their hotels. 

December 15 2023, 16.30pm

Asylum-seeking and migrant people held in hotel accommodation will see their allowance cut from £9.58 per week to £8.86 per week – or just £1.25 per day – in the new year, in a decision migrant rights campaigners have called “unfathomable”. The Home Office said that asylum seekers need to budget according to their income, "like all people." 

Responding to the decision, Fatou (not their real name), told The Lead: "This is very inhumane and another abuse by the government, we are human, we are not trash which you can do what you like with”. Fatou is currently living in a hotel while she waits for her asylum claim to be processed.

Rather than being given the option to work, pay taxes and arrange their own accommodation, asylum-seeking people receiving Home Office support are forced into designated hotels and onto a tightly controlled sustenance budget while their wait for a decision in their case. They amount to about 45% of asylum seekers currently in the country, or just over 50,000 people. The numbers have soared in recent years, despite government commitments to end the use of hotel accommodation by May 2021 – more than two years ago. It is now estimated the cost of the policy has reached £8 million per day

Migrant people compelled to live in hotels do not pay for accommodation, meals and toiletries. But costs such as travel, over-the-counter medications, mobile phone data, clothes and other essentials must be met by the weekly allowance. 

“The stark reality is that the low level of support means people seeking asylum are trapped in a never-ending state of financial uncertainty,” said Emma Birks, Campaigns Manager at Asylum Matters, which recently published a report into asylum seeking people’s experiences of poverty.

Even before the announced decrease, research by Asylum Matters found that only 1% of those living in hotels could afford to buy clothes and shoes, with people arriving in the UK –often with nothing but the clothes they are wearing – forced to rely on handouts from charities. 

"Like all people, asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers need to budget appropriately and plan their expenditure according to the income available to them," the Home Office said. 

Transport costs are a further issue for people housed in hotels, where the low level of financial support places a de-facto barrier on their freedom of movement. Migrant people have to choose between paying for bus fares – which can cost nearly a week’s income – or using the allowance to cover other essentials. In Bristol, for example, a dayrider is £6, while in Greater Manchester it is £5 and in Leeds it costs £4.50. Even a one-way bus trip in Bristol costs more than the incoming £1.25 daily allowance.

The lack of money for travel leads to isolation, particularly for migrant people housed in remote or rural hotels, and makes it harder for people to integrate into the community. It can also deny people opportunities to take part in English language classes, socialise, attend events at community centres, or visit food banks. 

Poverty and isolation are further exacerbated due to a ban on asylum-seeking people from working, although some are permitted to work after six months in shortage occupations. This policy – which is out of step with other European countries – leaves individuals and families reliant on state support. 

The decision to cut the allowance for people in hotels comes after the Home Office chose to use a new method called “disaggregated CPI” to calculate the standard weekly-allowance for asylum seeking people. It determined that the consumer price index (CPI) is not an accurate way to reflect the true costs faced by asylum-seeking people housed in hotels, who do not have to pay for food and toiletries.  

But in reality, the picture is more complex, with many families feeling they have no choice but to use their weekly allowance to buy food and period products. 

“Charities in the West Midlands have had numerous reports of the food being very poor and often unhealthy in the hotels to the point where people are losing weight because they cannot eat the food,” Birks told The Lead. “This is most acute with children who struggle to eat the food and are becoming malnourished, leading to parents having to supplement the food they eat, with charities referring families to food banks”.

“The reduction in the amount of support these people receive will have a real impact on these families especially,” Birks added.

A May 2022 report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration raised concerns that children living in hotels were missing development milestones linked to poor diet, with children and babies failing “to thrive”. The report heard from third-sector services providers that adults housed in hotels were presenting with health conditions relating to poor nutrition, such as type 2 diabetes and malnutrition. 

Analysis by the The Lead of freedom of information data found there were 229 complaints made to Migrant Help in 2022 from people living in hotels where the keyword ‘food’ was included in the complaint summary. Migrant Help is the helpline commissioned by the Home Office to support asylum-seeking people.

While people in hotels are entitled to toiletries, women reported being offered unsuitable period products, including those that were not absorbent enough. This leads to women feeling they have no choice but to remain indoors, in case their period products leak.

“The current rate isn’t fit for purpose and forcing people to live in poverty for months on end has a detrimental impact on their physical and mental health,” said Birks. “We’re calling on the government to increase rates of asylum support further to allow people and their families to meet their essential living needs”.

The situation is only marginally better for people in self-catered accommodation, whose weekly allowance is set to increase from £47.39 per week to £49.18. Only 3% of people living in dispersal housing surveyed by Asylum Matters said they could afford clothes and shoes. Pregnant women and families with children aged three and under will also see their allowance increase slightly.  

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We continue to meet our legal obligations by providing support and accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. The level of the allowance given to individuals is reviewed each year to ensure it covers essential living needs. This year weekly allowances have increased for many, including pregnant women and young children”.

A background note accompanying the statement added: "Like all people, asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers need to budget appropriately and plan their expenditure according to the income available to them."