Skip to main content
CampaignsEqualityHousingEnvironmentGeneral ElectionSupport Our WorkFixing BritainMigrationEducationRaceCultureWorkGlobal

New government's asylum reform must end Hostile Environment

The 28-day move-on period was designed to make the refugee settlement process as hostile and unpleasant as possible to “deter” future arrivals.

June 13 2024, 09.26am

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a refugee for a moment. You arrived in the UK a year ago. Destitute. With only the clothes on your back. You thought the UK would be a safe haven to rebuild your life. In an interview with an under-trained and overworked civil servant, you explained the violence you escaped. Since then, you’ve had no news. The last 12 months have been spent in hotel rooms, moved around the country without notice. You have had no chance to build a home or a sense of community and no support. Not being allowed to work or study, you are forced to get by on £8.86 per week on a pre-paid card. You’ve received no integration support, English language lessons, or information about how the UK's housing, welfare or jobs market works.

Finally, after what feels like a lifetime without any news, a letter arrives telling you you’ve been recognised as a refugee and will soon receive a biometric residence permit. What should be a moment of celebration is instead bitter-sweet. Your financial support will be cut off, and you must leave your accommodation within 28 days.

You now have under a month to find work or a means of financially supporting yourself, and to find a new place to live, with no savings, all in a country that is unfamiliar to you. On top of that, opening a bank account, applying for Universal Credit, renting a home, or any other administrative task is made more complicated for you by the fact that you don’t yet have your residence permit. There’s a real chance that, like many others, you will end up homeless.

It may sound impossible, but this is the reality of how the immigration system has been designed for all refugees since asylum seekers were cut off from mainstream benefits and their access to work was reduced in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

It doesn’t work for refugees, and it doesn’t work for Local Authorities forced to find emergency housing for people left destitute at the end of the process. The Red Cross even estimates that extending that ‘move-on’ period for newly recognised refugees from 28 days to 56 would result in a net annual benefit of £7 million pounds, because currently, cutting off support for refugees in asylum accommodation only displaces that cost onto emergency services. Yet politicians still blame the refugees they trap in these circumstances for how much the broken system costs us.

Under successive Tory Home Secretaries, an ideological dedication to hostility has taken precedence over basic competence in the Home Office. We need the next government to get to grips with inept systems and the bunker mentality that has developed in the department that hampers joint planning across services and leaves people dropped through completely unnecessary gaps.

The move-on period for refugees must be increased to at least 56 days, and asylum decisions must be issued together with all the paperwork people need to take their next steps, including their biometric residence permit. This really is the bare minimum a functioning department should be able to achieve. It would also save money and reduce pressures on emergency housing and services, benefiting everyone.

Extending the refugee move-on period is a no-brainer. Nobody should have their support arbitrarily cut off until they have a move-on plan in place, including safe accommodation and means of financial support. These people need our protection and will likely live here permanently – why start their journey with unnecessary hurdles?

British society relies on immigration. Our history, not to mention our proudest institutions like the NHS, has been built by our diverse communities. Our country thrives when we support people to build the strong communities we need for the future.

As it stands, the 28-day move-on period is designed around the assumption that making the process as hostile and unpleasant as possible will deter future arrivals. There is little evidence immigration deterrence is effective, with hostility now at the absolute extreme and application numbers unchanged. It doesn't make sense to make the integration of refugees – who will ultimately live here – so difficult and costly just for the sake of a failed deterrence policy.

After so much Tory mismanagement and chaos, a new government has a huge opportunity to reform the asylum system. They must introduce policies that ensure safety and promote independence and financial security from the start. This includes planning for the move-on period, working with Local Authorities to map accommodation needs, granting the right to work, and supporting integration while awaiting a decision.

The Labour Party has pledged to reopen the asylum system and get on top of processing claims for the thousands of people currently in limbo, which is absolutely right. Yet when the Tories tried to hit an arbitrary target to reduce the backlog without a plan for asylum seekers’ next steps, it was a predictable disaster that pushed thousands into destitution.

If Labour wins, the party needs to plan the clearing of the backlog and ensure that people don’t fall between the gaps at the point their claim is resolved. Worryingly, there are rumours that the party may reverse its previous position of letting asylum seekers work after six months. That is a mistake, as banning people from working is expensive, unpopular, and only delays integration.

For decades, refugees have endured needless suffering, but the next government can - and must - choose a different path.

You might also like...