Asylum seekers are called a lot of things in the press: freeloaders, scroungers, here to suck this country dry. So are we really the ‘El Dorado’ of Europe – a place of riches and gold that people flock to in droves?
If you feel like we give away too much of a good thing, then let’s take a moment to go through the bill.
Updated September 2015.
First of all, here are some things an asylum seeker can’t get…
That’s because asylum seekers don’t receive mainstream welfare benefits – the kind of safety net given to UK nationals.
So what exactly does the government give them?
When someone claims asylum in the UK, they are allowed to wait here as the government looks at their case. While this goes on, they receive £36.95 a week.
That’s a measly £5 a day for things like food, toiletries and clothes. Even with housing paid for, it must be hard to hide the hunger.
It’s worth flagging that there are some variations on this sum. For instance, you can get £5 more if you have a baby under one.
It’s still not very much. It’s just a fraction of income support and way below the poverty line (£177 or less a week, for a single person; £264 for a couple). And sometimes this situation drags on for years.
But it all costs the British taxpayer.
These ‘costs’ are often mentioned in the same breath as immigration policy or net migration. This confuses the issue, as asylum seekers are here for different reasons.
Some papers do cite big, scary numbers about asylum support – but when you break down the figures, the amount actually becomes very small. A budget of £155 million is around £5 a year for each taxpayer.
That means a small amount of money – just over 1p a day – will help people who have fled traumatic and terrifying experiences, such as rape, torture and murder. It’s the sort of loose change that rattles at the bottom of your rucksack.
Even so – this might be enough to lure them here.
Imagine saying goodbye to everything you know. Your home. Your country. Familiar places and views you love.
And apart from your children and partner, who you can maybe bring over to join you, you’re probably parting from friends and loved ones forever. That includes mum and dad.
To leave everything behind and start over, you need to be pushed – not pulled.
Besides, this kind of thinking isn’t backed up by the figures. In fact, 86% of people flee to a neighbouring country, over the border, rather than come to the UK. Those who do reach Europe are far more likely to go to Germany, Sweden, France or Italy.
And it’s unlikely that anyone would risk their life to get to the UK, to live off £5 a day.
If life is so difficult here, why don’t they just get a job?
They can’t. They’re not allowed.
If an asylum seeker waits longer than 12 months for a decision on whether they can stay, they can then request some work. But realistically, the system is against them even if they get the green light.
They can only apply for jobs on the UK’s ‘shortage occupation list’ – and many of these are highly skilled and specialist. Nuclear services manager from Eritrea, anyone?
Even if there is something they can do, they probably won’t get the job. Their qualifications might not be valid here, despite years of education. There may be some language issues, too – especially if we’re talking about complex terms in neurophysiology. Then there’s the stigma of being an asylum seeker, which might put off employers.
It means that we are failing to let people be a part of the UK, in the way that they could.
We have spoken to highly skilled people who used to be doctors, social workers, lawyers and journalists.
They really would like nothing more than to feel useful and valued again – and contribute to this country and economy.
Find out more
Go straight to the source
- Asylum support in the UK
- Working in the UK while an asylum case is considered
- Income support in the UK
Help us get the story straight