A hard-hearted system

After four years of humiliating experiences at the Home Office
about my refugee status, countless visits to solicitors and
numerous supporting letters from HIV organisations, I thought
things would finally calm down. But they haven’t. Anyone awaiting
their decision from the Home Office should wait patiently because
as one nightmare ends, another one begins. For me this time it is
applying for benefits.

When I applied for benefits, everyone kept on passing the buck to
the next person. First I was told to go to the jobcentre to apply
for a national insurance number. When I went, a man there said they
would not issue a national insurance number unless I had a letter
from an employer. I said I’d been told to go to the Jobcentre and
his attitude was as if I was illiterate and didn’t understand him.
His co-worker told him I could apply for an NI number if I was also
applying for income support. He abruptly handed me a benefits
helpline number to call and didn’t even acknowledge that he was

I called the benefits number and they wanted all sorts of documents
from me. The person on the helpline told me my current allowances
and housing would only be paid for until the end of the month. As
there was still no response from the benefit agency about my
situation and no NI number I had to move one week before I gave

Now my baby daughter is six months old and again I have to move to
temporary accommodation and then again into permanent housing. Not
only am I looking after my baby on my own, I am on medication for
my HIV. It is hard to cope on my own and I don’t even have time to
cook myself a decent meal, so I live off crisps and chocolates. I
feel ill with lethargy. There is no room in my flat to put up my
baby’s cot and she is outgrowing her Moses basket.

To tell you the truth this experience is no different than waiting
endless hours in the cold outside the Home Office just to go inside
and be made to sit for 10 hours. There must be a more
straightforward asylum process. Can’t they make the forms easier?
Shouldn’t they give priority to people who are already under the
care of social services and liaise with them to sort out our

When I finally received my resident permit I was hoping to settle
down and live a healthy life, be a good mum and put all the stress
of my past behind me. But I am still being asked to send more
copies of the same information I have already sent to the claims
offices several times. I have a limited permit to reside in the UK
but I fear that by the time my benefits have been sorted out I will
have to re-apply to extend my stay. My life is just passing me by.
I speak English but still find it hard to cope with all this. What
about those who can’t? The system needs to have a heart.

Salima Jivani is HIV positive and a single parent

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