Failed asylum seekers: the ‘undeserving poor’

Destitute children living in cramped, insanitary conditions, cold, hungry and deprived of the basic necessities of life, their mothers forced into prostitution to obtain the very means of survival. The living nightmare of a third world slum? No, this is 21st century Britain, according to a new report from the Children’s Society, and the victims are asylum-seeking children and their families. The charity interviewed destitute families and the professionals who work with them, discovering children who were growing up in households without food, heat or toys, children in care condemned to homelessness at 18, and pregnant women cut off from everyday health care.

If this were simply an accident of social policy, it would be bad enough. But this situation has been orchestrated by the government, whose Border and Immigration Agency seems intent on making life for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children tougher still. It wants to hustle more of them out of the UK more quickly, whether or not their safety and welfare can be guaranteed.

Of course, the BIA often talks big and does little, in which case local authorities will have to pick up the pieces of a failed policy without the money to support these children properly. The right answer would be to treat them as children first and asylum seekers second. But they and their families are the new so-called “undeserving poor”, still in our midst 60 years after the abolition of the poor law.

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Mark Ivory

This article appeared in the 14 February issue under the headline “Condemned to poverty”

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