The government should scrap the “inhumane” and “ineffective” voucher system for failed asylum seekers and replace it with cash support, according to the Refugee Council.
The charity is calling for an overhaul of section four of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act, which provides accommodation and vouchers worth £35 a week to people who have exhausted their rights to appeal.
A report by the Refugee Council condemns the policy for causing “unnecessary suffering”, leaving recipients facing hunger, poverty, and mental ill health.
The charity prefers cash support, but says the long-term solution lies in allowing asylum seekers to work instead of relying on state hand-outs.
In a survey of more than 70 organisations across England supporting people who have been refused asylum, three-quarters felt the voucher scheme was ineffective. A similar proportion said their clients experienced hunger because £35 was not enough to cover the cost of food and other essentials.
Nearly all organisations (95%) said clients experienced travel difficulties.
All reasonable steps
Although section four recipients are expected to be “taking all reasonable steps to leave the UK”, more than 80% of respondents said their clients experienced difficulties in contacting people in their country of origin.
A similar proportion reported clients experiencing anxiety and other mental health problems as a result of living on vouchers.
The government originally launched the voucher scheme as a means of helping all asylum seekers, but following a storm of public criticism replaced it with cash support in 2002 for all but those refused asylum.
The Refugee Council’s conclusions reflected the highly critical verdict of a joint parliamentary committee on human rights in 2007.
Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “This situation is both appalling and unsustainable. The government must end this policy immediately.”
A spokesperson for the UK Border Agency said it was holding a public consultation on the provision of asylum support, including the voucher system.
He added: “We will listen to groups and individuals’ concerns to identify areas which can be improved including the way in which support is provided. We will publish a formal consultation paper on this topic prior to new asylum support provisions being included in new legislation.”
The consultation is expected to inform the forthcoming Immigration and Citizenship bill, which will streamline existing legislation.