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Asylum Support is not enough to live on

An extra 60 pence a day won't change that

On 21 December 2022, the High Court ordered Home Secretary Suella Braverman to immediately increase Asylum Support – the allowance given to asylum seekers – by 60 pence per day, from £40.85 to £45 per week.

The judgment ruled that £40.85 was too little to fulfil the legal obligation to be ‘…adequate to meet the essential living needs of asylum seekers.’

This increase masks a long-term trend of prices for essential items rising while the value of the money allocated to people seeking asylum decreases.

This is the story behind worsening poverty among people in the UK’s asylum system.

As a result of being forced to flee to survive, most people seeking asylum have little or no money on arrival.

Banned from working, people must rely on Asylum Support, the payments from the Home Office that are supposed to prevent destitution and provide for the essentials.

Since 2008, the cost of essential items has gone up significantly. This has happened both gradually, year on year, and quickly during the recent surge in the cost of living.

But during that time, Asylum Support has barely risen at all. The result is that the essential things people seeking asylum need have become more and more unaffordable.

Why compare with 2008? Well, before 2008 Asylum Support rates tracked mainstream benefits. It was less money than mainstream benefits, but it increased at the same rate.

As you can see from the graph above, in the years since the link was broken benefits have risen while Asylum Support has flatlined.

The effect is most notable in 2020, when Universal Credit was raised by £20 per week and Asylum Support by only £1.82.

This decade and a half of flatlining means that Asylum Support was lower in 2022 – £40.85 – than it was in 2008 – when it was £42.16.

But pretty much the same amount right? Not quite. Because of inflation, the value of this money has decreased over time, leaving a difference between its nominal value and its real value.

Nominal value just means the number on the amount of money. The nominal value of £40 in 2008 is the same as £40 in 2022.

Real value is adjusted to take inflation into account.

We all know that inflation has risen quickly in the last six months, but even when inflation is low it adds up to big change over time. What might sound like a small amount in nominal terms could be huge in real terms.

A quick Google tells you that the nominal value of a first class ticket on the Titanic was only £30. Iceberg aside, what a bargain! Until you look at its real value. In today’s money that’s £3,300.

All of which is to say: it’s real value that matters.

A picture of the passenger line RMS Titanic from 1912.
First class ticket on the titanic. A bargain in nominal terms, pretty pricey in real terms.

The effect is less pronounced over 15 years than over 100, but the principle holds. £40 in 2008 is worth a lot more than £40 in 2023.

If the National UK minimum wage hadn’t changed since 2008 it would stand at £5.73 an hour. But unlike Asylum Support, the minimum wage has risen to protect its real value. It’s currently £9.18.

Flatlining Asylum Support means a big decrease in real value, the value that matters.

Between 2008 and 2022, the real value of Asylum Support has fallen by 27 per cent. The real value of the new High Court enforced rate is 19 per cent less than 2008.

Here’s a graph from the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory showing this decline in value.

The increasing cost of the basics

So what’s the impact on people seeking asylum of losing a fifth of the value of their income? Using the £45 per week rate we can compare the affordability of essential items in 2023 with 2008.

These are huge increases to the amount of their income people seeking asylum have to spend on essential items.

Feeding themselves and their children has become 30 or 40 per cent harder. People in the asylum system now have to spend nearly twice as much of their income to get the same items.

It’s gone from miserable in 2008 to impossible in 2023.

With such tiny weekly incomes, people seeking asylum cannot access lower prices by buying in bulk or travel to shop around. This amplifies their vulnerability to the kind of price rises that we’re seeing this winter.

So even with the increase to £45 per week, Asylum Support is nowhere near enough to live on.

Why does Asylum Support stay so low?

The government knows that not raising Asylum Support in response to price rises pushes people seeking asylum further into poverty.

Ministers are making a deliberate political decision to punish people seeking asylum. Here are three reasons why we believe this is the case.

1. They are trying to deter refugees. The government’s entire approach to asylum is based on preventing people from seeking it in the UK.

Enforcing poverty by limiting Asylum Support is a signal to refugees that they are not welcome and comes from the same hostile approach as other policies, such as the deportation deal with the Government of Rwanda.

2. They ignored warnings. It speaks volumes that even a small increase to Asylum Support had to be forced on the government by the High Court.

The judgment notes that ministers repeatedly ignored advice from civil servants that Asylum Support was not covering essential living costs.

3. They want to portray people seeking asylum as enemies. When challenged recently by a holocaust survivor, Suella Braverman defended using language like ‘invasion’ and ‘swarm’ by stating that people seeking asylum were ‘exploiting our generosity’.

The government and its supporters advocate punishing people for seeking asylum. Ensuring they do not have enough money to live on delivers that punishment.

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