Freedom from Destitution and the Right to Work

 The three values at the heart of the #AllWomenCount event on 8th March – safety, dignity and liberty for all women – are each underpinned by freedom from destitution and poverty. 


Yet many women currently seeking asylum in the UK are being forced into economic hardship by rules that stop them from being able to provide for themselves and their families while they are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim.


The UK’s highly restrictive employment rights for asylum seekers are almost without parallel across Europe. If you seek sanctuary here you are effectively prohibited from working. You can only apply to the Home Office for permission to take a job if you’ve been waiting for an asylum decision for over 12 months - and even then only for jobs that are on the Government’s highly limited Shortage Occupation List. Quite how many people jump through the hoops necessary to find employment this way isn’t known – because the Home Office chooses not to record it.


We are calling for a straightforward reform of the rules that would give anyone seeking asylum the right to find a job once they have been waiting for more than 6 months (the Home Office’s target time for asylum decisions). The arguments in favour of such a change are compelling:


  • It would provide a route out of poverty. Individuals are currently expected to meet all essential living needs of food, clothing, toiletries and transport and to also meet the cost of pursuing their asylum application from a support payment of just over £5 per day. Inevitably many struggle to make ends meet and suffer the consequences – ranging from physical and mental health problems to a detrimental impact on self-esteem.

  • It would help integration. For those who are eventually given leave to remain, avoiding an extended period outside the labour market is key to ensuring their long-term integration into UK society. The Home Office’s own research into the factors that influence refugee integration concluded that “disrupted employment histories [have] an adverse effect on future employment”.

  • It would reduce the cost of the asylum support system. People seeking asylum who are able to work will not need to be supported for extended periods and instead can contribute to the economy through increased tax revenues and consumer spending. Recent research has demonstrated that even with a modest labour force participation rate of 25% among people seeking asylum a saving of £43.5m could be made each year from the asylum support budget if the permission to work rules were liberalised.

It's important to acknowledge that work is not the right solution for everyone, there shouldn’t be undue pressure and expectations on asylum seekers to pursue employment as a result of any change. Ideally, such reform would be coupled with increases to asylum support rates to better reflect living costs. 


But granting permission to work to the 10,000 people who have been waiting for more than 6 months would be a meaningful step towards safety, dignity and liberty.


For anyone who wants to raise this issue with their MP on 8th March please see our full briefing note here.


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