Scottish Parliament destitution report welcomed

Scottish Refugee Council has welcomed Holyrood’s Equality and Human Rights Committee’s report on destitution and its call for a Scottish anti-destitution strategy and advocacy service.

The Committee’s report recognises the huge challenges facing people seeking safety here, and states that “destitution is built into the asylum process”.

The Scottish Parliament Committee found that insecure immigration status – as experienced by people in the asylum process and by people who had been trafficked – was a major aggravating factor leading to destitution.

Scottish Refugee Council Policy Officer Graham O’Neill said: “Today’s report is an important wake-up call to a severe human rights problem – often called ‘destitution’ – but which is actually absolute poverty, a humanitarian crisis right here in Glasgow and Scotland, and leaves at its worst, women, men and children to potentially be physically and sexually exploited.

“Scotland has competences across social policy and anti-exploitation and crime. It needs to now bring these to bear to prevent and mitigate this poverty and suffering.

“The simple truth is that UK governments have sanctioned destitution as a policy lever and it has failed completely: it hurts people, it shunts humanitarian and financial costs onto country and local statutory bodies, NGOs and communities, and it gives criminals an opportunity to exploit people at their most vulnerable and that should never happen. It doesn’t even lead to more returns.

“It doesn’t need to be this way. We can and we must do better: today’s report is a blueprint for Scotland to develop a humane, preventative and more effective model against destitution.”

O’Neill said that at a grassroots level, the committee had pinpointed an essential solution: a Scottish government-funded advocacy service to prevent and mitigate destitution of those in the asylum process or with other insecure immigration status.

Committee Convener Christina McKelvie MSP, launching the report, said:

“Our inquiry exposed a serious lack of compassion and humanity in the current system, which is leading hundreds to destitution. This is simply unacceptable.

“In spite of the best efforts of voluntary organisations and some in local government, there are huge gaps in the system that need to be addressed as a matter of priority.

“That’s why we are making both specific recommendations to all levels of government, and calling for a wider strategy to draw together all of the bodies who can improve this situation.

“With the ongoing refugee crisis and humanitarian problems around the world, this isn’t a problem likely to go away overnight. As a Committee, we will keep an eye on progress, regularly checking improvement in the response to destitution.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The creation of a national coordinated practitioners’ network, including Scottish Government officials, representatives from health boards, local authorities, non-government organisations, third sector organisations, and legal practitioners.
  • The Scottish Government should examine the feasibility of extending the Free Bus Travel Scheme to allow destitute people with insecure immigration status to attend appointments.
  • Where clinicians consider an individual with insecure immigration status has an infectious disease that requires accommodation, this should be funded by the Scottish Government as a preventative measure.
  • The creation of a new ‘Destitution Fund’ by the Scottish Government for women experiencing domestic abuse unable to access other sources of help.
  • Update the COSLA/Local Authority guidance so that local authorities dealing with people with insecure immigration status are clear on help available.
  • Asylum seekers should have the right to do paid community work in Scotland – allowing for better integration opportunities, supporting asylum seekers’ mental and physical health, and the opportunity for asylum seekers to receive an income.
Chris Pettigrew
Author: Chris Pettigrew