Destitution is a state of extreme poverty in which the person affected is homeless, without an income and has no means to support his or herself. We believe destitution puts people’s lives at risk, is an affront to human dignity and, with political changes to the UK’s asylum system, is almost entirely avoidable.
People are at risk of becoming destitute at various stages of the asylum process. However the people most at risk of destitution are men and women whose asylum applications have been refused and who do not, or cannot, return to their home countries.
At this point, the UK’s asylum system withdraws all support, including accommodation, and bars people from seeking emergency homelessness support and other vital services provided by local councils. As people in this situation are not allowed to work, they are left with no effective means of survival and are forced into destitution.
We, and the United Nations, believe destitution among people who have been refused asylum is a serious human rights concern.
People in this situation face serious risks to their health and wellbeing.
Homelessness, hunger, isolation and the impact of destitution on people’s mental health make it extremely difficult for people to get the help they need. From our years of supporting people in this situation, we know that unless people’s basic needs are met, it is almost impossible for them to make decisions about their futures, including decisions about their asylum claim and other complex legal issues.
People in this position are at increased risk of exploitation because of the precariousness of their living situations. We know of people experiencing sexual, domestic and labour exploitation in order to find a place to sleep at night or to meet other basic needs.
Destitution is designed into the UK’s asylum system as part of the Westminster government’s hostile environment agenda. But this does not make it inevitable. We need to see a fundamental change of policy by the Home Office to make sure that people receive essential support throughout the asylum system.
Other changes at national and local levels would reduce the impact and extent of destitution. In Scotland we want to see:
We are glad that evictions from asylum accommodation have been temporarily paused during Covid-19. However, evicting people from any form of asylum accommodation, including hotels, as lockdown restrictions ease must be ruled out now. Destitution and homelessness are incompatible with the inclusive public health recovery we all need.