The UK has a proud history of helping people fleeing violence and persecution. Sheffield is proud of its welcoming and open tradition as the UK’s first city of sanctuary. As people are driven from their homes in the most desperate circumstances, the UK must always stand with those seeking safety. Unfortunately, I believe the Government’s approach to this long-standing obligation has been lacking in competence and compassion.
I am deeply concerned with the current system, and want to see urgent reform. We need an improved system that is both fair and transparent. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, I deal with some appalling immigration casework in my office and I have spoken out about some of the injustices I have encountered both in Parliament and the media on several occasions.
I am particularly troubled about the current level of asylum support and the adequacy of this during the COVID-19 pandemic. I know that the uncertainty and rise in demand for specific items due to the pandemic exacerbated the difficulty faced by asylum seekers in finding the items they need to keep themselves and their family healthy and safe.
As you know, last year the standard asylum support allowance would raise from £37.75 per week to £39.63 per week. The Government also announced an additional £8 per week cash allowance for those in full-board accommodation to help with clothing, travel and non-prescription medication. The Government has stressed that the level of asylum support is not linked to social security rates.
I believe it is vital to deliver the correct, balanced approach to housing and related support services for asylum seekers and this should of course be kept under review. I also believe we need to see significant improvements in the asylum system more widely.
It is deeply concerning that the number of people waiting more than six months for a decision on their asylum claim has hit record levels. As of 30 June 2021, 54,040 asylum seekers had been waiting more than six months to receive an initial decision on their claim. This compares with 22,187 at the end of June in 2019 – a 125% increase.
People suffer when the Home Office takes too long to decide a claim. The longer people are waiting for a decision on their claim, the longer they are reliant on asylum support. I am disappointed that the Government’s proposed changes to the asylum system in the Nationality and Borders Bill will do nothing to address these appallingly slow processing times.
It is evident that the Nationality and Borders Bill is part of a wider attitude of disregard for our international responsibilities by the Government. As the Nationality and Borders Bill is considered in Parliament, I will be calling for meaningful action to support people, improve the chaotic and inhumane asylum system
I also support calls to give asylum seekers the right to work if they have been waiting longer than six months for a decision on their claim. I believe giving this right to asylum seekers – who are often skilled and able to work – would not only improve their mental health but give them a sense of worth and purpose, enhancing opportunities for integration into their new communities.
I believe it is time we treated people in our asylum system with dignity and as people with unrecognised potential to contribute to our society. I will continue to press for improvements to our chaotic asylum system.