By Katie McAdam, Sona Circle
After seeking protection in their host country, asylum seekers must face an arduous journey to gain refugee status and the right to paid work in the UK. Unable to access the services and freedoms enjoyed by refugees, asylum seekers are in an uncomfortable limbo. As of March 2020, 60% of all pending asylum applicants had been waiting for over 6 months for a decision on their status, According to the UK Home Office.
During these extensive waiting periods, asylum seekers are reliant on state Asylum Support of £5.60 per day to cover all living costs (except housing). With inadequate resources, though asylum seekers may have emergency humanitarian protection they face the great threat of absolute poverty.
In response to the UK’s current asylum policy, the Lift the Ban campaign launched to repeal the employment bar on asylum seekers.
Their campaign aims to reduce the maximum one-year employment bar to 6 months after their claim if no decision is made. Additionally, they aim for all asylum cases to be equally prioritised instead of using the government’s ‘shortage occupations list’, which fast-tracks the applications of limited roles.
Lift the Ban was initially founded by NGO, Refugee Action, and has attracted the backing of a large coalition of over 200 partner groups. These partners are largely based in the third sector, including Amnesty International, the Trussel Trust and Sona Circle Recruitment. This network has collaborated to share expertise and resources in order to produce a prominent campaign which has received considerable media traction with both social media and the traditional press.
Lift the Ban believes giving asylum seekers the right to work in the UK, would lead to significant economic advantages.
In an era of austerity and current financial uncertainty due to coronavirus, government spending is increasingly stretched. Allowing asylum seekers the right to work would be more cost-efficient for the UK government and would go as far as generating revenue.
Indeed, Refugee Action has calculated that for every asylum seeker earning the UK national average wage, the government would receive an extra £5,745 per person per year in taxable income.
This revenue is almost three times the amount government currently pays per individual in asylum support. The combination of increased revenue and reduction in government benefit payments would allow improvements of existing asylum related social services.
Apart from the clear economic benefits of lifting restrictions, the easing would also cause vital societal improvements. With over 37% of asylum seekers university-educated, the UK is denying itself access to a well-trained workforce on its doorstep.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these restrictions are particularly detrimental.
Refugee Action has stated that around 1 in 7 asylum seekers have a background in health and social care. Due to bureaucratic delays, around the nation from Glasgow tenements to London suburbs, qualified asylum seekers must, therefore, stay at home willing and unable to aid the NHS.
Health is also tied to employment on an individual basis as it impacts the wellbeing of asylum seekers. With many asylum seekers leaving well paid, highly skilled jobs in their home countries, months spent economically inactive reliant on state benefits is a real difficulty.
Being unemployed for a lengthened period leaves asylum seekers prone to mental health problems, with the NHS reporting a doubling of susceptibility to mental illness. This likelihood is elevated amongst asylum seekers who are already vulnerable to mental health conditions due to experiencing trauma in their home nations. An improvement in the wellbeing of asylum seekers would not only see individual improvements but also decrease the need for NHS mental health provisions.
This need for systematic change is gathering momentum even at the highest echelons of government.
Indeed, in 2018 the Home Office commissioned a report on the right to work policy and in 2019 the incumbent Home Secretary, Javid agreed to examine asylum reform. It is clear thanks to the campaigning of Lift the Ban we are becoming closer to a fairer and more beneficial system.
However, the onus remains high on swift reform as the longer asylum seekers remain unemployed the more potential is unutilised and the lesser their future employment prospects. Instead of wasting limited public funds on ineffective benefits, we could be enabling economic growth and social change.