Social Justice

Giving refugees longer to get back on their feet could save UK £7m

The estimated savings would be enough to pay the starting salaries for 315 nurses or 287 new teachers

placards reading "refugees welcome"

Refugees stuck in hotels are struggling with indeterminate waits for housing. Image: Ilias Bartolini / Flickr

An asylum policy shake-up could rescue refugees from poverty and save the economy between £3-7m, new research showed.

The 28-day move-on period allows people who have successfully applied for asylum just four weeks to transfer from asylum support to mainstream benefits and employment – forcing many into extreme financial trouble and, often, homelessness.

But new reports from British Red Cross and London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have argued that at least doubling the move-on period would not just support refugees as they rebuild their lives – but would take enough pressure off the NHS and councils to pay for 315 new nurses.

The Red Cross said Universal Credit has made it “almost inevitable” that refugees will be left without support. Campaigners continue to battle against the benefits system’s damaging five-week wait for payments, which they argue is totally incompatible with the 28 days new refugees have to get themselves on the system.

The charity said that while councils have 56 days to help people at risk of homelessness under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, they only have half that time to help refugees as a result of the Home Office policy. Around 16,000 refugees face destitution and need Red Cross help each year.

Naomi Phillips, director of policy and advocacy at British Red Cross, said: “The design of our current asylum system rips away the safety net of support from people who have fled conflict and persecution, at the moment they need it most to get back on their own feet and start rebuilding their shattered lives.

“These are people the Government recognises as refugees with a right to stay in the UK, and yet they are left to rely on charity and hard-pressed public services just to feed themselves and have a roof over their heads.

“This isn’t about overhauling the whole system but creating one small and simple change to extend that period of support from four to eight weeks, which would not only prevent refugees from falling into unnecessary destitution, but which would almost certainly offer significant cost-savings to some of our most stretched services and communities.”

Extending the move-on period to 56 days would also generate around £2.1m for local authorities as a result of decreased demand for temporary accommodation.

The campaigners are calling for the government to not just double the time refugees have to get onto UK systems but make it easier for them to open bank accounts and access the documentation they need, saying that as many as 5,000 people would benefit from this policy change.

In response, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud record of providing protection to vulnerable individuals and helping them to rebuild their lives here.

“The government is committed to ensuring vulnerable refugees get the support they need to find work, get assistance from their local authority to find housing or apply for mainstream benefits.”

Image: Flickr/Ilias Bartolini

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