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Social Justice

‘People are losing weight’: Asylum seekers reveal shocking meals in lockdown

Families housed in hotels until a decision is made on their stay in the UK shared pictures of the meagre meals provided by the Home Office

Food given to asylum seekers living in hotels is meagre and lacking in nutrition, frontline volunteers have said, after photos of the meals circulated on social media.

Children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers have said the food is often too spicy to eat, and local charities are appalled at the lack of proper nutrition available for weeks or even months.

“Congealed” pasta, cold chicken burgers and boxes of cereal without bowls to eat from are provided by caterers on a Home Office budget reported to be £6 per person, per day. Fresh fruit and vegetables appear scarce.

“It’s the number one complaint we hear from asylum seekers,” Joanne McInnes, co-founder and director of West London Welcome, a local community centre supporting refugees and asylum seekers in west London, told The Big Issue. 

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The organisation posted pictures of a week’s worth of meals on social media, including a “chicken tandoori wrap” sweating in plastic packaging for a child’s dinner, takeaway boxes of rice and unidentifiable meat, and a breakfast of plain white bread with a packet of jam and butter.

“Adults are losing weight, children are losing weight,” McInnes continued. “We’ve seen doctor’s letters for a couple of people that say they shouldn’t eat the food.

“It’s too oily, it’s too fatty, it’s too spicy. We’ve heard from children who are being fed the same meal every day. A lot of the time it’s too spicy for kids to eat.”

When Thursday night’s dinner was provided, WLW noted providers gave neither children nor adults – including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers – fresh vegetables at any point during the week.

The Government bans asylum seekers from working and instead gives them £8 a week to live off. Many are housed in temporary accommodation until a decision is made on their stay in the country. The Home Office allegedly spends £6 per day per person to cover three meals.

The Government pays Clearsprings Ready Homes to operate asylum housing across Wales and the South. Clearsprings then subcontract hotels, who arrange catering.

“You’ll get the hotel managers saying ‘it’s really difficult, people are from different countries’. And that’s certainly true, that’s why we would argue you need to give people choice and give them dignity,” said McInnes.

Clearsprings did not respond to requests for comment.

“As required by law, we provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with free, fully furnished accommodation and cover their utility costs,” a Home Office spokesperson told The Big Issue.

“They are provided with a choice of three meals a day in line with NHS nutrition guidelines, as well as access to fresh fruit and drinking water all day.”

Children from asylum seeking families often go without breakfast because providers do not serve it until after they leave for school, MacInnes told The Big Issue. A free school meal is the only hot food many of these children will eat in a day, she said.

People seeking asylum can usually expect to be in temporary accommodation for up to three weeks until being moved into a home in the community, but the Covid-19 crisis means some have been living in hotels since July.

“They’re just bored out of their minds,” MacInnes said. “Uniquely in this country you’re not allowed to work. You can’t study unless you’ve been here for six months, and you can’t access benefits.”

Asylum seekers are subject to the no recourse to public funds policy which locks people out of the welfare system depending on their immigration status. Campaigners, politicians and councils have called for it to be suspended during the pandemic or scrapped entirely.

“We met a guy in a hotel in Slough and he had a Home Office appointment at 8.30am in Croydon [40 miles away]. But he only had £8 for the week.

“How is he meant to get there? If you don’t go to these appointments they can cancel your claim.

“It’s certainly a hostile environment. There is no provision for people that meets the barest minimum, not even to cover travel to meet your solicitor.”

MacInnes said some asylum seekers were being asked to provide a “good reason” if they wanted to leave the hotels they were staying in. Clearsprings has denied this, she added.

“People should be given amnesty. The key is in the words,” she said. “Let’s be genuine in offering asylum.

“The no recourse to public funds policy should be lifted. Allow people to work and get benefits as so many other countries do. The UK is unique in the hostility it treats asylum seekers with.”

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