Back in February, Refugee Action took the Government to court. They wanted them to review cripplingly low asylum support rates, which force thousands of vulnerable people into poverty.
On 9 April 2014 the judge ruled that asylum support rates are unlawful. If the Home Office reviews them, it could be life-changing for thousands of people seeking safety.
The High Court ruled that Home Secretary Theresa May was ‘irrational’ in her decision making and ‘misunderstood information’ when setting the cripplingly low level of financial support paid to people seeking asylum in the UK.
In the landmark legal case, charity Refugee Action challenged the Home Secretary on the grounds that she had acted irrationally over whether asylum support meets essential living needs and secures a dignified standard of living. For single adult asylum seekers whose asylum claims have not been finally determined, the level of financial support is as little as £5.23 a day.
The ruling could change the lives of more than 23,000 people who having fled war, torture and persecution and denied the right to work in the UK, are forced by the Home Office to live in poverty and isolation.
In handing down the judgement, The Hon. Mr Justice Popplewell ruled that the Secretary of State’s decision to freeze the rates of financial support for asylum seekers was ‘flawed’, adding that: “She [Secretary of State for the Home Department] failed to take reasonable steps to gather sufficient information to enable her to make a rational judgment in setting the asylum support rates for 2013/2014.”
Mr Justice Popplewell went on to state that the Home Secretary had acted irrationally in failing to take into account the extent of the decrease in asylum support rates in real terms since 2007 and the freezing of rates in absolute terms since 2011.
On hearing today’s judgement, Dave Garratt, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, commented: “Every day at Refugee Action we see the human impact of this unlawful Home Office policy which robs individuals and families of their dignity.
“The decision to take this judicial review was not taken lightly and followed extensive research and advocacy by Refugee Action and our partners across the sector. After five years of our evidence being ignored, we felt legal action was our only option.
“While we are hugely heartened by today’s judgment, we urgently need to see the Home Office acting on this ground-breaking ruling by setting up a transparent and robust enquiry into the way asylum support rates are calculated. Once and for all let’s put an end to these levels of poverty amongst some of the most vulnerable in Britain
“We would welcome the opportunity to share our expertise with the Home Secretary. Together we need to develop an asylum support system that is fair, lawful and means asylum seekers are able to live with dignity.”
Refugee Action’s research found that half of asylum seekers surveyed couldn’t buy enough food to feed themselves or their families. The research also found that 43% of asylum seekers miss a meal because they can’t afford to eat while a shocking 88% don’t have enough money to buy clothes.
Sonal Ghelani, solicitor at the Migrants’ Law Project said: “In a careful and balanced judgment, the Court has found that the Home Secretary has acted irrationally and therefore unlawfully in taking a decision to freeze asylum support rates for those seeking asylum for the third, and now fourth, year running. It is to be hoped that the Home Secretary will act urgently to review her decision and engage constructively with Refugee Action and its partners to reach a decision which is fair and respects the right to dignity of one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.”
Vianney, a father-of-three from Sierra Leone seeking asylum with his family, said: “It is very stressful when you’ve got a family and you are used to taking care of and providing for them and no longer can. It’s been horrible. If we want to eat, our money is just for food. If we need to go to any appointment we are forced to walk. We can’t buy toys, we can’t do activities – we find it difficult to even cover the children’s food.
“If the asylum process is going to be long, the government needs to look at the amount of money they give, or allow at least one of the parents to work, especially those with families. When you are working not only are you in a position to support your children but the level of dependency will be less”.
Of her time living on asylum support, Clara, a qualified teacher from West Africa who is separated from her children there, recalled: “I found it a very, very difficult situation. It is one that has pushed many asylum seekers into a state of despair, depression and isolation.”
Refugee Action instructed solicitors at the Migrants Law Project: Sonal Ghelani and Hannah Chambers. Counsel instructed were: Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers, Alison Pickup of Doughty Street Chambers and Ben Silverstone of Matrix Chambers.
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