accessibility & help

Red Cross figures show refugee destitution on the rise

2 February 2017

Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are being left destitute in the UK without the support they are entitled to from government.

British Red Cross figures reveal that more and more asylum seekers require food parcels and clothing.

We helped 14,909 people who had been left penniless last year – a 10 per cent increase from 2015.

Large numbers came from countries affected by conflict or political persecution, including Sudan, Syria, and Eritrea.

Destitute refugees and asylum seekers are found across the UK, with the Red Cross seeing people most frequently in Leicester, London and Cardiff.

They included men, women and children aged from one to 92.

Hidden crisis

Mike Adamson, our chief executive, said: “It’s clear that our asylum system can leave anyone destitute, including individuals who the Home Office has deemed in need of international protection.

“No one should be left homeless after fleeing the devastating conflict in Syria or persecution in Eritrea.

“Instead of creating a more hostile system which puts even more people at risk of living hand to mouth, we want to work with the government to address this largely hidden crisis.”

Why do refugees and asylum seekers become destitute?

Whereas refugees have permission to work and claim mainstream benefits in the UK, asylum seekers do not. They rely on asylum support payments of approximately £36 a week (known as Section 95 support).

The most common reasons for asylum seekers becoming destitute are problems with asylum support payments, or support being stopped or suspended when an asylum claim is refused.

Nearly half of destitution cases we saw last year were from asylum seekers living on the £36 a week afforded them under Section 95 support.

New refugees also frequently become destitute. Upon being granted leave to remain in the UK, there is a 28-day period before all asylum support, including housing, comes to an end.

Research by the Red Cross has found that the process of finding work, applying for benefits and somewhere to live, often takes much longer – in some cases up to three months.

Our figures show that at least 21 per cent of the destitute people we helped last year suffered from this problem.

Simply because of the time it takes to get them set up on the system, many are becoming destitute through no fault of their own.

The UK government has now committed to reviewing the 28-day window based on an evaluation of the average time it takes new refugees to find work, apply for benefits and find somewhere to live.

What we do for destitute asylum seekers

The British Red Cross is the UK’s largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers and has destitution services in around 50 towns and cities across the country.

These provide services ranging from food parcels, clothing and small amounts of emergency cash, to help finding housing, individual casework, and providing maternity packs for new mothers.

Our figures reflect the number of people supported by British Red Cross destitution services and their dependants.

The true number of destitute refugees and asylum seekers in the UK is likely to be even higher, but these figures are not currently collected by the Home Office.

What is destitution?

The Red Cross defines an individual as destitute if they don’t eat sufficiently, have no fixed home, cannot afford essential items (such as clothes and toiletries) and/or are experiencing worsening health.

Research carried out by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire found that among asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, two-thirds experience repeated hunger on a regular basis, with a quarter experiencing it every day.

Over 60 per cent of this group had no fixed accommodation, and were therefore reliant on informal networks or relatives, friends or other acquaintances for a place to sleep at night.

Over half reported worsening health over the last year.

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