Nearly 40,000 destitute asylum seekers are to receive a “paltry” 80p increase in their weekly subsistence payments based on Home Office calculations that expect them to be able to feed and clothe a baby for just £28.94 a week.
The Home Office announced on Monday that the current weekly subsistence payment of £36.95 paid to destitute asylum seekers, who are banned from working for their first 12 months, would rise to £37.75 from 5 February.
The 80p increase follows an annual review required by a 2014 high court ruling that challenged a Home Office decision in 2011 to freeze the weekly rate to meet the essential needs of asylum seekers at £36.62 a week.
Refugee groups said the small rise was welcome after no increase for the past three years, but said it left many struggling to survive on little more than £5 a day and should have been increased to at least 70% of social security benefit rates.
A Home Office spokesperson responded by saying asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute were supported with free accommodation and a weekly cash allowance for each person in the household.
“If an asylum seeker or their dependant has additional needs because of their particular circumstances, these can be met by the provision of extra payments, where the need is properly evidenced.
“This allowance is reviewed every year, using an evidence-based methodology which has been found to be lawful by the high court, and we are satisfied we provide enough to meet essential needs,” the spokesperson said.
The department said its £10.10 estimate of the weekly cost of clothes, travel and communication was based on its own market research, while the £27.65 weekly estimated costs of food, toiletries and non-prescription medicines was based on Office for National Statistics data on the spending patterns of the poorest 10% of the population.
The Home Office said its claim that it was possible to feed and clothe a baby or infant on £28.94 a week was based on a Money Advice Service “baby costs calculator”, saying many costs such as cots and high chairs were covered as part of claimants’ accommodation needs or a £300 maternity grant.
However, the service itself notes the annual costs of bringing up a baby can range from £1,600 for those on a low budget to £7,270 “for those who wish to spend more money”.
The latest figures show that 36,511 destitute asylum seekers received the weekly cash allowance and are living in dispersed Home Office accommodation outside London. A further 2,904 depend on the cash allowance alone.
The British Red Cross provided 14,824 asylum seekers receiving section 95 support, as it is known, with basic support such as food parcels or clothing in 2017.
Lisa Doyle, the Refugee Council’s director of advocacy, responded to the 80p rise by saying: “The long delays currently experienced by many in the asylum system means that families are forced to live on this paltry amount for months, sometimes years on end. Surely a country like ours can do better by people who have survived untold horrors and are trying to rebuild their lives.”
Mariam Kemple Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, which brought the 2014 legal challenge, acknowledged the 80p increase but said: “With soaring inflation and no increase to asylum support over the past three years, this should have gone much further – to at least 70% of mainstream benefits. Expecting people to survive on so little is incompatible with a compassionate asylum system.”