SNP calls on UK Government to give asylum seekers the right to work

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 11 January 2017 in News

Warwick University working paper shows that allowing asylum seekers to work could save tens of millions of pounds for the UK Government

Houses of Parliament - credit: PA

SNP MP Alison Thewliss will today use a House of Commons debate to call on the UK Government to give asylum seekers the right to work.

With people seeking asylum in the UK currently prohibited from working in almost all circumstances, the Glasgow MP will call for the Home Office to implement recommendations from a Warwick University working paper, released last month, which shows that allowing asylum seekers to work could save tens of millions of pounds for the UK Government.

Speaking ahead of the debate Thewliss warned that “for far too long, under successive Governments, asylum seekers have too often been viewed with scepticism and treated with contempt”.


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The debate comes after a recent report from the Red Cross found examples of the UK Government’s asylum accommodation contractors in Scotland providing women and new-borns with substandard, unsafe flats in Glasgow.

The research, carried out by Strathclyde University’s Centre for Health Policy, uncovered several instances where pregnant women were forced into destitution either through UK Government policies or through delays and administrative errors in processing their claims for support.

The women were found to rely on informal support networks for accommodation and food, leaving them exposed to the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Thewliss said: “The increasingly poor treatment of asylum seekers and the removal of the most basic rights is nothing short of degrading and simply adds further misery to those who have fled persecution, war, famine and sexual violence.

"I know from speaking to some of the asylum seeking constituents I represent that life is made ever more difficult due to the draconian restrictions placed upon them by the UK Government.  These restrictions range from the threat of detention, regular and unsettling signing sessions at the Home Office, right through to the ban on working.

"We know that permitting asylum seekers to work would allow them to integrate better into society, develop their English and make friends in what can often be a lonely and new environment.  Many are professionals with skills they would love to put to use.  This powerful working paper from Warwick University also sets out the significant savings that the Government could make if it made a fairly modest change to the immigration rules.

"Another issue I plan to raise in today's debate relates to the punitive rules the Government has around volunteering and unpaid work. 

"Currently, the Government views certain cases of volunteering as being a sign of 'bad character'.  This fallacy in policy is exemplified by a Christian pastor in my constituency who was given leave to remain in the UK, and was seeking full British citizenship.  However, he was denied that because he did voluntary work for the British Red Cross.  This is absolutely ludicrous and I'll be looking for answers on this from ministers today.”

Gary Christie, Head of Policy at Scottish Refugee Council, echoed the call, saying "We speak every day to people who want to be treated with the dignity to stand on their own two feet and to contribute to society."

He said: "People in Scotland, and many throughout the rest of the UK are supportive of refugees and people seeking asylum. They are keen for these women and men to be able to integrate into local communities. Permission to work would allow people to integrate sooner, and faster. It would also greatly reduce ‘asylum support’ costs.

"The meagre financial support offered to people seeking asylum here is far from being a 'pull' factor and, indeed, the Home Office has never produced evidence supporting this so-called pull factor. Instead people are being 'pushed' from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea due to civil war and human rights abuses.

"It's the right thing to do - and makes economic sense - to let people seeking asylum work in the UK and start building new lives for themselves from the beginning."

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