No, We Can’t Live on the Asylum-Seeker’s Allowance of £5 a Day

26 March 2018

Of the two members who took up the challenge to live for a week on the asylum-seekers allowance of £37.50, Dave Passingham had to give up after a visit to A&E when he was taken suddenly ill, and Pat Hotson failed to stay within her budget.

She overspent £1.18 on food and 80p on toiletries.  She bought no clothes and used all but 30p of her clothing allowance on one load of laundry.  92p for healthcare fell so far short of her needs that she discounted that.

Bought privately, Pat’s essential medication would have cost her £4.79 a day.  Thanks to the NHS she receives free prescriptions: asylum seekers must apply for NHS healthcare and there are often long delays in processing their application.  Some are not even eligible to apply.

She couldn't afford to replace a lightbulb, her hands became badly chapped during the cold weather because she couldn’t afford handcream, and her dental floss ran out.  She’d never be able to afford her monthly visits to a podiatrist.

One day she blew more than her entire daily food budget on two drinks: a coffee during a long hospital wait and a tonic water in a pub with colleagues after a meeting.  She clawed back the cost of the tonic water by missing lunch for the next two days.

The Home Office allowance isn’t intended for luxuries like a coffee during a stressful hospital visit, but simply “to prevent destitution”.  For one week, Pat almost managed to survive on it, but says that in the longer term she would become increasingly deprived.

“We have accepted that asylum seekers can stay here while their application to remain is processed,” says Pat, “but we don’t allow them to work, put them in accommodation where no-one else wants to live, and expect them to manage on this meagre allowance.  And these are people who have suffered unimaginable losses and trauma and remain anxious about their own future and that of their families.

“This was just a technical exercise in budgeting, but it’s clear to me that asylum seekers should automatically receive primary healthcare and that their allowance should be increased substantially.”