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Scottish Parliament committee finds destitution is built into UK asylum process

Date of Publication: 
10 July 2017

Equalities and Human Rights Committee examines destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland

Scottish Parliament committee finds destitution is built into UK asylum process

10 July 2017

Some belated coverage on EIN news of an interesting report that we missed at the time on destitution among asylum seekers by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

The 59-page report was published late May and can be downloaded here. It was the result of a Parliamentary inquiry into destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland which aimed to explore the ways in which public authorities could mitigate destitution.

The report looks at the reasons why destitution occurs, the support being provided currently by public authorities, non-governmental public bodies, third sector and charity organisations to mitigate destitution and makes recommendations to improve the response by public authorities in Scotland.

Christina McKelvie, Scottish National Party (SNP) SMP and chair of the Committee, writes in the report's foreword that the current approach to destitution isn't working and isn't sustainable, and she warned that the Immigration Act 2016 could increase the number of people who become destitute.

"Our inquiry exposed a serious lack of compassion and humanity in the current system, which is leading hundreds to destitution. This is simply unacceptable," McKelvie was quoted as saying at the report's launch.

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee says in its report that the clear message it received from the various oral and written evidence submitted to its inquiry is that "destitution is built into the UK asylum process".

The report states: "Andrew Morrison from [the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] summed up this view when he said destitution was an 'inevitable consequence' of the immigration system as it sought to create a hostile environment for those who do not have a legal right to be in the UK."

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee concludes: "It is clear to us the asylum and immigration system is peppered with points at which the risk of destitution becomes likely. The sheer complexity and inaccessibility of the process makes it unnecessarily difficult in practical terms for someone new to the UK, who is destitute, to initiate the process. Destitution is further built into the system by there being only certain geographical locations in the England where parts of the process can be accessed."

The report is concerned that the Immigration Act 2016 and subsequent changes to support will compound the issue of destitution, and the Equalities and Human Rights Committee asked the Scottish Government to undertake a Scotland-wide consultation before any regulations are made to extend the Home Office regulated local authority support provision contained within Schedule 12 to Scotland in order to assess properly the impact of destitution for migrant children and families.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including the creation of a 'Scottish anti-destitution strategy' and the creation of a new Scottish Government legal service for destitute people with insecure immigration status.

Christina McKelvie says she hopes the report will be the first step in a national response to tackle destitution in Scotland.

The Scottish Refugee Council welcomed the report.

Scottish Refugee Council Policy Officer Graham O'Neill said: "Today's report is an important wake-up call to a severe human rights problem - often called 'destitution' - but which is actually absolute poverty, a humanitarian crisis right here in Glasgow and Scotland, and leaves at its worst, women, men and children to potentially be physically and sexually exploited.

"Scotland has competences across social policy and anti-exploitation and crime. It needs to now bring these to bear to prevent and mitigate this poverty and suffering.

"The simple truth is that UK governments have sanctioned destitution as a policy lever and it has failed completely: it hurts people, it shunts humanitarian and financial costs onto country and local statutory bodies, NGOs and communities, and it gives criminals an opportunity to exploit people at their most vulnerable and that should never happen. It doesn't even lead to more returns."

BBC News noted, however, that the two Scottish Conservatives on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee had failed to back the full report, saying that Christina McKelvie had chosen to depict the issue in a "politicised and unbalanced tone."