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UN Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights says destitution is built into UK asylum system


Professor Philip Alston highlights concerns with asylum seekers and legal aid cuts following visit to UK

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Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, last week released an important statement following his visit to the UK. The statement drew widespread media coverage.

Image credit: WikipediaAlston found that the Government's austerity policies and drastic cuts to social support are entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in the UK. The costs of austerity, Alston said, have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities.

It's worth noting the passages of the Special Rapporteur's statement that are particularly relevant to immigration and asylum law.

On asylum seekers, Alston said:

"Destitution is built into the asylum system. Asylum seekers are banned from working and limited to a derisory level of support that guarantees they will live in poverty. The government promotes work as the solution to poverty, yet refuses to allow this particular group to work. While asylum seekers receive some basic supports such as housing, they are left to make do with an inadequate, poverty-level income of around £5 a day. For those who have no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status, the situation can be particularly difficult; such individuals face an increased risk of exploitation and enjoy restricted access to educational opportunities."

Alston also highlighted legal aid cuts, saying:

"There have been dramatic reductions in the availability of legal aid in England and Wales since 2012 and these have overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities, many of whom cannot otherwise afford to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy. The LASPO Act (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) gutted the scope of cases that are handled, ratcheted up the level of means-tested eligibility criteria, and substituted telephonic for many previously face-to-face advice services."

The Special Rapporteur accused the UK Government of being in a state of denial over the impact of austerity, though BBC News quoted a spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions as saying the Government "completely disagreed" with Professor Alston's analysis and there were less people living in poverty now than in 2010.