What about those people on the margins?


1:32 pm - October 7th 2009

by Rowenna Davis    


      Share on Tumblr

Whilst the media spotlight has been shining on the sparkling big-teethed smiles of Tories in Manchester this week, I have been living with a family in the shadows. Yasmin and her 13-year-old daughter are asylum seekers from Bangladesh.

They invited me to stay with then in their Bolton home, just ten miles away from the conference, to write about family life on the poverty line.

Life on benefits for Yasmin is not a choice; it’s a legal obligation. She is desperate to work, but like all asylum seekers who are waiting to have their claims processed, she is forbidden to do so by the Home Office.

As I write, the signs of relentless cost cutting are scattered all around me. By the kitchen sink there is a small pot of diluted washing up liquid to make it last longer. A small jug sits in the bathroom, helping to make the most of their deliberately shallow baths. She knows about efficiencies.

Living here makes a farce of the Conservative events I’ve been attending. Yesterday I went to a discussion on worklessness, where Theresa May, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, was proselytising about the importance of employment, and the need to “break the dependency culture.”

At the end of her speech I asked her whether a Tory government would allow asylum seekers to work. She said they had “no plans to change the system at the current time.”

I tried, in three sentences, to explain where I was living and the problems Yasmin and her daughter were facing. About what its like to go to the supermarket, as I had earlier that day, and watch a mother agonising over the choice to buy vegetables or replace a broken pan.

As the audience sat sipping their free wine and nibbling complementary pork pies, I just felt like that desperate heckler that gets everyone’s eyes rolling and tongues tutting.

It goes against everything the Conservatives preach to force the public to pay for benefits for people that are desperate to work. A while ago the Centre for Social Justice put out a report arguing that asylum seekers that hadn’t had their claims processed in six months should be allowed to seek employment.

The Tories are hypocrites for not taking it on. The only reason they don’t is political cowardice and a fear of populist reaction. “On yer bike! (Unless the Sun minds.)”

The situation is getting desperate. This week new legislation came into force reducing single asylum seekers’ benefits to £5 a day.

If the Conservatives had any genuine commitment to letting the able work, they’d let her work. Failing to do so brands them as nothing less than supporters of state-imposed poverty.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest article. Rowenna Davis is a freelance journalist and a regular contributor to the Guardian.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


Liberal Conspiracy » What about those people on the margins?: (Or perhaps it would’ve just made the article.. http://bit.ly/315Lhw

Article:: What about those people on the margins? http://bit.ly/25Op1

RT @tweetmeme Liberal Conspiracy » What about those people on the margins? http://bit.ly/25Op1

‘What about those people on the margins?’ – http://bit.ly/VjXSm (via @libcon)

How can you use this to attack the Tories specifically, when Labour have been presiding over this state of affairs for the last 12 years? Fine, raise the issue of asylun seekers if you wish but at least criticise the major parties in equal measures for this state of affairs. I’m not even sure if the Lib Dems have any solutions to this problem.

You choose to personalise the issue by introducing us to Yasmin and her daughter, so personalise it a bit more. Why are they seeking asylum from Bangladesh, did they fly here, if so who paid for that, if the came here indirectly then why did they not claim it elsewhere.

But no they should not be allowed to work, we are obliged to look after them, and do it properly, until a decision is made. We should deal with claimants quickly, with that i agree, and then they can either work or they can be returned.

2. Because they aren’t proposing to fix it while also being the party that seemingly wants to make political points out of getting people off benefits and in to work.

Long and short of it is, as with so many other issues, the Tories and Labour are equals in lack of progress in this area.

What is the logic behind denying asylum seekers part time work while their claims are processed? I’m actually surprised both Tories and Labour would want them to sit around claiming money when they could be earning it instead.

Would also be interested to know why they specifically chose Britain. Was it the historical links? English language?

“But no they should not be allowed to work, we are obliged to look after them, and do it properly, until a decision is made. We should deal with claimants quickly, with that i agree, and then they can either work or they can be returned.”

As long as you’re happy to pay for them to sit around waiting to be assessed then at least that would be a (rare) view of integrity.

But do you seriously think that the amount of money they receive is even enough to be considered as “looked after”?

“Would also be interested to know why they specifically chose Britain. Was it the historical links? English language?”

It’d be interesting, but fairly irrelevant surely? They want to work, everything that has ever been looked in to on asylum seekers is that they don’t wish to be on benefits. We should be, in a sense, honoured they think that Britain will bring them the better life they desire after persecution in their own country.

#3

The issue of why Yasmin is seeking asylum is completely irrelevant to the question of whether she should be forced to live in gut-wrenching poverty while her case is being decided.

Did you consider that maybe Rowenna hasn’t given the answers to those questions because it’s bad enough having a court pick over what may be highly traumatic circumstances for you without strangers on the internet who will not decide your case doing it too. Rowenna may not have Yasmin’s permission to put those details online at this stage. (Or perhaps it would’ve just made the article to long for Liberal Conspiracy, I don’t know, and neither do you, so stop distracting from the issue at hand by trying to cast aspersions on Yasmin.)

Excellent article.

“What is the logic behind denying asylum seekers part time work while their claims are processed?”

It is a futile attempt to appease those who complain about asylum seekers taking jobs away from British people.

Today’s Guardian Society: Quote of the Week: “You will judge us on how we treat the most vulnerable..’ Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Party Chairman

I think they meant Quote of the Century

Bizarrely, the neocons maybe more helpful than labour MPs. Tim Mongomerie of Con Home called for asylum seekers to have the right to work at a Cameron press conference (getting a respectful ‘no’) http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2008/12/david-cameron-m.html

In 2000, the govt introduce the shameful voucher scheme for asylum seekers which was abolished 18mths later because it was stigmatising and humiliating- see the summary from its own review http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/asylumexp.pdf

Now, the Govt wants to cut asylum support levels from £42 a week to £35 http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/news/press/2009/october/20091005.htm

All that has been achieved by a decade of tough laws and tough talking on immigration and asylum has been to legitimise the BNP’s main concerns and to make life harder for people seeking sanctuary here.

Rowenna

Well done on doing this and bringing this piece to LibCon, and well done to Sunny for publishing it – I was saying to him just the other day how it would be good if LibCon could more regularly provide some ‘proper’ testimonial journalism in addition to the comment, of the type that Kate Belgrave at Hangbitch does, and is doing with us in Lancashire at the moment.

I’ve noticed a slight upsurge of such stuff from the ‘liberal commentariat’ recently) (e.g. Amelia Gentleman’s excellent stuff on the reality of Old People’s Homes in the Guardian, 02 sept if i remember correctly) and if it is a sgin of am ore general return to proper engaged journalism, and away from the Toynbee/Brown world, it’s to be welcomed.

On the specifics of destitution amongst A&S seekers, I’ve been thinking on this a fair bit recently in my position as a Trustee of a medium sized grant making foundation which seeks to deal with the fallout of govt approach to this. It occurs to me that, as well as ‘firefighting’, it must surely nto be beyond the wit of (wo)man to come up with a grant-aided scheme which explicitly (and for politicised purpose) circumvents the ridiculous legislation by a) linking into A&S volunteering schemes where A&S seekers are doing productive stuff b) providing enhanced ‘living allowances’ to those volunteering (ie. working) c) reclaiming the payments made via payments from the organisation hosting the ‘volunteers’, so that the payments become emergency loans in the eye of the authorities.

Lastly, why (just out of interest, as I used to live in Bangladesh) is Yasmin seeking asylum? Rohingya? Bihari? Other reason (I realise you may bot be able to say inl ine as it may prejudice the case and/or be confidential to Yasmin).

#6 “But do you seriously think that the amount of money they receive is even enough”

No it isn’t – i’m prepared to fund these people properly and if their claim is approved accept them completely here on equal terms. I’m also sure that some claims should be refused and these people should be deported. No I have no clue what the percentages are, we should just aim to get it right.

#7 No, if an article introduces personalities in order to gain sympathy then you have to expect that some people will consider the whole situation is important.
You can’t have your cake and eat it.

Worth reading as well the guide to setting up a voucher exchange scheme which lets asylum seekers exchange the supermarket vouchers for cash:

http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/campaigns/livingghosts/exchangescheme.pdf/view

Brilliant article Row.

# 3 – most refugees do what they’ve always done, and walk from one poor country to the next. Very few make it here.

if you really want to miss the point of the article and just want to know why people seeking asylum come here, read this Home Office research – http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/hors243.pdf

“For those respondents who were in a position to choose a destination country, several key factors shaped their decision to come to the UK. These were: whether they had relatives or friends here; their belief that the UK is a safe, tolerant and democratic country; previous links between their own country and the UK including colonialism; and their ability to speak English or desire to learn it.

“There was very little evidence that the sample respondents had a detailed knowledge of: UK immigration or asylum procedures; entitlements to benefits in the UK; or the availability of work in the UK. There was even less evidence that the respondents had a comparative knowledge of how these phenomena varied between different European countries. Most of the respondents wished to work and support themselves during the determination of their asylum claim rather than be dependent on the state.” (page viii)

#14 I didn’t miss the point of the article.

I’ve written twice that i don’t believe they should work but that they should indeed be properly supported. Just my opinion which i believe I’m entitled to hold.

As for your HO research:
65 interviews
“does not claim to be representative”
“Many of those in the sample were fleeing persecution… are more willing to engage in research of this kind”

interesting document but hardly conclusive and far too small a study to be of general use in asylum discussions

LAbour has been pretty bad over this state of affairs – but I doubt their treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers is going to be just as bad.

“LAbour has been pretty bad over this state of affairs – but I doubt their treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers is going to be just as bad.”

Does someone want to translate this?

Living with an asylum seeker during the Tory party conference #cpc09 gives you a different perspective on things – http://tiny.cc/JivhQ

RT @rowenna_davis Living with an asylum seeker during Tory conf #cpc09 gives you a different perspective on things – http://tiny.cc/JivhQ

Well done on this Rowenna. Well done also for managing to stomach Tory Party Conference at all. Have linked to this article.

Matt

Whoops! Sorry, was writing in a hurry. I meant to say that while New Labour’s treatment and language of asylum seekers and immigrants was bad, it hasn’t plumbed to the depths that the Tories will. Not that I’d choose to stick with Labour because of that…

my only point is that the Tories are obsessed by immigration in a way that is rather scary. Every fault, every mistake, everything comes down to immigration.

For example I pointed out once that there was a problem of illegally trafficked women in this country… and that something needed to be done about it. The debate came up on News 24 and I was next to a Tory MP. HEr response? Curb immigration.

Curbing immigration is not going to stop women being trafficked, and once they’re here the Tories would rather pretend they didn’t exist despite all this rubbish about “compassionate conservatism”. But rather than spend any money helping women in this country who need help – they want to spend everything on curbing immigration.

#15
True, that Home Office research is only research – with all the limitations that research has. But it’s more useful in understanding why people act in the way they do than the lazy prejudice we often see

Btw – i think Yasmin was introduced to provide a perspective that is often ignored, rather than to provoke sympathy. Yes, you are entitled to your opinion, but so is Yasmin.

And rightly or wrongly, your comment about her and the general lack of empathy you seem to be showing for her position will be seen by some people as saying more about your views than anything else you say.

RT @rowenna_davis Living with an asylum seeker during Tory conf #cpc09 gives you a different perspective on things – http://tiny.cc/JivhQ

#21 “And rightly or wrongly, your comment about her and the general lack of empathy you seem to be showing for her position will be seen by some people as saying more about your views than anything else you say.”

Look, you cherry pick from a HO report and you can’t be bothered to read what i have written; lack of empathy – I’ve written twice that these people should decently looked after, what’s your problem?

#LiberalConspiracy What about those people on the margins? http://tinyurl.com/ycwhno3

29. vulpus_rex

“lack of empathy – I’ve written twice that these people should decently looked after, what’s your problem?”

The problem is that “asylum seeker=victim=quasi messianic status” and thus anyone who asks any kind of challenging question about them is an evil Tory/Labour monster/Daily Mail Reader (pick insult of choice).

20. What is your problem with Yasmin being here? You’ve already cast her and her family as non-productive, it seems, before they’re given the chance to prove otherwise…on what basis?

22. For the record I’m not sure I agree with your stance, Sli, but it’s a perfectly respectable one to hold.

#24 Gotta dash, on my way out, but i have to say that it’s a nice surprise (on here) for someone to disagree but acknowledge that there is more than one point of view.

appreciated

#22: i’m confused by what you’re saying.

At #3 you asked about why Yasmin and her family came here. I pointed you to the only research – that i know of – on the issue, providing a link and pasting the relevant section.

Just exactly how is that cherrypicking??

Or do you think that looking at the evidence, however imperfect, is a sign of bias?

Funny how just the mention of immigrants (who want to work) brings out the racists from the woodwork who link to websites run by pseudo-fascists… anyway – the shit is deleted.

I guess the reason for not allowing asylum seekers to work is that the government doesn’t want people putting down roots in this country before their situation is finalised.

Because if you were giving people national insurance numbers and taking tax and NI from them, only to find out later that the person wasn’t even from the country they had claimed to be from, (or had made serious fabrications on their asylum claim), then it would make it all the more awkward to deport them.
Maybe people who had worked alongside them would also be upset by this person being deported, because they had believed this person’s story of persecution in their homeland and their flight to the safety of Britain for asylum.
A family member of mine works with unaccompanied minors from places like Afghanistan, and it is thought that some of them lie about their age so that the council has a duty of care for them.

http://www.croydon.gov.uk/healthsocial/falaservices/incare/unaccompminors

“Because if you were giving people national insurance numbers and taking tax and NI from them, only to find out later that the person wasn’t even from the country they had claimed to be from, (or had made serious fabrications on their asylum claim), then it would make it all the more awkward to deport them.”

I guess those, like me, think that there’s no benefit to sending them home if they’ve made the investment (emotional or otherwise) to try and settle here anyway. As someone else said, the idea that they understand the intricacies of our benefit system is laughable. Let them work, let them stay, there’s no evidence whatsoever that letting them do so would harm our lives in the UK.

The reason asylum seekers were barred from working had almost nothing to do with stopping them putting down roots.

They were barred from working because it was claimed that being allowed to work once the reached here because allowing them to work allegedly acted as an incentive for other migrants to try to get here.

Obviously the idea that migrants fleeing oppression in Iran or just poverty (as opposed to poverty and oppression) in Moldova have in depth knowledge of the benefits system and labyrinthine asylum application procedure never crossed the mind of the proponents of this policy…

Dunno where ‘Left Outside’ get his knowledge of the world, but ‘asylum shoppoing’ is a fact of life. Check out the career of Abou Jahjah, the nimble Lebanese, and his asylum claims in Belgium.

Without showing any empirical evidence to show this is the dominant situation – all you’re saying is that because a small minority cheat the system, therefore all do.

Which is as stupid as saying that just because some people throw up and / or kill people under the influence of alcohol – all do. It’s idiotic thinking.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article:: What about those people on the margins? http://bit.ly/25Op1

  2. Duncan Stott

    RT @tweetmeme Liberal Conspiracy » What about those people on the margins? http://bit.ly/25Op1

  3. Ryan Bestford

    ‘What about those people on the margins?’ – http://bit.ly/VjXSm (via @libcon)

  4. Rowenna

    Living with an asylum seeker during the Tory party conference #cpc09 gives you a different perspective on things – http://tiny.cc/JivhQ

  5. Imran Khan

    RT @rowenna_davis Living with an asylum seeker during Tory conf #cpc09 gives you a different perspective on things – http://tiny.cc/JivhQ

  6. Fi McKenzie

    RT @rowenna_davis Living with an asylum seeker during Tory conf #cpc09 gives you a different perspective on things – http://tiny.cc/JivhQ

  7. Nicholas Stewart

    #LiberalConspiracy What about those people on the margins? http://tinyurl.com/ycwhno3

  8. Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » What about those people on the margins? -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Duncan Stott. Duncan Stott said: RT @tweetmeme Liberal Conspiracy » What about those people on the margins? http://bit.ly/25Op1 […]

  9. Liberal Conspiracy » Cameron’s speech: hollow and hypocritical

    […] May told me this week that the party had no plans to lift the employment ban on asylum seekers, even if the home office fails to process their claims for years. Cameron’s talk here doesn’t come from a brave commitment to genuine values; it comes […]

  10. The epistemology of post-Pilger journalism « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] second piece was by Rowenna Davies at Liberal Conspiracy.  This piece was not so good, and not only because of the word count constraint.  It was not so […]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.