Trapped: destitution and asylum in Scotland

Morag Gillespie

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


“Everything is worse and worse if you don’t have money.”
“I have no power, I can’t wash my clothes, I can’t cook.”
These are the words of destitute people living in Scotland. They are refused asylum seekers whose destitution is no accident: denied financial support and banned from working, they have no legitimate means of support. Recent UK asylum reform has included restrictions on the right to work, changes to housing support, reductions in welfare support and tight timescales that apply at key transition points. Section 95 support is paid to asylum seekers who have submitted their asylum claim using an Application Registration Card to collect cash from a Post Office. At present, families with children usually keep Section 95 support until they are either granted refugee status or, if refused asylum, until they leave the UK, but: people with no children who are refused asylum, lose Section 95 support 21 days after the final refusal of their claim. A few get Section 4 support if they are destitute and willing but unable to return to their country of origin. Section 4 support is paid in specific circumstances to destitute people refused asylum. It includes accommodation which must be allocated before a voucher card is issued for use in specified stores. The person gets no cash. Most asylum claims are refused initially (68% in 2011), but a lot of appeals
succeed (26% in 2011) (Home Office, 2012a), questioning the quality of initial decisions. Once granted status, refugees have 28 days to claim mainstream benefits and find other accommodation, a prohibitively tight timescale. Asylum support rates are below most poverty measures but, with no income,
destitute asylum seekers fall below even the UN global poverty target of $1.25 a day, primarily aimed at developing nations rather than some of the richest in the world.
Destitution and homelessness affect people across the asylum process, often due to procedural errors and delays, exacerbated by cuts to mainstream and asylum services. But, asylum seekers can be trapped in destitution and homelessness for years, often with no realistic prospects for return. UK policy which incorporates enforced destitution has been widely criticised. Asylum seekers account for only 3% of all immigrants to the UK, but the number of refused asylum seekers living without support is unknown. In the absence of official data, the Refugee Survival Trust (RST) provides evidence of destitution and its impact.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherGlasgow Caledonian University
Commissioning bodyRefugee Survival Trust
Number of pages80
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2012


  • asylum
  • asylum seekers
  • destitution
  • homelessness
  • asylum reform
  • Scotland


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