In times of uncertainty and challenge, it’s crucial our most vulnerable are cared for. Particularly through the significant crisis we're in through the Covid-19 epidemic, we have a societal duty to ensure no one falls through the cracks.
For asylum seekers, day-to-day life is characterised by insecurity, as despite having fled persecution and pain in their home countries, arrival in the UK can mark the start of a new chapter of difficulties. From isolation to impoverishment, a multitude of obstacles often stand in the way of a stable existence.
Insufficient housing is one such obstacle. In the absence of Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), migrants are unable to access housing benefit or apply for a council house. This means that asylum support from the Home Office is often the only way of avoiding street homelessness. Regrettably however, the housing provided through this channel can be plagued with issues, with people frequently placed in the same bedroom as unrelated adults, and rodents, mould and damp commonplace.
A study by the ICIBI found that where issues like these exist, the impact they have on children is not always considered by housing providers. In some instances, children living in houses with severe damp suffer health problems such as asthma, but aren't considered for relocation. Covid-19 is a respiratory virus more likely to have a serious impact on those with underlying conditions like this. With this in mind, inadequate provision of housing means asylum seekers are at greater risk of being adversely affected.
Despite ill health being common amongst those seeking asylum, there are serious barriers involved in accessing quality treatment. The NHS was designed to be open to all and free at the point of delivery, yet a number of migrants have been unable to access medical assistance due to the introduction of up front charges. Asylum seekers have no say in where they’re housed, meaning they’re sometimes placed away from public services such as schools and hospitals. The current rate of financial support is £37.75 per person per week, so logistical factors like travel costs often place healthcare out of immediate reach. Under the current circumstances, it’s imperative that medical treatment is as available to asylum seekers as it is to the rest of the population.
There is hope
The brilliant work already being done in and by the voluntary sector can make a monumental difference in ensuring that displaced people are provided for during these testing times. With the support of the VCSE sector, our most vulnerable will be better able to access food and other essentials, with food parcels from charities a vital lifeline. The Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund has also been established to support organisations that provide assistance to vulnerable groups across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. It's through efforts such as these that we will overcome the challenges that are faced.