Housing and Benefits for Asylum Seekers in UK

Housing is at the very cornerstone of reception and resettlement (BRC 1987, 96-99. Carey-Wood etal. 1995, 66-72. Majke 1991, 267- 283. Refugee Council 1997. Robinson 1993, 170-186) and controlling access to housing has become an increasingly important part of the government’s asylum and immigration strategy. Without adequate shelter, few other opportunities exist for those unfortunate enough to be destitute. With no permanent address, there is little chance of establishing the minimum rights of citizenship, which offer inclusion into the host society.
Social exclusion has been a reality for many thousands of asylum seekers over a prolonged period of time. This was true even before the more draconian measures introduced in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The prevailing environment of competition, performance review and value for money has had the effect of increasingly marginalising the most vulnerable groups in British society. In all but a few notable exceptions, the needs of asylum seekers have been inadequately addressed by either public or private sectors (Zetter and Pearl 1999a, 24-27). This has been due to a combination of institutional inertia and political sensitivity – both cock-up and conspiracy. The most recent legislative measures have further exacerbated the process of exclusion, generating additional hardship for an already overburdened group by extending uncertainty and increasing dependency.
In reality, the rights and entitlements of refugees are little changed by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. They remain eligible to receive support and assistance in terms of both benefits and housing from the public sector. This is an important distinction from asylum seekers. Refugees are individuals or households whose status under the 1951 Geneva Convention has been approved by the UK government: that is, their ‘well founded fear of persecution’ has been accepted. They are likely to have either permanent or long-term status of residence in the UK and generally share in the usual rights of citizenship. (Duke, 1995, 12-18) Those with refugee status are eligible for assistance under the homelessness legislation and qualify for the housing register. To a large extent, such households have fewer institutional barriers to overcome than asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have no such clarity of outcome, for which they depend on the result of their pending application. While in this state of limbo, they are disqualified from access to employment, benefits or permanent housing, and are thus placed at the very margins of society. Indeed, at certain times within the mid-1990s, large numbers of single asylum seekers were actually destitute. (Joly, 1996, 121-128)
The political reality behind the asylum legislation appears, therefore, to indicate a reliance on two cardinal principles above all other considerations: 1. the control and limitation of public expenditure, particularly personal benefits 2. the maintenance of an image of political toughness. (Robinson, 1985, 305- 330) It seems likely that excessive zeal in investigating applications and a