World Refugee Day: ‘New Plan for Immigration’ will worsen existing health inequalities

In March 2021, the current Home Secretary announced a ‘New Plan for Immigration’, which was opened to the public for consultation and many organisations working with refugees and asylum seekers have raised concerns that the plans will increase inequalities.

The New Plan for Immigration contains proposals which will see already low levels of support removed for asylum seekers and refugees based on how they have arrived in the country. People arriving through anything other than a resettlement scheme will receive no financial support, have limited rights to family reunion and risk being deported to countries where they face death or persecution. The proposals also include plans to house asylum seekers and refugees in facilities while they await a decision on their claim for asylum.

The Trust’s Active Communities funded partner, Govan Community Project in Glasgow who have responded to the consultation said:

“We strongly believe these proposals will only increase the levels of destitution, risk and harm faced by individuals who seek protection in the UK, and the language and terminology used promotes division, discrimination and provides further systemic social and racial injustices.”

National immigration policies play an important role in determining people’s ability to access housing, jobs, welfare benefits and access to health and care services. Under current UK immigration laws, a refugee or asylum seeker who does not currently have leave to remain in the UK will be unable to access many state funded services (usually referred to as having no recourse to public funds) and will receive just £39.63 for each person in their household to live on per week.

The Govan Community Project has said some proposals in the New Plan for Immigration “will force more vulnerable individuals into destitution”.

The proposal to remove support from people who have not arrived in the UK through a resettlement programme, effectively creating a two-tier system, will result in vulnerable people being left unable to access essential necessities.

An anonymous respondent with lived experience of the UK’s asylum system, included in the Govan Community Project’s consultation response, said:

“This system is created to divide and will initiate unimaginable inequalities in the future. There is absolutely no consideration of individual vulnerabilities and the need for support. The idea that rights are privileges and are conditional on certain things does not make sense.”

Currently in the UK, a large proportion of asylum seekers and refugees are forced to live in poor quality housing. People are often housed in unsuitable temporary accommodation and more recently people have been made to live in overcrowded military barracks such as Napier Barracks in Kent. Civil liberties organisation ‘Liberty’ claims the use of the barracks as housing is a breach of human rights and the High Court will soon pass judgement following a claim heard at the Royal Courts of Justice.

In the New Plan for Immigration, the government has announced ‘plans to expand the Government’s asylum estate. These plans will include proposals for reception centres to provide basic accommodation while processing the claims of asylum seekers’.

Another respondent included in the Govan Community Project’s consultation response, said:

“I have stayed in the hotels during the pandemic, and this was hell for me. I never felt safe and always felt fear. The idea that people will be put in this form of place that sounds to me no different than a jail is very upsetting. I hope this will not go ahead and people have to go through this, it makes us all afraid and think that they may put us all there one day. I oppose this, it should not happen”.

We know that poor quality housing and unstable incomes contribute to long-term health inequalities and reduced healthy life expectancy. Furthermore, language barriers and discrimination can also lead to social isolation for people who have entered the UK and they may therefore find themselves without a support system.

Far from a welcoming and safe haven for people who have fled war, persecution and climate disaster, the UK’s asylum policies are actually creating an unequal and unjust system which leads to negative health impacts. It is clear the UK asylum system needs an overhaul but the New Plan for Immigration would only worsen many of the existing barriers refugees and asylum seekers face.

Govan Community Project is funded through People's Health Trust's Active Communities programme using money raised by Health Lottery Scotland.