‘Destitution’ is usually defined as extreme poverty, when people cannot provide for themselves.
The term is commonly used in reference to asylum seekers, for whom the Home Office applies a ‘destitution test’ around their need for subsistence support and accommodation when they make an asylum application.
This test defines a person as ‘destitute’ if they do not have adequate accommodation or enough money to meet living expenses for themselves and any dependants now or within the next 14 days. If eligible, applicants qualify for asylum support, comprised of cash support (£36.95 per person per week) and no-choice accommodation in ‘dispersal’ areas across the UK.
When an asylum application is turned down, people who have no right to appeal become ‘refused asylum seekers’. At this point, they lose their asylum support and cannot work, or access mainstream benefits and housing. This situation is known as having ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF).
Most of the people supported through NACCOM member organisations are destitute refused asylum seekers. They have often fled torture, war, persecution and imprisonment before arriving in the UK and fear for their lives if they go back (although this is what the UK government expects them to do).
Those who remain in the country face destitution until they manage to re-engage with the asylum system or find another route to status. Life is extremely difficult and risks of exploitation are high. Without charity support or community networks, people struggle to survive.
Destitution can also be experienced by refugees, who have been granted ‘leave to remain’ but face delays with accessing their National Insurance numbers and other forms of identification, so are unable to claim benefits or access employment. These problems, often caused by delays in the system, are exacerbated by the short ‘move on’ period (28 days) that refugees have to leave their asylum accommodation after receiving their papers.
Destitution can also be experienced by migrants who have fallen on hard times since arriving in the UK. There are a wide range of reasons for this. Some will have faced domestic abuse but due to being on spousal visas will have no access to support. Victims of trafficking can also find themselves homeless after the 45 days of support offered in government-funded safe houses. Whatever the reason, a combination of delays and faults in the immigration system and lack of legal advice means that many people in these situations can find themselves left with nothing to live on.