New cost-benefit analysis shows that extending the refugee move-on period would save public money – but we must not lose sight of the moral case for changing a policy that leaves people ‘destitute by design’, writes Jessie Seal, NACCOM’s Policy and Campaigns Coordinator.

“On Tuesday (18th February), the British Red Cross policy team launched a cost-benefit analysis of extending the move-on period for people who are newly recognised refugees. Using a variety of data (including information from NACCOM’s annual membership survey), the research found that ‘extending the move-on period to 56 days would have an overall financial benefit of between £4 million and £7 million each year.’

“Currently nearly all newly recognised refugees experience at least a week of “in-built” destitution when their asylum support is terminated (after four weeks), but Universal Credit has not yet started (after five weeks). The reality for nearly all refugees upon receiving their leave to remain status is that four weeks is not nearly enough time to access mainstream benefits, and secure accommodation and employment, resulting in an increased risk of homelessness and destitution. According to the British Red Cross report, changing the move-on period would benefit over 5,000 people a year and improve their access to statutory homelessness reduction services.

“Clearly, this change is vital to ending destitution and NACCOM welcomes this important research that adds to a wider body of evidence about the inadequacy of the current 28-day move-on period. However, in the same week that the Home Office announced new ‘points-based’ immigration rules and seemingly abandoned evidence-based policy in the process, it is important to acknowledge the challenges and drawbacks of using economic arguments to change a moral (or immoral) situation.

“Homelessness and extreme poverty are increasing across the UK and many different groups are finding themselves destitute and at the mercy of governmental systems that simply do not work, and which are failing the needs of our society. Those who seek asylum, low-income families, recent prison-leavers and those with long-term disabilities are just some of the groups who are struggling under current government welfare policies; without timely access to mainstream benefits, they are all put at increasing risk of homelessness and are left unable to support themselves.

“Whilst it is evident that this costs ‘us’ – the taxpayer – money; as the British Red Cross report points out “Local Authorities, the NHS, charities and other public bodies are picking up the considerable social and economic costs of new refugees becoming destitute”, this cannot be our only argument. Everyone who lives in the UK should have the right to access public services, contribute to our economy, and live fully in our society, regardless of what the ‘costs’ (positive or negative) may be. We must fight against an increasingly strong narrative that suggests that destitution is an inevitable – and deserved – outcome for some members of our society.”

“It’s not only me! Same place lots of people. Not just me… asylum seeker, [and other] people, it’s very very hard. This country is a human rights country? Is it a human right country? The minister, it’s not work[ing], and the people they don’t realise.”

[Quote from a participant in NACCOM’s third Mind the Gap report, to be published Summer 2020)