Liberal Democrat peers support asylum seekers’ right to work

Advocates disrupt transfer of asylum seekers from VillawoodThe Immigration Bill is currently going through its final stages in the House of Lords. On Thursday, Liberal Democrat peers, led by Roger Roberts, tried to amend it by inserting a clause which would have entitled asylum seekers to work after 6 months.

Roger told me that he was not able to press the amendment to a vote because it received no support from either Labour or Conservative front benches. This, he felt, was grossly unfair given George Osborne’s desire for full employment and Labour’s supposed solidarity with workers. “So much for workers of the world unite.”

In his speech proposing the Amendment, he explained why it was so important that these people were allowed to support themselves:

Every person has potential. They have skills and dreams, so I suggest that it should be our direction in this House to make sure that we enable as many as possible of those dreams to be fulfilled. We should not shatter those dreams. Even those who are asylum seekers among us—they, too, have hopes and dreams. They are people just like us. There are 6,200 asylum seekers lawfully present in the UK who, because of present regulations, are denied that right—and more often than not, it is not their fault. It is because of the backlog of applications. So they get perhaps £36 a week, which is half the minimum amount recommended for UK citizens, and they are given an Azure card which forces them to buy their goods in the more expensive stores rather than the cheaper ones and the corner shops. Even if nothing else happens as a result of this debate, I hope that the Minister will look at the state of the Azure card. People should be able to buy their goods in the most competitive places.

Of course, some people will turn to crime or, like the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers, who were not asylum seekers, will have to work for £1 an hour. Those Chinese workers were caused to take on employment that destroyed their lives. I suggest that the present situation is not fit for purpose. What can we do? We can keep people in poverty and destitution for 12 months, which is the present statutory period. I would remind noble Lords opposite that it was in July 2002 that the term was increased from six months to 12 months. However, we could change the period—and, indeed we are the only European country not to have done so. We could reduce it to six months, and that is all I am asking for in this amendment.

There is no evidence whatever that doing this would blur the boundary between economic migration and asylum or that it would act as a pull factor. Other European countries do not find that to be the case. Also, there is no evidence that such a change would lead to unfounded claims. A pilot would show that.

Baronesses Hamwee and Manzoor and Lord Hussin also spoke in suppert of the Amendment.

After this “terribly disappointing” result, Roger now intends to bring a Private Members’ Bill to the next session of Parliament.

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  • Tony Dawson 6th Apr '14 - 10:57am

    The lack of support for this measure from ‘front benches’ is a disgrace.

    Why do we want to allow asylum seekers to limp on in poverty – with their children being allowed to suffer unduly due to their poverty? Asylum seekers should be required to register to work like anyone else until their asylum bid is determined one way or another. And the government should ensure that asylum bids are determined within a reasonable time-frame by deploying resources effectively. They could start this by stopping the waste of massive Home Office and Tribunal resources on fighting immigration cases ‘just for the hell of it’ (and/or bullying) that they know full-well no judge in the land will ever think of allowing them to win. 🙁

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