Lord Roger Roberts writes… We must abolish the Azure card now

Azure_card_thumbRefused asylum seekers are being forced to endure destitution and humiliation at the hands of the Azure card. Together with the Red Cross, I am calling for the government to put an end to this cruel and unusual system.

On the 20th of November the House of Lords will debate the Azure card. I ask my colleagues and other noble members not to remain silent on this issue.

What is the Azure card

The Azure card is a payment card issued to refused asylum seekers who are destitute and have agreed to return to their country of origin but who cannot return immediately due to circumstances beyond their control. The card was designed to provide short-term support. However, because people who cannot be returned also lack the right to work, many have found themselves trapped in a state of perpetual destitution.

Azure card Features
– £35 per week
– Can only be used in 14 shops
– No ability to save: money over £5 left at the end of the week is removed from the card.
– Technical problems can leave users without food for days
– Only £3 extra p/w for pregnant mothers
– No access to transportation

The Azure card, which replaced an outmoded and discriminatory voucher system, has solved none of the problems it was designed to address. It has caused untold suffering to those forced to live under its draconian rules, harmed the very people it was supposed to protect and left the most vulnerable without food, and without hope.

Persecution, destitution, alienation, are not words that can be used to describe the policy of a civilised, humane, society. But these are the everyday experiences of Azure card Users. The government’s repeated insistence that the £35 a week is sufficient to live on has no basis in evidence and the suggestion that an extra £3 a week is sufficient for a pregnant mother is simply outrageous.

Astonishingly, the government can’t tell me how many people have been subject to the Azure card for more than 6 months. This is despite the fact that this parallel system has cost the exchequer £1,515,000 to administer.

Even more worryingly, Azure card users are routinely discriminated against by shop staff – with 72% of Azure card users reporting having their card refused in the last 6 months. 90% of users have also reported missing meals meal and struggling to maintain good health.

The humane thing to do would be to abolish the card and provide people with the support they need and the right to work. We must provide people with a path out of poverty – not condemn them to destitution.

I call on the Government to put an end to an inhumane system that has no place in a civilised society. Abolish the Azure card now.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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  • Richard Dean 19th Nov '14 - 11:46am

    What sort of things are “circumstances beyond their control”? And how long do the circumstances last for?

    The first thing that springs to mind is an inability to pay for the fare, which is the Azure card obviously doesn’t help with at all, and which might be easily addressed by the government paying the fare instead.

  • Roger comes between Jeremy Browne and David Wardss latest outbursts. At least a reminder that there are some people with liberal values left.

  • Go, Roger, go!

    Roger is a very good reason why some of us find it hard to imagine leaving the party.

  • Sorry I don’t see what the value is of abolishing the Azure card! Certainly question the rules of usage and level of benefit given etc. but I see little reason why the benefit shouldn’t be paid/accessible via a card. What is bothersome is that the Azure card isn’t just another chip-and-pin bank card as far as shops are concerned. Given the government operate several banks, there is no real reason why they can’t operate the Azure card more like a bank card and why they in-turn can’t operate more like a bank and monitor usage.

  • suzanne fletcher 20th Nov '14 - 9:53pm

    To answer Richard Dean, “circumstances beyond their control” covers such as an asylum seeker who has not been given leave to remain in the UK for various reasons, and is often going through the appeal process (and given around a third of appeals are allowed, show the decision making is not good) – and they cannot return to the country they fled from as it is too dangerous (ie Zimbabwe) or the government will not allow them back (such as disputed citizenship) – all of which are out of the control of the asylum seeker.
    To answer Roland, being tied to a card means that the asylum seeker cannot buy goods cheaper elsewhere, such as in a market, Lidl, Asda or ethnic food shop. they cannot have their hair cut. they cannot use public transport. and so on. It is party policy to abolish the Azure card and continue the payments other asylum seekers get til they either get leave to remain and can get a job, or leave the country. It would save the country money in needless bureaucracy, and give more dignity to the asylum seeker. it is also Lib Dem policy that if an asylum seeker has not had a decision to stay in 6 months they are required to look for work.

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