A Life in Limbo: Banned from Working.

Anna’s story

As a mother your sole purpose is to nurture and support your family to give them the best chances in life but the ban on work makes this impossible. My family and I came to the UK to seek safety seven years ago and since have been banned from working and forced to live on £5 per day. Today, I am mentally ill because of this. I feel like my hands are tied and my potential is wasted. We feel abandoned.

The Impact on my Children

My two brilliant children are twenty and twenty one years old. They have worked incredibly hard and both won scholarships to a prestigious University. The scholarships have been a lifesaver for us but unfortunately they only cover tuition fees and accommodation which mean my children still have to survive on £5 per day. Can you imagine only having £5 per day whilst at university? They even come home every weekend to look after me as I am not in a good place right now but this means they have to travel at night as they can only afford the cheapest travel tickets.

My children are afraid to tell anyone that they are seeking asylum and banned from working. Growing up, their friends all began to get jobs and when they were the only ones not working, people started to ask them questions but they felt ashamed to reveal the truth. They desperately want to start working but are banned, simply because we had to flee our home country a d seek safety here. It breaks my heart that my children hide part of themselves from their friends.

This law banning us from working tells us we are not equal to others in society. My children should have the same rights as their friends. They are so clever and talented and desperate to give back. 

An Active Member of the Community

Despite being banned from working myself, I seek out every opportunity to help others in my community. I volunteer in a charity shop and also with local organisations helping refugees. When new people arrive in our community, I help them find interpreters and give them information about the area. I do everything I can to make where I live a better place.

The Devastating Impact on my Mental Health

But recently my mental health has plummeted. I can’t sleep. I have severe anxiety and depression. I find it difficult to go outside or talk to anyone now. It feels like I am alone and nobody cares. At one time, the Home Office and their asylum accommodation contractor sent us a letter to say they were making us homeless. This was devastating and my family and I were close to sleeping on the streets. The stress of being banned from work and forced to live in poverty had a big impact on my marriage and I recently separated from my husband of 22 years because of this.

There are lots of others like me who struggle with their mental health as a result of being banned from work. Can you imagine how much this is costing the National Health Service? It just doesn’t make sense.

The Financial Cost

If I could work, I would pay tax, buy things from local businesses, pay rent and enjoy spending my money that I earn on my family. My mental health would be better and I would need the NHS less. The government would save money on asylum financial and accommodation support that they currently have to give us.

Lift the Ban! It is our only hope.

The Lift the Ban campaign is our only hope. It gives us hope that we can live normal lives. I cannot stress how important work is for our mental health and the mental health of our children. Our children are the future and we need to help them succeed. Banning us from contributing to society is hurting everyone and wasting our potential.

The coalition behind the Lift the Ban campaign – which is made up of refugee organisations, faith groups, trade unions, businesses and individuals from across the county – is aiming to secure changes to the restrictions that the Government places on the right to work for people who are seeking asylum in the UK. 

Under our current system people seeking asylum are effectively banned from working. They can only apply to the Home Office for permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision for over 12 months and only for jobs that are on the Government’s restricted Shortage Occupation List (this is an incredibly restrictive list that includes jobs such as ballet dancer and nuclear medicine practitioner).

The Lift the Ban coalition is proposing the right to work for people seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, after six months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, and unconstrained by the shortage occupation list.

The Case for Change is Clear

•   The current system is not fair: Everyone wants the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. It is simply unfair that those who have risked everything to find safety in the UK and have had to wait longer than the Government’s target of 6 months for a decision on their claim (almost half of all claims take longer than 6 months) are not allowed to do this most basic of things.

•   It provides a route out of poverty: People seeking asylum are given just £5.39 per day to meet all their essential living costs, including food, clothing, toiletries and transport and often the cost of their asylum application. Forcing people to live in poverty is inhumane and has a detrimental impact on their physical and mental health.

The current system is wasteful: People seeking asylum who are able to work would not need to be supported for extended periods and could contribute to the economy through increased tax revenues and consumer spending. And savings could be made to the costs of keeping people on asylum support if the ban was lifted.

It would help integration: For those who are eventually given refugee status, avoiding an extended period outside the jobs market is key to ensuring their long-term integration into UK society and encouraging them to be self-sufficient. Early access to employment increases the chances of smooth economic and social integration by allowing refugees to improve their English, acquire new skills and make new friends and social contacts in the wider community.

The public support this:  A recent study by the think tank British Future found that more than two-thirds of the public (68%) agreed that people seeking asylum should have the right to work.

It would bring the UK into line with the approaches taken across Europe: The restrictive approach that the UK takes on access to the jobs market makes it an outlier within Europe. In almost all other European states people are given an opportunity to support themselves at an earlier stage and with fewer restrictions.

A Waste of our Talents

I want people who have risked everything to find safety in our country to have the best chance of contributing to our society and integrating into our communities. I want a fair and effective immigration system. It is not fair to deprive people of the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families while they wait, often years, for a decision on their asylum claim. It is not effective to waste the talents of our population, or to keep people suffering in limbo.

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