In an era of multiple, overlapping national crises, the theme of tightening the boot straps and cutting costs wherever possible runs deeply through much of the country.

Unsurprising then, that the conversation around asylum support remains firmly at the top of the agenda.

It is no secret that, due to the wilful mismanagement of the migration situation by the UK government, the cost of housing and supporting people arriving here to claim asylum is very quickly snowballing out of control. We see all manner of cruel and inhumane ideas emerging from government, designed to ease the pressure of housing and supporting people. All of which have cost a fortune and made little to no difference whatsoever.

Why then, is the UK still not ready to talk seriously about giving people the right to work while awaiting an asylum decision? In a nation that prides itself on democratic values and individual liberties, it’s time to consider a more dignified approach.

The Mental Health Argument…

Currently the Asylum support and housing bill is in the £Millions per day, and with the unprecedented backlog of asylum cases yet to be processed, people are finding themselves stuck in the system for much longer than the previously standard 6 months. With the vast majority of people legally unable to work while awaiting their decision, they are left with no choice but to claim asylum support and housing.

Aside from the obvious financial and economic advantages of people having the right to work and support themselves, which we will revisit a little later, there is also the question of mental well-being and social cohesion.

Many people navigating the asylum system report low levels of well-being, as well as formal mental health diagnoses. They often speak of boredom, despondency and frustration caused by a lack of agency and social connection.

Employment offers people the chance to begin to integrate into their community, to build support networks, and the financial means to take part in social leisure activities.

Participation in social, cultural and religious life is a key component of life in the UK for people seeking asylum. This integration is essential in allowing those who go on to be granted refugee or protected status to meaningfully contribute to society to the best of their abilities, and the time spent awaiting asylum decisions should be seen as preparation for this.

At its core, the UK benefit system is designed to provide a safety net, offering essential support to those in need. However, when applied to people seeking asylum, this system often has consequences. Forcing individuals to rely on benefits while their asylum claims are pending can strip them of their agency and self-reliance, contributing to a sense of


This, often lengthy (12 months + currently ) period of enforced social inactivity has long standing effects for people. Once they receive a positive decision and are granted the right to work, people who have not had access to community support or begun to socially integrate are less likely to go straight into employment and more likely to go on to mainstream benefits – therefore perpetuating the welfare state and the far right trope of people seeking British benefits. We set people up to fail and then blame them when they do.

The other issue with social cohesion is the community reaction to newcomers. As we currently find ourselves in a cost of living crisis, it is understandable that people are angry at the spiralling asylum support bill. By forcing people seeking asylum to rely on government support, through no fault of their own the community views them as scroungers which of course is not the case. At a time when public opinion is somewhat volatile, social integration must be handled delicately. If a community sees newcomers contributing to society and taking part in activities, they are more likely to be supportive and welcoming.

The Money…

Now, not to put too fine a point on this – we should be changing the system and acting out of compassion not for financial gain. However, as the potential financial benefit from giving people the right to work is so significant, it opens up some interesting questions around political motivation.

A 2020 report by Lift the Ban found that giving people the right to work while their claim is being process would benefit the UK economy by around £98million a year.

Currently government spending on asylum accommodation etc is completely out of control. By giving people the right to work and support themselves, we take away the need to support and house everyone. The asylum support and housing bill would be drastically reduced, people awaiting an asylum claim would go on to take gainful employment, filling labour shortages, and contributing via tax and national insurance contributions from their wages.

Why then, when this would quite clearly solve the asylum support spending crisis, will the government not even entertain the idea?

Is the government’s commitment to the ‘hostile environment’ strategy really in the public interest?

In short – No.

Using the socio-economic crisis to fuel division and fear in communities is obviously far

more valuable to those at the top, than actually attempting to solve the issues. We see this

very clearly by the total unwillingness to open new safe and legal routes to asylum, despite the fact it would all but solve the small boat issue.

The time for scaremongering and archaic deterrent strategies is over. It is only with an

informed, pragmatic approach that we fix our broken immigration system.