December 2018: Your Local MP

November 27 2018

Refugees and work: an economic argument for fairness

Why should we improve the way we treat refugees? I have written in Bishopston Voice before about the human rights arguments for better treatment, but the economic case is just as compelling.

Unfortunately, economic arguments can be obscured by heated debate, misinformation and outright lies about benefits and housing and economic migrants.

In November I hosted Sanctuary in Parliament 2018, celebrating cities such as Bristol, who have pledged to do everything they can to give refugees a warm welcome. One speaker was a man called Safian, who has been waiting for an asylum decision for several years longer than the Home Office six-month deadline. And because of this, he is prohibited from obtaining work. This benefits nobody. Not Safian, not his local community, and certainly not the British economy.

Anyone who wants to work, should be allowed to work – I believe most reading this would agree. In some countries, such as Uganda, that includes refugees from the day they arrive. But in this country, we keep people in unemployment and stagnation, sometimes for years.

Our rules mean that asylum seekers cannot work until they are confirmed as a refugee. While waiting months or years for a decision, asylum seekers are forced to live off a meagre allowance of £5.39 per day, to pay for everything except accommodation. In short, this system means they contribute little or nothing to the local economy.

After 12 months, asylum seekers can apply to be allowed to work, but only for jobs on the Shortage Occupation list, which may not fit their own skills and qualifications or the local job market.

Sadly, long, unproductive waiting times are increasingly common. At the end of 2011 there were 3,000 people waiting more than six months for a decision, rising to nearly 11,000 by mid-2018. The Home Office itself attributes this to low staffing levels. I would like the whole system to be improved and sped up – but in the meantime, we could allow more people to do work that fits their skills and experience.

Changing the current system would help people move away from publicly-funded benefits. The sad truth is that once confirmed as refugees, and allowed to work, many still struggle to find employment. A major barrier is the extended periods outside work during the limbo of the asylum process, according to research by the Refugee Council.

This limbo situation also has a direct cost to taxpayers. Asylum accommodation is provided by the Home Office system, which subcontracts this to private companies. These contracts are worth a staggering £4 billion over the next ten years, according to analysis by Asylum Matters.

It is in everyone’s interest to help refugees and asylum seekers contribute to the local economy. And economic arguments aside, I personally believe we have a duty to treat people with dignity. After fleeing war, persecution and torture, a warm welcome is the least they deserve.

STOP PRESS: At the time of writing, it seems the government negotiators have reached some agreement on the European Union Withdrawal Agreement. I have not yet had time to read all 500 pages, but rest assured, if it is not a good deal for the UK and Bristol West, I will be voting against it. Check my Facebook, Twitter and website for updates.