The controversial and highly criticised use of vouchers for asylum seekers will officially be brought back tomorrow – four years after they were condemned by the Government as being slow, vulnerable to fraud and unfair.
Tomorrow, Tuesday (21st March), the Government aims to push through an amendment to the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill 2005 in which they acknowledge the need to provide flexible assistance to failed asylum seekers on Section 4 support. But this assistance will now only be given in the form of vouchers, and not cash.
Vouchers are difficult to administer, stigmatise failed asylum seekers, damage community relations and are an entirely inappropriate form of help for people who have no other financial support.
The original NASS voucher system was repealed in 2002, but in April 2005 the government began using vouchers to support ‘failed’ asylum seekers before they return home. Often these cases are complicated as, for example, there is no safe route home and therefore this support is necessary for a long time. However it is only available to people who have signed a declaration that they will return voluntarily and co-operate with removal.
The Refugee Council believes that in the light of recent headlines regarding concerns over asylum seekers ‘disappearing’, it seems strange that the government seems intent on punishing those who follow the rules.
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of The Refugee Council, says: “All the main political parties are now saying that they want to treat asylum issues fairly; but what’s fair about forcing people who have not broken any of the rules, who have committed no offence, to submit to more of this kind of treatment in order to survive?
“There’s no fairness in stigmatising people by forcing them into a different system than the rest of us when all they want is to buy a few necessities.”
Cash support rather than vouchers is a more efficient, more humane and, vitally, cheaper option. Government claims that offering cash would be a ‘pull factor’ for other asylum seekers are incorrect as the criteria required to receive Section 4 support rule out any chance of this happening.
“People whose applications have been rejected only get any support if they sign up for voluntary removal and follow all the rules. So why does the Government still feel they have to be stigmatised, and made to jump through hoops to get the basics they need to survive?” says Maeve Sherlock.
“It can’t be to save cash; there’s plenty of evidence that the use of vouchers is costly for the government, and poor value for the hapless recipient who often have to exchange them for cash at poor rates because they can’t get to the store.”
“It’s time – again – to scrap this measure,” she added.
When he scrapped the voucher system in 2001, the Rt. Hon. David Blunkett MP, then the Home Secretary, described it as: “..too slow, vulnerable to fraud and felt to be unfair by both asylum seekers and local communities.”
As the government acknowledged in 2002: “..moving to cash will mean that asylum seekers will be able to spend their money where they like, and they will not have a limited choice of shops in which they can use vouchers”. Angela Eagle MP, 12th March 2002
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