Author: May Bulman
Asylum seekers are having to choose between paying for medicine or buying food, the human rights watchdog has warned, prompting renewed calls for the government to give people seeking sanctuary the right to work.
A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reveals that some asylum seekers are not able to afford prescription fees and are forced to miss healthcare appointments due to a lack of funds to pay for travel.
Disabled people and pregnant women are particularly impacted, as they have a greater need for health services and must follow nutritional advice, the EHRC said.
It comes amid mounting calls for asylum seekers to be given the right to work.
A recent survey found that 71 per cent of the British public would be in favour of this, and a separate study showed they could bring an additional £42.4m to the economy if they were allowed to work.
Asylum seekers are currently given £5.39 a day in state support to meet all their essential living costs, including food, clothing, toiletries and transport.
A report by the Red Cross earlier this year found that the number living in food poverty had soared by 20 per cent in a year.
The EHRC report warns that NHS charging policy in England has made some healthcare unaffordable for people who are appealing negative asylum decisions, causing some to delay or avoid treatment.
Some GP surgeries have wrongly refused requests from failed asylum seekers to register with a doctor because they believed they were ineligible, when in fact they have the right to register for primary care.
Most people seeking asylum live in accommodation provided by the Home Office and can be moved or dispersed between this allocated accommodation on a no-choice basis, which the Commission found disrupted the continuity of healthcare and social networks that people rely on.
In a series of recommendations to the government, the EHRC calls for a review into the current asylum accommodation and dispersal policy and practice, to ensure that healthcare needs, especially of disabled people and pregnant women, are met in the provision of housing.
It also urges the Home Office to ensure asylum seekers are able to afford costs to attend relevant healthcare appointments, by either raising the level of financial support provided, or extending the right to work for people seeking asylum who have been waiting for a decision on their application for more than six months.
The watchdog states that support should be extended for pregnant women who have been refused asylum to cover the whole of pregnancy to ensure the needs of the woman are fully met.
Stephen Hale, chief executive of the charity Refugee Action, welcomed the report, adding: “We know that the long wait for a decision on an application for asylum takes its toll, physically and mentally, on those stuck in the system.
“The government often likes to remind us that when it comes to health, prevention is better than the cure. Today’s EHRC report makes clear that one sure way to help those seeking asylum to look after their health is to let them work. It’s time for the home secretary Sajid Javid to heed that call.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers very seriously, and they have full and free access to the NHS. Those in receipt of asylum support because they would otherwise be destitute do not have to pay for prescriptions.
“Supported asylum seekers have the costs of travel to hospital appointments paid for by the NHS and we are absolutely clear that having a serious medical condition has no bearing on the outcome of an asylum claim.
“We have paused data-sharing with NHS Digital while we work to introduce a new Memorandum of Understanding that enables us to make to make tracing requests in relation to those facing deportation action for serious criminal offending and where necessary to protect the welfare of an individual.”