Work. It’s not just what we do. It can be who we are.
That is how it has always been for me. Journalism wasn’t what I did, it was who I was.
Maybe it was growing up in a working-class area on the outskirts of Glasgow where work defined so many people.
It was much more than what put food on the table.
For many people it was a source of pride, their place in the community and the means they had for changing their lives and creating a better future for their children.
When I look back on my childhood I remember so many happy times. But I struggle to imagine what those years would have been like if my dad, and then when he suddenly died at the age of 44, my mum, had been denied the right to work.
I’m not sure how our family, or any of those around us could have survived if we had been isolated from our neighbours and lost the ability to dream of better things when times were hard.
Many people in the UK don’t have to imagine that life though – for thousands of people seeking asylum it is a hard reality. As it stands asylum seekers who make it to Britain are not allowed to workuntil granted permission by the government 12 months after submitting their claim for asylum, and only then from a ludicrously restrictive list called the Shortage Occupation List which includes roles like classical ballet dancer and nuclear waste decommissioner.
You can imagine the impact that’s having.
Forced to live off a government stipend of £5.39 per day, people seeking asylum are frequently forced into poverty, homelessness, and destitution, as this reportfrom the Lift the Ban campaign outlines. It’s nigh on impossible for them to settle in their communities, denied as they are any disposable money that they can use for travel, to go to events, or to study. Most have gone from victims in one country to virtual prisoners in another.
Britain too is suffering from this appalling policy. We’re denying ourselves the skills of some incredibly ambitious and talented people – doctors, engineers, mechanics, teachers, business managers, hairdressers, and gardeners. Everyone has something to give to others and if offered the platform would step up and add new energy and colour to their communities.
Which is why I have been proud to be a part of the cross-party effort to give asylum seekers the right to work. Support is coming from across the house – from the governing party and the opposition – and with the backing of businesses, charities, trade unions, and faith groups it’s hard to see how the government can continue to dig its heels in and deny one part of humanity a right that feels so natural to the majority.
In January, I introduced legislation to change this, and today I will be supporting the Labour MP Catherine West as she tables her own private members’ bill to lift the ban. We know it will be difficult for this to get through the Commons, but what it will do is create a space in parliament for the arguments I’ve outlined above to be heard, for more MPs to hear about this issue, and for supportive MPs – of which we know there are many – to express to the home secretary their desire to see a change in the rules.
What we’re asking for is not unreasonable – in fact, it’s the current position which is so perverse. The UK is a total outlier in the western world when it comes to its policy on work for asylum seekers. Most countries – including Donald Trump’s America – will let those seeking asylum work from six months after their claim has been made (the policy we are asking to be implemented). But in many countries, work can begin earlier, right down to the day of arrival.
The change we’re requesting is so small as far as government policy is concerned – we’re asking for the UK to catch up with the rest of the western world – but the difference it would make to asylum seekers would be transformative, much as my childhood experiences in a community which knew the value of work was for my own life choices and future career.