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MPs call for humane asylum support for children

Sarah Teather MP, Neil Carmichael MP and Nic Dakin MP put aside political differences, to examine how asylum support works for children and families.

There are moments in politics when what you hear makes you ashamed. When the parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people took evidence from families and workers supporting those in our asylum system there were many such moments for us on the panel.

Back in October 2012 we launched a parliamentary inquiry with a group of cross-party MPs and peers to look into the support that young people and children seeking asylum get from the Home Office. What became clear through the course of our inquiry were the failures of successive governments that are leaving many children destitute – some who have no access to any support at all and many others where the level of support is inadequate to meet basic needs let alone children’s full range of needs to develop and learn – such as going on a school trip, learning how to ride a bike or going to a friend’s birthday party.

The evidence revealed a situation where thousands of children are caught up in a system of severe hardship with parents having little choice or ability to change things for the better for their children. We heard how parents are going without food to make sure their children can eat and are unable to buy basic items for their children like warm coats in the winter or uniforms for school.

The families with the worst ordeals are those on the cashless Section 4 support. We can see no merit in maintaining this parallel support system. The regime is described by ministers as austere – and it is difficult to argue that it is humane leaving as it does many families to survive on as little as £5 per person per day.

It also seems senseless to not provide families with any cash. This means families can’t catch a bus to the doctor or library, make a phone call or buy basic goods. The strain on families who endure this system, but who are unable to return home, is something we think is indefensible.

Our report sets out a number of recommendations which we want ministers to consider. Simple things such as abolishing Section 4 support for those families who aren’t able to return home would make a significant difference to many lives. We also think that support for all children and families needs to be in line with other benefits to make sure that every child has a decent start to life.

The report which we launched today has support from MPs across all the main parties. We have come together, putting aside our political differences, to examine how asylum support works for children and families. That's a start. We know the system has to change and we have set out some of the things that we think would make the system better. Now it's the turn of the government to show that it can listen and live up to our country’s long and proud record of giving protection to those fleeing persecution and war and make sure that our treatment of families who seek our help matches the high standards our reputation would expect.

The cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the impact of asylum support on children and young people published its report on 31 January.