Asylum seeking families come to the UK with high hopes for their future and are often seeking protection from a perilous past. They are exposed to destitution, poor health, depression, physical assault, sexual harassment, loneliness and stress and family breakdown. The children of asylum seekers are vulnerable and in need of considerable support (Fitzpatrick, 2005). Young asylum seekers are often torn violently from their past life and forced into a new environment where they do not understand the legislation and the rules of social life. In the current climate of antagonism they face suspicion and mistrust (Sales, 2007). The 1951 Geneva Convention is the basis for international refugee law. It provides the right to make an individual asylum claim and protection from being returned to face danger. Those seeking protection go through a formal process to establish whether they fit the definition of a refugee (Sales, 2007). Asylum seekers live below the minimum benefit levels other households would receive and are clearly very poor but New Labour’s pledge to eradicate child poverty altogether by 2020 does not include the children of asylum seekers (Reacroft, 2008). The 2004 Children Act and Every Child Matters (DfES, 2004) identify five broad outcomes for every child, whatever their background or circumstances to have the support they need, however children who are subject to immigration control are systematically excluded from some of the measures proposed to deliver the five outcomes related with the Every Child Matters framework (Crawley, 2006). The tensions between policies for safeguarding and protecting children and controlling immigration is evident in policy and practice. This dissertation is an attempt to investigate the governments response to asylum seekers with reference to child poverty. The dissertation also attempts to consider the impact and implications for social work practice as social work professionals become entwined within processes which monitor and control those subject to immigration controls.
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The first chapter will provide a historical background into the arrival of asylum seekers and concerns associated with them. The movement of people geographically is part of human history and controlling it a moderately recent phenomenon (Hayter, 2000). Calls for controls have always been posed, from the 1905 Aliens Act, through to the Asylum and Immigration Act 2006. The arrival of international migrants in to the UK is no new occurrence. This chapter will explore the governments response to groups of refugees and how it has changed through the years. Chapter two will examine asylum legislation and policy, focussing on its impact on children. It will also focus on child welfare legislation. Since 1989 more immigration legislation has passed through the UK Parliament than at any other time during history (Rutter, 2006). Since 1993 and particularly since 1996, asylum seekers are very high on the governments political agenda and therefore a vast number of policies have been implemented. Britain has become one of the leading proponents of the EU’s increasing restriction toward asylum seekers and refugees in the last decade (Joly, 1996). Tighter pre-entry deterrent measures have been implemented, with a regime of welfare disentitlement and social exclusion for those who have managed to gain access. This chapter will focus on the radical change of policy on immigration with particular focus on New Labour and their focus on unwanted migrants.
Chapter three will investigate the tensions that have arisen with regards to the government paper Every Child Matters and the immigration policies. UK policy and practice in many other areas is based upon the notion that children should be treated differently from adults because they are children. By contrast, children who are subject to immigration controls are currently treated as migrants first and foremost (Crawley, 2006). Local authorities are encouraged by recent policies to exclude children of asylum seekers from the Children Act 1989 as part of the wider government purpose of controlling immigration. Chapter four will explore the tensions for social workers. Social workers who should be protecting and supporting children are required to act as if they are immigration officials. Social workers are poorly trained in issues of immigration and are not encouraged to view asylum seekers as service users (Collett, 2004). The role of the social worker in the lives of asylum seekers will be assessed as will asylum seekers experiences of oppression.
The final chapter of this dissertation will provide a conclusion, containing a critical assessment of the implications of the discussions for contemporary/future policy and practice.
Chapter 2 – A brief history of asylum in Britain
Asylum achieved a great political profile in Britain during the late 1990’s. In
order to fully understand the issues and concerns of asylum, an awareness of
the historical background of asylum seekers will be focussed upon throughout
The concept of ‘asylum’ or ‘refuge’ has existed in the UK since the Middle Ages.
However the first piece of legislation to preserve the notion of asylum in British
law was the 1905 Aliens Act. The act defined those who would be excluded
from restriction much more cautiously and it was eventually approved through
parliament. The 1905 Aliens Act set the outline for rest of the century and
ensured that the British welfare state, far from being universalistic, are narrow,
exclusive and nationalistic. (Cohen, 2002). The London County Council seemed
to have taken a hostile attitude towards Jewish refugee’s fleeing Nazism in the
1930’s. This was on the foundation that refugee’s were a drain on the local
authority administered welfare. Immigration controls ensured that few
refugee’s managed to gain entry to the UK and those which managed to did so
on the accepting that the jewish community would take upon collective
financial responsibility (London, 1999). Such a financial undertaking could not
be sustained and the government was eventually forced into providing some
assistance . As the circumstances of European Jewry deteriorated, the British
Government’s behaviour did not alter fundamentally. Britain’s overall response
to the difficulty of Jews was characterized by ‘caution and pragmatism
subordinating humanitarianism to Britain’s self interst (Friedman and Klein,
2008). Jewish refugee’s were also associated with supposedly criminality and
lack of hygiene. As Jewish refugee’s became linked with the social problems of
urban life, attention was directed on their likely social cost. Recently created
immigration officers now needed to make judgements about who was likely to
be a burden on the rates. It becomes apparent at this time the need to let in
only those who will be economically useful to the British nation and those not
likely to need welfare (Hayes & Humphries, 2004). Between November 1938
and September 1939, the numbers of Jewish refugee’s entering Britain were in
excess of 40,000 (Stevens, 2004) and by the start of the war, about 80,000
refugee’s had come to Britain, including 10,000 unacompanied children on the
The reality that Britain took in these Jewish refugee’s has an iconic significance
for it’s self definition today as a generous and hospitable nation. The
anniversaries of the Second World War has been on Britains heroic role, not
only in defeating the Natzi’s but in providing a place of safety for Jewish
refugee’s. However there was significant resentment towards the refugees
from all the divisions of society, particulary the press (Friedman and Klein,
2008). An editorial in the Sunday express in 1938 stated:
[But] just now there is a big influx of foreign Jews into Britain. They are over-running the country. They are trying to enter the medical profession in great numbers. They wish to practise as dentists. Worst of all, many of them are holding themselves out to the public as psychoanalysts. There is no intolerance in Britain today. And by keeping a close watch on the causes that feed the intolerance of the Jews in other European countries, we shall be able to continue to treat well those Jews who have made their homes among us.
Conflict also came from professional and trade bodies. Jewish refugee doctors
coming over to Britain had a difficult time and negative attitudes were also
found in the foreign office. Common anti-Jewish prejudice was influential in
preparing government policy (Friedman and Klein, 2008).
Following the end of the second world war the shortage of labour required
many European countries to look to Asia, the Caribbean and Africa for workers
to rebuild the continent. Britain, looked towards it’s old colonies and in the
1940’s and 1950’s many African-Caribeean, Southeren Asian and African
people entered Britain (Okitikpi, 2003). Unlike the Jews before them, these
black immigrants had citizenship rights as well as a strong idedological
connection. However these citizen’s were treated as short-term visitors,
migrant workers and it was hoped that they would return home and not
require the benefits of long term settlement (Hayes & Humphries, 2004). By
the 1960’s and the 1970’s the enactment of successive excluding immigration
and nationality acts certified the tightening of the immigration rules in order to
decrease the flow of migration into Britain (Hiro 1992; Seddon, 2002).
In 1978 Margeret Thatcher expressed her thoughts about the swamping of
Britain by immigrant ‘culture’,it is apparent that the old racist xenophobia was
not far under the surface, such a logic was implicit in the way an alleged
popular opinion against immigration was used to build support for new
nationality laws in Britain which was pursued by the Thatcher government
(Baumgartl and Favell, 1995).
Towards the end of the 1980’s there was an increase in the number of asylum-
seekers arriving in Britain. Between 1981 and 1988, the average number of
asylum-seekers arriving each year in Britain was less than 4000 increasing in
1989 to 11,640 and it reached a peak in 1991 to 44,840 asylum applications
(Bloch, 2000). The year 1989 marked a turning point, with the start of an
asylum migration of Turkish Kurds, Somalis, Anggolans and Congolese. The
government viewed asylum as a policy problem (Rutter, J, 2006).
The media and public opinion.
It is easy to forget that the arrival of large numbers of Jewish refugees was regularly met with a less than rapturous welcome by the Government, trade unions, certain newspapers and indeed sections of the Jewish community itself.
chapter 3 – Legislative
Asylum achieved a great political profile in Britain during the 1990’s. Until the
1990’s, Britain had no specific asylum legislation (Sales, 2002). The Asylum and
Immigrations appeal Act 1993 was the first act, concerned predominantly with
controlling entry. It created processes for dealing with asylum applications,
introduced restrictions to social housing for asylum seekers and benefits for
asylum seekers were set at seventy percent of income support. An asylum
seeker would only be housed in temporary accommodation while his/her
asylum claim was being determined. This is a lengthily process and can
sometimes take years. Asylum seeker families can be kept in inadequate
housing for lengthily periods, with no security, subject to sudden moves,
resulting in difficulties in securing school and nursery places and being able to
register with a GP (Fitzpatrick, 2005). The Asylum and Immigration Act 1996
also restricted the social rights of asylum seekers. The act withdrew cash
benefits for asylum seekers and introduced vouchers following court
judgement that local authorities should provide necessary subsistence for
‘destitute’ asylum seekers. Adults were not allowed to receive cash, but were
housed and given subsistence in kind and in the form of ‘vouchers’ (Sales,
The labour Party came into power in May 1997. It assured to alleviate the
pressure on local authorities and began a review of the system for asylum
seekers. The result was the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (which came
into effect in April 2000). This Act was more draconian than any other
measures introduced by the previous Conservative government (Fitzpatrick,
2005). The Act confirmed that with exceptions contained in regulations,
everyone subject to immigration controls is to be denied council housing and a
range of non-contributory benefits. These benefits comprise the core, means
tested benefits of last resort (income support, income based jobseeker’s
allowance, council tax benefit, housing benefit, a social fund payment) and
family and disability benefits ( working families tax credit, child benefit, severe
disablement allowance, invalid care , attendance allowance, disabled person’s
tax credit, disability living allowance). In addition, the act disentitles those
subject to controls from National Assistance Act and Children Act support,
solely on the basis of destitution (Cohen, 2002). The Act gave a series of new
powers to the Home Secretary, mainly in relation to appeals (Chatwin, 2001: 7)
and extended the powers of search and arrest and detention of asylum
seekers. The most controversial clauses concerned the extension of the
voucher scheme to all asylum seekers and compulsory dispersal. The local
authorities direct role in supporting asylum seekers ended and was replaced
with NASS (National Asylum Support System). NASS operates on the
presumption that the mass of asylum seekers are ‘undeserving’ and ‘bogus’,
while the minority granted Convention status are the ‘deserving’ (Sales, 2002).
Asylum seekers who receive section 4 support are entitled to free temporary accommodation and thirty five pounds a week in vouchers provided by accommodation providers. No change can be issued for these vouchers. Vouchers come in a variety of forms, such as paper vouchers, luncheon vouchers and card gift vouchers (where credit is loaded onto a plastic card and deducted as it is being spent). Luncheon vouchers are accepted in more than one shop, whereas paper vouchers and card gift vouchers limit the person to shopping in certain shops. Long distances may have to be travelled to collect these vouchers from the post office and when using the vouchers difficulties can arise in the shops. Shops that accept vouchers are more expensive than other shops and markets not participating in the scheme, shop staff may not always recognise or know how to process vouchers (British refugee council, 2008).
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A study from the home office (home office, 2001) which was used as evidence about the operation of the voucher scheme when it was reviewed in 2001, found out about asylum seekers experiences of using vouchers. 205 asylum seekers completed questionnaires which were translated by trained interviewees. In depth interviews were also conducted with asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers completing the questionnaire reported they felt embarrassed when collecting the vouchers because they perceived that people were looking at them. Asylum seekers also felt embarrassed when other people complain about the asylum seeker in the queue as delays have occurred. Many asylum seekers also felt distressed about the difficulty they have adding up the shopping and knowing which vouchers to use.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
This Act allowed for asylum seekers to be accommodated in large accommodation centres, with sites containing about 800 people, asylum seekers would receive health care, full board and education. Regardless of being expensive to build, the Home Office was clear on its justification of the new centres as a means of preventing asylum seekers from working illegally (Home Office, 2002). By the end of 2002 the Home Office identified eight prospective accommodation centres, the planning applications for these centres proved to be a focal point for anti-asylum campaigns. Another focus fo ant-asylum campaigners was the publication of quarterly asylum statistics. This occurrence became a radicalised ritual. The Home Office published its data and the tabloid media responded with articles on the growing issue of asylum seekers. But in concentrating on ‘the crisis in numbers’ the government creates an image of hordes of people seeking to enter the UK (Rutter, 2006). The legislation also enables NASS benefit to be withheld from a person who fails to make a claim for asylum as soon as possible when entering the country. Initially this power applied only to single asylum seekers, but has been extended to families. This has led to many people being left without any means of support and homeless. Local authorities are prevented by the legislation from providing support to failed asylum seekers. This excludes vulnerable children who may be at risk from accessing support from social services (Fitzpatrick, 2005).
Asylum and Immigration (treatment of claiments) Act 2004)
This particular Act contained 50 sections. The Act was nearly twice as long as when it was first presented to parliament. The legislation allows for asylum seekers to be moved to a third world country (of which the asylum seeker is not a citizen) without having a right to appeal or entering the thorough determination procedures (Refugee Council, 2004). The legislation also provides electronic monitoring of asylum seekers who ‘appear’ over 18. This was suggested by ministers as a humane alternative to detention (Rutter, 2006). Furthermore the legislation widens the existing power to deny support from asylum seekers who fail to claim asylum immediately when entering the UK. NASS benefit may then be withdrawn from failed asylum seekers who refuse to return home. Parents may then have to consider leaving the UK and returning to a place of danger or the possibility of having their children removed from them.
Asylum and Immigration Act 2006
Although the number of asylum seeking applications had decreased at this point, the government aimed to enhance the immigration system in line with their objectives of stronger immigration controls. This is achieved by introducing civil and criminal penalties of up to £2,000 per illegal employee and a possible 2 year prison sentence for those who ‘knowingly’ employ an illegal worker.
Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009
The legislative changes in this Act are projected to compliment the Australian stle points based system introduced for immigration. The detention of children still remains at this point.
Child poverty Act 2010
Every Child Matters
In 2001, the opening of the public inquiry into the death of a child abuse victim Victoria Climbie led to the government paper Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003). The chair, Lord Laming assured that it would mark a turning point in the protection of vulnerable children. The inquiry report (Laming, 2003) made 108 recommendations and seeked to ensure that children do not fall through the safety net of protection. It identified five broad outcomes for children. These are to be healthy, to stay safe, enjoying and achieving, contributing to society and achieving economic well being. They aim to provide children and young people with support, sharing, promote better information and a comman assessment framework for professionals to certify clear accountability and to establish multi-disciplinary teams based around universal services.
The Laming inquiry is significant to the situation of asylum seekers. Victoria Climbie, who came to the UK with her great aunt was tortured and neglected and eventually died in horrifying circumstances. Victoria was not an asylum seeker, she and her Aunt were French nationals but their immigration status excluded them from claiming benefits and housing under the habitual residence test. It is apparent from Lord Laming’s report that it was the issue of accommodation and financial support that brought Victoria to the attention of social services. The government however subsequently introduced legislation to prevent EU nationals and asylum seekers in the same position as Victoria Climbie from accessing this type of help from social services (Fitzpatrick, 2005). It would appear that asylum seeker children are not treated as children in the general population and their immigration status is viewed first and foremost, rather than the fact that they are children and that every child in the UK should matter, regardless of their immigration status.
Chapter 4 – Tentions
This chapter will attempt to assess the governments assurance that every child matters in the UK and how far this is extended to including asylum seeking children. There are a number of pieces of legislation that are of concern to asylum seekers and legislation that appears to exclude them. Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claiments, etc) Act has been a severely controversial provision which gives the Home Office powers to terminate all welfare support to failed asylum seekers. The tension between policies for safeguarding and protecting children and controlling immigration is evident in policy and practice.
Every child matters
As discussed in the previous chapter, in 2004 the government published Every Child Matters: Next Steps (DfES 2004)
a green paper on children’s services, followed by the children Act 2004. The green paper and legislation was prompted by the inquiry into the murder of eight year old Victoria Climbie. Prior to her death, Victoria Climbie and her carers had extensive contact with social services, the police and hospitals, all of whom failed to share information with one another and ultimately failed to intervene to protect Victoria Climbie (Lord Laming, 2003). The Every Child Matters (ECM) framework aims to bring about root-and -branch reform of children’s services at every level to ensure that all children and young people achieve five main outcomes. The governments aim, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have te support they need to:
Be healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually), to follow a healthy lifestyle and choose not to take illegal drugs;
Stay safe (from maltreatment, neglect, violence, sexual exploitation, accidental injury and death, bullying and discrimination, crime and anti-social behaviour in and out of school and to have security, stability and to be cared for;
Enjoy and achieve through learning by being ready for school, attending and enjoying school, achieving stretching national educational standards at primary and secondary school, achieving personal and social development and enjoying recreation;
Make a positive contribution to society by engaging in decision making and supporting the community and environment, engaging in law abiding and positive behaviour in and out of school, developing positive relationships and choosing not to bully or discriminate, developing self confidence and successfully dealing with significant life changes and challenges and developing enterprising behaviour; and
Achieve economic well-being by engaging in further education, employment or training on leaving school, being ready for employment, living in decent homes and sustainable communities, having access to transport and material goods and living in households free from low income.
The ECM framework is considered a positive step in improving children’s services however there is a view that immigration controls take prority over welfare consideration. The UK’s Reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), confines the application of the principles of the CRC in the instance of children and young people who are subject to immigration control, has been in place since the convention was confirmed in 1991 and has been criticised by parliamentary committees in the UK and the international monitoring body for the CRC which states:
‘The committee is further concerned that…..the ongoing reform of the asylum and immigration system fails to address the particular needs and rights of asylum-seeking children’ and recommended that the government: ‘address thoroughly the particular situation of children in the ongoing reform of the immigration and asylum system to bring it into line with the principles and provisions of the convention’. Committee on the Rights of the child (2002) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Paragraph 47 and 48(g).
Whilst the Reservation has been present for some time, the difference with the existing approach is the extent to which local authorities and others accountable for providing protection and support to children and their families have been encouraged to prevent children subject to immigration control from the provisions of the Children Act 1989, Children Act 2004 and the CRC. Consequently, the two systems with which children subject to immigration control are most affected – immigration and social services- are gradually more at odds with one another. As they have competing objectives and aims, each has tried to compel the other to behave differently (Crawley, 2006).
Social service departments have tried to provide support and improve the worst effects on children within hostile practical and political contexts. This position has produced complications for local authorities who are not fully reimbursed for these costs and for the children and families who do not get the thorough protection they need. Imperative questions are raised about the extent to which social services departments can be expected to provide on their duty under welfare law and at the same time participate in the role in controlling immigration.
Accompanied asylum seeking children have less rights than citizen children as they are supported through NASS and do not usually have access to child welfare benefits or the provisions of the Children Act, although they do have the right to health care and legislation.
Unaccompanied children and the question of age.
An unaccompanied minor is a child under 18 years of age who has been separated from both parents and is not cared for by an adult, who by law or custom, is responsible to do so (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 1997). Children who are separated from their parents or carers and who try to claim asylum in the UK battle to negotiate an asylum system designed for adults and a child protection system focussed on children who live in their own community within their own families (Crawley, 2006). Many unaccompanied young people find their plea for asylum to be disbelieved. Those who should slot into the care system as children find their application challenged by immigration officers who class them as adults. Age is key in determining the treatment of young asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers do not have the correct documentation and there is no reliable medical test. The burden of proof is with the applicant (Mitchell, 2003). Age determines the treatment of asylum seekers by social services. Many social services departments remain hesitant to treat 16 and 17 year olds as ‘children in need’ and often treating them with suspicion (Morris, 2003). Many are supported under section 17 of the 1989 Children Act, often in poor quality bed and breakfast accommodation. The organisation Save the Children, reported concerns about children living with adults not known to them, some were placed in hostels with adults who suffer mental health or drug problems (Mayor of London, 2004). A child whose age is unclear will also be treated as an adult for the purpose of asylum determination procedures. Reasons as to why it is unsafe for a child of his or her origin to return back to their country will not be taken into account when assessing the asylum claim. The fast tracking of age disputed cases can result in vulnerable children being returned back to their country of origin with no appropriate reception arrangements in place and without the assistance of an in-country appeal (Crawley, 2006).
Home Office statistics on age disputed applications were published for the first time in 2005 and indicate that in 2004, 5,335 asylum applications were made by individuals who stated that they were less than 18 years of age. Of these, nearly half (44%) were age disputed and treated as adults (Home Office, 2005). This implicates the support and welfare that is made available to them. Clearly there are powerful child protection arguments for ensuring adults do not find their way into the care system.. However if a child is incorrectly identified as an adult they can be forced into adult asylum and accommodation arrangements, including detention or dispersing them to an area in the UK where they have no contacts or support and will not be subject to child protection procedures or be entitled to leaving care services.
Section 17 of the Children Act obliges practitioners, wherever possible, to provide services for children and their families with the aim of promoting the up bringining of children in their families. It makes clear that the welfare of a child is paramount and that a child’s interests are best served within it’s own family. However local authorities are openly prohibited from using Section 17 of the Children Act to provide support to children and families made destitute as a result of Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claiments, etc). Local authorities then have little choice but to separate children from their families and support them in local authority accommodation under setion 20 of the 1989 Children Act. The government’s stated justification for implementing section 9 has been disputed. All the evidence implies that improving the scope and quality of voluntary removal schemes, rather than making families destitute, would be a more successful way of encouraging voluntary removal (Cunningham and Tomlinson, 2005). The Home Affairs Select Comittee (HASC) rebuked the Home Office for pushing ahead with such contentious legislation. The HASC questioned the Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, on the proposals on 19th November 2003. Whilst she began by declaring that it was ‘not at all’ the government’s intention to make people destitute, her testimony offered little reassurance. David Winnick, one of the Select Committee’s Labour MPs, asked whether ‘it would be fair to describe the policy as “starve them out”?’ Whilst Hughes denied this when asked whether the government intended to deny families ‘every form of support’ and allow their children to be taken into care, she replied, ‘Yes, that is what we are proposing’ (HASC, 2003: Evidence pp. 8-9).
In short, some of the most vulnerable children in the world are routinely denied basic protection
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