Token Gestures: The effects of the voucher scheme on asylum seekers and organisations in the UK | Asylum Seeker | Right Of Asylum

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This report is a summary of a more extensive report intended to feed into the current Government review of vouchers and to inform public debate on this issue.
  'Token Gestures - the effects of the voucher scheme on asylum seekers and organisations in the UK' December 2000 Oxfam GB   ' [The voucher system] brings you into sharp contrast with others. You stand in a supermarket queue and while others have money, you have a voucher. It's grotesque. Worse, the government will subsidise Tesco and Sainsbury's. That's not the redistribution I voted for'. Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union ‘Asylum seekers have encountered problems when using these vouchers in shops, for example being told to put “luxury items” back on shelves and receiving discriminatory treatment by shops. Furthermore, shops participating in the new system are not allowed to give change in cash’. UNHCR, (2000), Reception Standards For Asylum Seekers In the European Union ‘The Local Government Association is very concerned about the use of vouchers, which evidence from local authorities with current problems shows can be costly, bureaucratic and stigmatising. There is evidence is that the vouchers are falling into the wrong hands. Those receiving vouchers because of their desperate need for cash will sell vouchers at below the face value to cover items of essential expenditure.’ Evidence to House of Commons Standing Committee “a degrading system” Rt Hon Michael Portillo MP, shadow chancellor, BBC Question Time, 28 th  September 2000 'If the Government is truly committed to reducing inequalities in health, it cannot stand back and watch refugees being marginalised and impoverished. Evidence is beginning to emerge that this is exactly what is happening. The voucher system should be abolished at once, and replaced with cash entitlements for all asylum seekers. The dispersal system should be more in tune with the ability of communities to support new arrivals. And the NHS should be given more resources to improve refugees health and give them a better chance of leading an ordinary life if they are given leave to remain in Britain.' Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Chief Executive, King's Fund “Travel expenses are a lot. I can’t afford clothes. Our school is far away and expensive to get to. The amount we receive is not enough” Kosovan family. From comments of asylum seekers recorded by Barnet Refugee Health Access Project “We think that the voucher system denies refugees some of their basic economic and social rights, and would be demeaning to our own staff if we had agreed to participate in this scheme.” John Morrison, Human Rights Manager, The Body Shop International Plc.  “The amount I get is hardly sufficient to meet our needs. I am diabetic and cannot afford to buy the special food I need. I suffer from arthritis. I need more heating and more warm clothing. I need thermal underwear, but cannot afford it.” Sri Lankan man in his 60s . From comments of asylum seekers recorded by Barnet Refugee Health Access Project  “This voucher system should be scrapped! The issue of refugees babies with no powdered baby milk is a disgrace in a country which has opened its doors supposedly to be humane.” Regional law centre, response to T&G/Oxfam/Refugee Council survey It is our clear view that vouchers are demeaning and stigmatise a vulnerable group in society. Furthermore, they are costly to administer and the economic arguments in favour do not add up. The ‘no-change’ policy is simply offensive and should be dropped immediately.” Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman “We are strongly in favour of abolishing the voucher scheme, or at least making all vouchers exchangeable for cash, so that asylum seekers could buy food in the markets where they are most likely to get the types of food they need at prices they can afford.” Organisation working with detainees, response to T&G/Oxfam/Refugee Council survey “The voucher system has been introduced to humiliate asylum seekers. It is a system which deprives them of basic human needs”. London refugee community organisation, response to T&G/Oxfam/Refugee Council survey   ‘It is unacceptable that asylum seekers, who are among the most vulnerable people in our society, should be forced to shop at specified outlets and then have to calculate their  purchases to the last penny to fit the value of vouchers for which no change can be given. This is humiliating. Being denied cash implies that you cannot be trusted with it. This exposes asylum seekers to prejudice and encourages negative views on asylum seekers. The voucher scheme should be done away with and asylum seekers allowed cash. Just like the rest of us.’ Judith Woodward, co-chair of the Asylum Rights Campaign “I have yet to meet anyone receiving vouchers, or anyone from an organisation working with asylum seekers, who does not believe that vouchers humiliate and stigmatise those who are forced to depend on them.” Neil Gerrard MP, Chair of the All Party Group on Refugees 2    Contents Page Foreword 4 1. Introduction 6 2. Summary of Recommendations 7 3. Summary of findings 9 4. The Home Office review 10 5. The srcins of the voucher scheme 11 6. The case against vouchers 13 7. The survey: the impact of the voucher scheme on asylum seekers 19 8. Towards a fairer asylum service 22  Appendix  : case studies provided by contributing organisations 24 3    Foreword By Bill Morris, General Secretary, Transport and General Workers’ Union   The T&G has been proud to be part of this unique exercise, which has seen over 50 organisations, with particular support from Oxfam GB and the Refugee Council, come together to lend their voice to the campaign for the voucher scheme to be abolished. Our intervention in this issue comes not as a challenge to the government’s right and responsibility to set immigration policy, but out of our commitment to fairness and  justice. This government has made it clear that it wants to build a more inclusive Britain, one that values freedom, justice, fairness and equality. But if we want these rights for ourselves, then surely we should not be denying them to others who come to our shores. Regrettably, the voucher scheme does exactly that: it causes hardship to thousands of adults and children; it has attracted international condemnation for promoting discrimination; it is expensive and bureaucratic to operate; it is an ineffective control mechanism; and it has seriously undermined the government’s genuine attempts to create a fairer asylum service and   build a more just Britain. The Labour Party’s Democracy and Citizenship  report offers a set of conditions for assessing asylum policy and that is the extent to which it has contributed to ã the provision of an adequate standard of living and security of income ã the integration of asylum seekers into the communities in which they live in Britain, building the confidence and maintaining the dignity of individual asylum seekers ã the development of support systems for individuals, following their experiences of persecution and oppression ã the elimination of child poverty It is our view that the voucher policy has failed on every point. The ridicule and criticism that this policy has attracted weighs heavily on Britain’s shoulders and does untold damage to the government’s attempts to build a more fair and just nation. The clamour for change from the union movement, children’s charities, human rights groups, community and church leaders, together with thousands of ordinary people up and down the country, cannot go ignored. Respect, dignity and compassion are the corner stones of a decent society. We must challenge that which undermines these values. And it is on these grounds that we are satisfied that the voucher scheme must be ended. By David Bryer  , Director of Oxfam GB   In recent years growing levels of violence and persecution globally have increasingly caused people to flee their countries of srcin - often at enormous personal risk - to find safety elsewhere. Through its work in over 70 countries (including the UK since 1995) Oxfam is well aware of the often appalling circumstances which most UK asylum seekers have left behind. 4
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