Asylum Seekers and Permission to Work

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:02 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 4:02 pm, 18th November 2020

I think that there is cross-party support for this, and I will come back to the subject of the broader public.

Before I leave the subject of occupations, the Government’s list of approved proficiencies includes classical ballet dancer or skilled orchestral musician—so those are okay, but for other professions, where we desperately need people, people are being delayed in getting into those jobs. I hope the Minister will commit to overhaul the shortage occupation list system; he will have public support for that. British Future found that 71% of the British public supports the right to work after six months—public opinion will be on the Government’s side should they introduce the policy.

I want to talk about the situation in Southwark. We have 189 dispersed asylum seekers housed across the borough, and the council has a commitment in its refreshed plan to making Southwark a borough of sanctuary, working with community groups and partners to help and support refugee and migrant asylum seekers in the borough, and campaigning to end the hostile environment, which the Government told us they wanted to end. They told us they were dismantling the hostile environment, and yet here it is alive and kicking and damaging people’s lives, leaving people destitute.

I want to celebrate the work of the Southwark day centre for asylum seekers, which does a tremendous job and has very strong links to this House; Ms Harman and Helen Hayes are both patrons of it. People from the centre tell me that the majority of the people they see do not have the right to work and are dependent on charities and faith groups. Churches and mosques are picking up the slack because we have an irresponsible Government leaving people without support. Some of the people they are supporting are not even covered by the asylum support scheme and live beyond destitution. They have confirmed that 40% of the asylum seekers they are helping wait longer than 12 months for a decision—40% of the people they see. I see these people in my casework and surgery sessions—not face-to-face at the moment, although I do make exceptions, so if anyone does need to see me, we can do in a covid-secure way in my constituency office.