No Refuge From Benefit Sanctions

With “welfare reforms” linked to increasing use of foodbanks and hunger, refugee benefit claimants face the threat of destitution, some for the second time in the UK.


Rolled Out

Migrant rights groups have long pointed to the use of destitution against people seeking asylum as a deliberate tool of government policy. Refugee Action is currently taking the UK Government to court over the issue. Now the policy appears to have been “rolled out” for use against all claimants of benefits, though it seems that refugees are suffering disproportionately


Recent figures show that an unprecedented 897,690 benefit sanctions (benefit stopped completely for between 4 weeks and 3 years) were used against all benefit claimants in the year up to September 2013. The figures also showed that there were twice as many benefit sanctions as job outcomes on the payment-by-results Work Programme for long term unemployed people.

Stuart Crosthwaite of SYMAAG argues how refugee benefit claimants are more likely to have benefit sanctions used against them…

This article first appeared on the Boycott Workfare site at in November 2013. SYMAAG members attended the Boycott Workfare national gathering in February 2014 to highlight the particular problems facing refugees who claim benefits.


No Refuge From Sanctions

If your aim is to reach targets for numbers of people sanctioned then you’ll pick on the easiest targets. Understanding the language of Job Centre Plus (JCP) is hard enough if you speak good English but if you don’t, you’re in trouble. Evidence from South Yorkshire shows that refugees claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) are being disproportionately sanctioned by JCP.


“Most of them get sanctioned at some point” a refugee support worker told me. From interviews with refugees I estimate that at least 50% of refugees on JSA are sanctioned. For women, particularly older women, the figure is higher still.


Why and how are refugees particularly vulnerable to being sanctioned by Job Centre Plus?


  • For most refugees English isn’t their first language. Many are sanctioned for not demonstrating jobsearch activities, verbally and/or via jobsearch records. Some JCP staff accept that other people help with completing forms – I saw one Job Seekers Agreement which explicitly recognised this, although the person who helps record jobsearches is often not allowed to accompany the claimant at interviews. Other people receive sanctions when they explain that they have had help filling in “Looking for Work” books.


  • Interpreters are supposed to be “always available” to those who need them according to JCP, though refugees are rarely told that they can request one. Some refugees told me that JCP staff have lied, claiming that an interpreter was present when important forms like the Job Seekers Agreement were signed. Others complained that interpreters were of poor quality, though understanding the difference between “mandatory” and “compulsory” isn’t easy for anyone.


  • Low quality English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision. Refugees have been sanctioned for not attending JCP-recommended ESOL courses (run by A4e etc), complaining that they are of lower quality compared to community-based, non-commercial ones.


Language problems also make appeals against sanctions and applications for hardship payments more difficult. Support workers frequently had to go back to JCP with refugees to find out the reasons given for sanctions so that an appeal could be made. A lack of familiarity with “the system” and fewer support networks meant it was less likely that sanctioned refugees would seek support in appealing. They were more likely to lose housing benefit when sanctioned, not knowing they had to tell the local authority about the change in their circumstances.


Cultural differences often made sanctions more likely and appeals more difficult: most refugees come from countries where there is no official welfare system. For many, particularly men, there is a social stigma attached to claiming benefit. So when problems arose through sanctions they were less likely to discuss it and therefore be able to receive support.


It’s worth remembering that those refugees on benefits have struggled to achieve refugee status, often after years of having their asylum claim dealt with by another bureaucratic and cruel organisation: the Home Office/UK Border Agency.


It’s important to recognise that many of the measures which are now used to punish unemployed people were tested on those people seeking asylum during the last decade: enforced destitution as an “incentive” and the payment of some benefits with non-cash vouchers redeemable only in certain shops to be spent on certain items. People seeking asylum are not allowed to work while their claim is determined. In 2007 the government abandoned attempts to force them to “volunteer” after widespread protest and boycotting.


Case studies (anonymous by request)


Ahmed from Iraq speaks little English: his Jobseekers Agreement requires him to apply for jobs “using body language”! When sanctioned for failing to verbally explain what he’d done to find work he applied (with help) for hardship payments. He was assessed as “non-vulnerable” and received no payment for 3 weeks. Soon after he was hospitalised with TB, assessed as unfit for work and now receives Employment Support  Allowance


Aida from Somalia was sanctioned for 4 weeks after she insisted that she wanted to do “any kind of work”. Her Job Centre advisor (without the use of an interpreter) told her that she had to specify particular “job goals” on her Jobseekers Agreement.


Louis from Cameroon has a prosthetic leg and speaks virtually no English. His Job Seekers Agreement requires him to visit packing/food preparation factories in person to find work. He was sanctioned for 4 weeks for not being able to explain the steps he took to find work despite having completed his jobsearch record in compliance with his Jobseekers Agreement. His Job Centre advisor claims that a competent interpreter was used at all times but Louis says he did not understand the French translation.



Have you been subjected to a benefit sanction?  Appeal!

87% of appeals against sanctions are successful but only 2% of those sanctioned currently appeal.




malcolm x newspapers


November 8th National Day of Action – Stop Barnardo’s Detaining Children

Thursday 8th November – Any Time – Any Barnardo’s Shop/Office
As Medical Justice put it: “they ruined the campaign to end the detention of children, which campaigners felt could be achievable as the government had already promised it.”
Along with notorious security firm G4S, children’s charity Barnardo’s runs the Cedars family detention centre in Sussex. This is where several asylum seeker families from Glasgow have been detained since it opened last year.
UNITY and other campaiginers will be leafleting outside the Barnardo’s shops in Glasgow at 250 Great Western Road G4 9EJ  and at 116 Dumbarton Road G11 6NY from 11.00am on Thursday 8th November.
Following a series of documented assaults on migrant families held in Cedars, the appalling treatment of the Saleh family, and the damning HM Inspector of Prison‘s report last month.

Anti-detention campaigners are calling on all concerned groups and individuals to join up in an intensive day of action to ratchet up the campaign against Barnardo’s involvement in child detention.


A 27 weeks pregnant woman who was brutally restrained by guards at Cedars was living in Glasgow before being detained with her husband and small son in a raid on her home in April this year which Unity publicised.
Barnardo’s does not really have the welfare of children at heart. If it did, it would have pulled out of Cedars as soon as its own red lines’ had begun to be breached. The reality is that these conditions relating to the use of force against minors and the length of detention at Cedars have been repeatedly broken, and Barnardo’s continued involvement in Cedars is only serving to legitimise the continued use of child detention.
As Medical Justice put it: “they ruined the campaign to end the detention of children, which campaigners felt could be achievable as the government had already promised it.”
Our aim is to put enough pressure on Barnardo’s to pull out of Cedars. We believe this will strip away any legitimacy for the continued use of child detention and take us closer to stopping it for real. We see the fight against child detention as one part of the struggle against the brutal system of immigration detention as a whole.
Suggestions For Action:
There are various simple ways through which you can take action and help stop child detention: if you can’t pay Barnardo’s a visit on the day, you can still phone, tweet or email them and their supporters. Do something!
1. Phone blockade. Call Barnardo’s and ask why they are continuing to work at Cedars despite the repeated breaches of their own Red lines. Remember, senior staff at Barnardo’s never have to hear from the families held at and deported from Cedars. Your phone calls and messages are a chance to put across some hard truths about Cedars.
– Barnardo’s head office: 0208 550 8822
– Press office:  020 8498 7555 (24 hours) – Media and communications managers:  0208 498 7685 or 0113 393 3245 – Corporate partnerships/fundraising: 0208 498 7138
– Commissioning their services as consultants: 0208 498 7734
– Supporter care/telephone donation line: 0800 008 7005
If you would like to protect your anonymity (if you don’t want a call back from Barnardo’s, for example), dial 141 before entering the number.
2. Tweet. If you have a Twitter account, why not tweet these celebrity endorsers of Barnardo’s (see Barnardo’s website for details of their support for the charity). Ask them, politely, if they are aware of Barnardo’s role in Cedars, and whether they might reconsider supporting them.
Actor and author Stephen Fry: @stephenfry
Actress Fay Ripley: @FayRipley Actress Michelle Collins: @missmcollins Actress Amanda Holden: @Amanda_Holden Taekwondo Olympic bronze medallist Lutalo Muhammad: @LutaloMuhammad Rugby player James Haskell: @jameshaskell
3. Leaflet Barnardo’s charity shops. Most Barnardo’s shop volunteers and customers probably don’t know what Barnardo’s is involved with. You can let them know about Cedars and what goes on inside.
UNITY and other campaiginers will be leafletting outside the Barnardos shops in Glasgow at 250 Great Western Road and at 116 Dumbarton Road from 11.00am.
4. Pay a visit to Barnardo’s offices. For a list of all Barnardo’s addresses, see this page.

The UNITY Centre 30 Ibrox Street Glasgow G51 1AQ 0141 427 7992

“United By Love, Divided By Theresa May” public meeting. Report and campaign proposals to follow soon…

Public meeting to discuss what the new family migration rules mean and how we oppose them.

When: Tuesday 25th September 7pm

Where: Quaker Meeting House, 10 James Street, Sheffield S1 2EW

Speakers from Migrant Rights Network, SYMAAG and from the Sheffield Yemeni Community Association.


This meeting is being held because major changes in family immigration rules came intoforce on 9 July . These rules mean that

Only people who earn at least £18,600 per year can bring their spouses to join them in the UK – and this increases to £22,400 for a child, and £2,400 for each additional child

Spouses of UK citizens must now wait 5 years before they can apply for indefinite leave to remain – and during this time, they can’t receive benefits

Spouses of UK citizens will have to pass an intermediate English test AND the Life in the UK test in order to settle in the UK

It is much easier to deport the parent of a British child, even if this means a permanent separation

for more information see Migrants Rights Network and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants websites

You can download a flyer for the meeting here dividedbyteresamayflyer (2)

Next SYMAAG meetings:12th & 30th July

  •  The SYMAAG “No to G4S” working group next meets on Thursday 12th July, 6.30pm at Scotia Works

    Saying No to G4S and No to Serco in Glasgow June 16th


  • The next full SYMAAG meeting is on Monday 30th July, 6.30pm, again at Scotia Works


We meet at Scota Works, Leadmill Road, Sheffield S1 4SE (5 minutes walk from bus and train stations) at 6.30pm.

We can help with travel costs if you need us to (just bring your ticket to the meeting)