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Saturday, February 25, 2017
Housing charity welcomes changes to asylum laws
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¬†CHAS, the Catholic Housing Aid Society, announced yesterday that they are delighted that the government has decided to scrap the voucher system for asylum seekers. The agency has been campaigning for the vouchers to be abolished and replaced with cash payments, since they were introduced in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The vouchers have been widely criticised for stigmatising asylum seekers and further penalising an already extremely vulnerable group. Under the new laws, they will be initially increased in value, and then superseded, before autumn 2002, by a smart card system - details of which are yet to be announced. The current dispersal arrangements will also be changed, so that asylum seekers are sent to language 'cluster areas' and receive better support. Another positive move is that asylum seekers will, from January 2002, no longer be detained in prisons. Welcoming the news, CHAS Director, Robina Rafferty said: "We are delighted that the Government has at last acted on the evidence of all those who have any contact with asylum-seekers, that vouchers are dehumanising. Vulnerable people who have suffered persecution should not be singled out in by their lack of cash, or forced to travel to the only shop in the area that accepts vouchers, regardless of whether it sells the food they want to eat. Vouchers are incompatible with the dignity that is due to every human person. Whatever replaces them must be carefully thought through, to eliminate all elements of stigmatising." A spokeswoman said the agency would continue to press for increased resources to be directed to the provision of support services for asylum seekers, and for the proposed 'accommodation centres' to genuinely meet these needs. She said: "As a housing charity, CHAS will continue particularly to raise the issue of standards of housing granted to asylum seekers and refugees, which is at present often disgracefully unfit and unsuitable. "The mandate for Christians to care for the stranger and the foreigner is clear throughout Scripture (Exodus 22: 21, Leviticus 19:33-34, Matthew 25:35-40). Asylum seekers should especially arouse our compassion, as they are often traumatised and in some cases recovering from torture." Under the current arrangements, an adult asylum seeker with no dependants is given a weekly £10 voucher redeemable for cash and £25 in vouchers to pay for the rest of their food and clothing. This amounts to only around 70% of the value of Income Support. The vouchers can only be used in specified supermarkets, often a long distance from refugees' lodgings. They must be spent in one go and change may not be given. There is evidence of asylum seekers being abused as their use of vouchers makes them an easily identifiable target.
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