Tackling child poverty - progress report 2023-2024: annex B - focus report on other marginalised groups at risk of poverty

A focus report looking at other marginalised groups at risk of poverty. It provides an evidence review on barriers across the three drivers of poverty and available evidence on what works.

Families seeking asylum and refugees

People seeking asylum is the term used to describe people who arrive in the UK from another country and ask for asylum. To be eligible, they must have left their country and be unable to go back because they fear persecution. Until they receive a decision as to whether they are a refugee, they are known as an asylum seeker.

Asylum is a matter reserved to the UK Government. This means that the Scottish Government cannot make laws which affect these matters. However, many of the services which are essential to supporting people seeking asylum and refugees are the responsibility of the Scottish Government and local authorities. This includes health, education, legal services, and housing. It is in this space that the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy was developed. The vision is for a welcoming Scotland where refugees and people seeking asylum can rebuild their lives from the day the arrive.

This section presents available information on Scotland but draws on other UK or international evidence for a rounder understanding of experiences.

Figure 6: Visual summary of barriers and what works for asylum seekers/refugees
Info graphic

Graphic text below:

What barriers do they face?

Income from employment

  • Right to work only once refugee status granted
  • Equivalence of foreign qualifications in the UK not straight forward, Highly experienced refugees may not be able to work in their expert field, instead having to do lower paid jobs

Cost of living

  • Requirement to get basic needs met as many people arrive with very little
  • Housing, food, fuel and transport as basic needs to be covered first – but limited support available

Inform from social security and benefits in-kind

  • Asylum seekers have no recourse to public funds
  • Support required to understand and navigate the social security system

What works?

  • A clear strategic ambition with a warm and opening attitude towards asylum seekers and refugees
  • Strong collaboration with and within local authorities

Who are they?

It is not possible to accurately estimate the number of asylum seekers who live in Scotland, but it is estimated to be around 5,000.[114] There is no information on the characteristics of those arriving in Scotland. However, across the UK as a whole it is estimated that around a fifth (19%) of people seeking asylum in the UK in the year ending June 2023 were children (aged 17 and under). Overall, 7% were children who had arrived in the UK alone without a parent or guardian.[115]

What barriers and challenges do people seeking asylum and refugees experience in relation to child poverty?

The barriers described below will be deeper and harder to overcome for those still pending a response to their asylum application. In some cases, people seeking asylum and refugees will also have to deal with societal judgement and institutional racism.[116]

Challenges faced when aiming to increase income through employment

People arriving in the UK claiming asylum are not allowed to work or seek employment until refugee status is granted - or specific permission to work has been given under Paragraph 360 or 360C of the Immigration rules.[117]

Even when granted refugee status and therefore the ability to work in the UK, there may be limits to the sources of income they can access. This is because not all degrees / qualifications are accepted in the UK. For many, this means that in practice they need to undertake work below their own knowledge and capabilities or in a field that does not compliment their skills and expertise.

An international study across 10 countries from the World Bank Group found that refugees in countries with more liberal refugee policy regimes have better socio-economic outcomes. For example, countries that allow access to the labour market and free movement see higher refugee employment rates. Refugee children in countries with more generous educational rights for refugees are also more likely to be in school.[118]

Recent analysis suggests that granting the right to work to people seeking asylum in Scotland would add £30m per year on average to the Scottish economy if granted immediately on arrival, or £16m per year if granted after a six-month waiting period. However, findings also recognise various challenges to successful employment. The full benefits of a right to work policy may only be realised if it is supported by a wider infrastructure of adequate reception and settlement and integration services, including housing, the timely processing of asylum claims, and adequate welfare support to protect against poverty and destitution.[114]

When supporting people to increase their income through employment, careful consideration of people’s circumstances is required. In Scotland specifically, refugees reported how frontline advisers constantly emphasised to them the need to search for, and secure, paid employment.[26] They mentioned how the appointments in the Jobcentre focussed on searching for jobs without considering their particular circumstances as refugees including previous qualifications, knowledge and experience. As a result, some perceived job search activities as mandatory conditions for eligibility of certain benefits.

Challenges faced when aiming to increase income through social security

While people seeking asylum wait to obtain refugee status, they have no recourse to public funds. They will have access to basic health needs and a right for their children to be in education. However, social security support is highly restricted.[119], [120] This is true across the UK, including Scotland.

Research in Scotland demonstrates the crucial need for a key worker to help people navigate and understand the system for the first time as there will be a wide variety of basic needs to be covered.[26] Some administrative processes can be particularly complex, such as registering at a GP practice, finding an NHS dentist, or opening a bank account.

A recent study concluded that the system appears to be geared towards Scottish people. It states that the universalist orientation of Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) can make migrant children and families invisible as their specific needs and circumstances were not adequately considered.[121] To counteract this, sufficient resources need to be in place, both in money and capacity to improve staff knowledge on migration issues, ensure that services support cultural understanding, and make sure that this is reflected in everyday practice.[121]

Challenges faced when aiming to reduce their cost of living

Many people arriving in Scotland seeking asylum need urgent support to get their basic needs met. This includes, amongst other things, housing, food, and clothing. Not all asylum seekers receive immediate asylum support, though the proportion who do appears to be increasing over time.[122] At a UK level, of the 11,450 individuals in receipt of asylum support at the end of June 2023, 43% were in hotel accommodation, 53% were in other accommodation and 4% were in receipt of subsistence support only.[123]

Families seeking asylum or those already granted refugee status will in many cases face multiple challenges. For example, those with no access to official accommodation will face the barriers described in the Homeless chapter. Under Section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 local authorities are obliged to provide unaccompanied children with accommodation and safeguarding. From this point onwards they become looked after children. The barriers highlighted in the care experienced chapter will be heightened for these children.

International research shows how vulnerable groups, including people seeking asylum and refugees, have been the most negatively affected by disruption to food systems, such as lockdowns. This is due to loss of employment and income. Social protection has a key role to play in times of health and economic shocks.[124]

There are some supports asylum seekers and refugee parents can access for their children, including free education and healthcare. Children are also entitled to free school lunches, milk, breakfast and fruit (if the local authority provides it), school meals during the holidays, and clothing grants (if the local authority provides it). Very little is known about how children from families seeking asylum or refugees experience the educational system.

What do we know works to support asylum seekers and refugees?

Having a clear strategic ambition for the Government. A strong and clear political stand from Government illustrating an opening and warming attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers can set the tone and foster activity at national and local level. Indeed, an evaluation of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy shows that the Strategy has had a positive impact overall. The strategy was warmly welcomed by stakeholders and there has been positive progress towards the four specific outcomes. However, measuring impact of the strategy has been difficult. Many stakeholders wondered whether the positive outcomes achieved would have happened anyway.[116]

Strong collaboration with and within local authorities. Research looking into the key role that local authorities play found that over the past 8 years there has been a transformation with local authorities adapting rapidly to delivering various resettlement programmes (the Syrian and Ukrainian schemes cited as examples).[125] The research identified key factors for a successful integration of refuges/asylum seekers. Successful integration needed to support people across the following areas:

  • Language support. Having a key focus on ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) support.
  • Ability to raise own income through employability training and advice on how to use own skills/degrees/qualifications if possible.
  • Basic needs including accommodation, welfare and housing advice, support in registration with GPs and dentists, access to travel and connections with the community.


Email: TCPU@gov.scot

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