Asylum support and the right to work

A person in the UK has a right to seek asylum and the UK has international law obligations not forcibly to return anyone to a country where they have a genuine fear they might be persecuted.

Since 2002 a person waiting for their asylum claim to be decided has been prohibited from working. As asylum seekers cannot lawfully work, they often have to rely on Government support to live.

The rules on asylum support are constantly changing. Generally, accommodation and basic living costs are provided to asylum seekers waiting for a decision who would otherwise be destitute.

There are also a number of people in the UK whose claim for asylum has been refused yet they have not left the UK - often because there is no practical way for them to return to their home country. In such cases these people (who are still unable to work) will be provided with limited assistance only if it is shown that they are taking reasonable steps to leave the UK, or there is a specific reason why they cannot leave.

However, many people in these circumstances receive no assistance and, denied the lawful means to support themselves, are living in appalling circumstances of destitution - with many being homeless and forced to resort to begging and even prostitution.

In 2005, in a case in which Liberty intervened, the House of Lords found that a policy of denying basic support to those who are put in the position by the Government of being unable to support themselves (by being refused the right to work) could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act.

We believe that everyone in the UK must be treated humanely and should not, through the actions of the State, be left destitute. People whose claim for asylum has failed should not effectively be starved out of the UK. Read more in this Liberty response to a 2010 UKBA consultation on asylum support.

We also believe that people who are waiting for the outcome of an asylum decision, or those whose application has failed but who are unable to return home, should be given the chance to work so that they can support themselves. Liberty supports the Let them Work campaign.