Twenty Church leaders have written to Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to call for an end to the Government’s hostile environment immigration policy because “it is inhumane to use destitution, or the threat of destitution, as a policy tool to encourage people to leave the country.”
As we outline in our report, the hostile environment deliberately uses destitution to encourage those without the legal right to be in the UK to leave.
Despite the intentions of the policy, there has been no increase in voluntary departures from the UK since the hostile environment was rolled out in 2012. Instead, it has simply increased levels of suffering and destitution. This is the case for Zaza, for whom asylum was refused but whose country of origin – Turkey – is too dangerous for him to return to. Zaza cannot leave so instead he is forced to remain in the UK without the right to work, rent, open a bank account or receive any help from the state. He is even denied free access to the NHS.
As a Christian, as a human, I find it shocking that destitution might ever become a legitimate policy tool, yet the hostile environment is not the only area where we see this being used.
Look at our benefit system. Sanctions deliberately punish people by taking away their benefits. As Universal Credit is rolled out across the country, sanctions are a threat becoming ever more widespread. Universal Credit has the highest rate of sanctions of any UK benefit.
We have heard countless stories of people going hungry because of their benefits being removed by sanction. The DWP maintains that this deprivation – often leading to destitution – is an appropriate way to ensure people obey the instructions of the Jobcentre.
Why? Because the DWP’s focus is not whether families are going hungry. Rather it is ensuring that people comply with the demands of the Jobcentre in the belief that this will move them into work.
Both here and in the policies of the hostile environment we see a worrying trend moving away from the state as a backstop, upholding the welfare of all, and towards the state’s machinery being used to enforce behaviour change by means of deprivation.
Deprivation may be an abstract term to those who are writing it into policy, but for those living with the realities of it, it is the grind of finding ways to survive each day without enough.
When we asked Zaza about this reality he told us that “destitution kills you”.
In God’s house there are many rooms, there is abundance, and how I wish that our world were in a state where we could call for abundance for all. One day, I pray that we might be calling for abundance. For now, I would just like to see the 2000 foodbanks in the UK close due to lack of demand. For everyone to have enough.
Enough for those families working full-time on minimum wage who are still falling short of enough. Enough for those migrants living on sofas and streets and in substandard accommodation. Enough for those families for whom their welfare payments are late or mispaid or insufficient.
Join me as we pray and act for enough: