Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence



  Where is Maria sleeping tonight? Who knows? Together with her mother and little sister she is probably camping on someone's sitting room floor.

  Maria was ten when she came to England. Her mother arrived in the UK from Ecuador, seeking political asylum. She was heavily pregnant. Initially mother and baby received support from the local authority and the Benefits Agency. Maria was able to join her mother eight months later.

  After living in London for a year the family's application for asylum was refused. They appealed against the decision. This meant that any state benefits they received were immediately stopped and they were evicted from council housing. They received some financial support from social services but this was 30% less than normal benefits. The only place they could find to live was insecure temporary accommodation owned by a private landlord.

  Two years later their appeal had still not been heard. The landlord changed and the family were evicted from their accommodation. Maria and her family were one of the first to be affected by new regulations to "disperse" asylum seeking families to different local authorities around the country. But Maria's mother did not want to move. She said that everyone she knew was in London and with so much uncertainty in their lives the family wanted to hold on to the only emotional support they had. Because they refused to move they were told that they were not entitled to any more financial support. For three months they slept on people's floors, surviving on what their hosts gave them.

  When the family approached a Barnardo's project for families in temporary accommodation they were destitute and distressed.

  At the meeting with the asylum team Maria's mother was told the only option was for the family to be "dispersed" to an area outside London. When she refused, she was told that there would be no more help. The family left the social services office and have not been seen again. No one knows where they are living or how they are supporting themselves. Or what risks and hardships they endure. What makes a mother so frightened of moving to a strange place or being deported that she prefers to risk her children's health on the streets or in make-shift accommodation?

  Without living her experiences nobody can begin to guess.

Risks for the future

  The family has no source of income and no accommodation. Maria and her mother are at risk of being exploited, perhaps through prostitution, or turning to crime. Maria is unlikely to be able to continue her education.

  Failure to invest has cost £31,868 so far. Early and timely support for Maria and her mother would have cost £3,945 and prevented such social exclusion.

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Prepared 22 January 2004