Dawn Primarolo MP's response to constituents regarding EDM 99 and support for Asylum Seekers:
The UK has a proud history of providing asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution and I agree that this must continue. I also appreciate that there are very serious concerns about the effectiveness of our current asylum and immigration system. It is vital that asylum claims are dealt with quickly, fairly and compassionately.
I know that a number of organisations including Amnesty International and Refugee Action have highlighted serious concerns about the level of support currently provided to asylum seekers, which have been frozen since 2011, and the restrictions on asylum seekers working while their case is being considered. Indeed, the High Court held earlier this year that the information used by the Secretary of State to set the rate of asylum support was simply insufficient to reach a rational decision to freeze rates. As a result of this damning judgement the Government was forced into a fresh review of the payment levels which concluded in August that the current levels are sufficient to cover the essential needs of asylum seekers and their families. I know that Refugee Action has said that it is ‘appalled by this decision’ and refused to accept that this is ‘a rational response to the judge’s ruling’.
I believe we need a humane and reasonable immigration and asylum system which does not drive people into poverty. I am pleased, therefore, that a future Labour Government is committed to setting up a transparent and robust review into the way asylum support rates are calculated to ensure people aren't left destitute and the taxpayer isn't unfairly burdened.
Under the previous Labour Government there was a significant reduction in the time taken to process asylum claims and by 2009, 60% of all claims were decided within six months compared with the 22 months it took for asylum claims to reach even an initial decision in 1997. However, under the current Government, asylum seekers sometimes wait years for a decision and delays are increasing – this leaves genuine refugees in limbo and makes it harder to send failed cases home.
With regard to EDM 99, as you may know, I was elected Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons in 2010 and Parliamentary Convention means Deputy Speakers, like Ministers, do not sign EDMs. Although EDMs can be a useful tool for highlighting matters of concern, they are rarely debated in the House of Commons, and are not responded to as a matter of course by the Government. Their main purpose is as a means for MPs to make their opinions public. Instead of signing EDM 99, I have written to raise this matter directly with the Home Secretary on your behalf and would be happy to let you know when I have received a response.
Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views. I can assure you that I will work with my Labour colleagues to press the Government to ensure that changes are made to make the asylum system more effective.
Please do not hesitate to contact me again if I can be of further help with this or any other matter.