Causes and experiences of poverty among refugees and asylum seekers in the UK

From the mid-1990s onwards, policies and legislation governing the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers have become more restrictionist in the UK. Experiences of poverty among this group have been well documented throughout this period, however, the resulting evidence base remains fragmented. Most qualitative data relates to the experiences of specific groups, for example, child asylum seekers; asylum seeking families; disabled asylum seekers; pregnant asylum seekers and female refugees. Furthermore a large and cumulative body of evidence exists on the experiences of refused asylum seekers. Quantitative data on poverty among asylum seekers and refugees remains scarce.

As part of a series of evidence and policy reviews commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, IRiS and colleagues reviewed evidence exploring the link between poverty and refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, how it has it changed over time and how it compares among the nations of the UK. The research findings will be discussed at a forthcoming workshop on 25th September at the University of Birmingham. To register, please visit:

This contested policy area has been the topic of a number of parliamentary inquiries in recent years (e.g. the 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into the destitution of asylum seeking families), yet to date, strategies to tackle poverty among this group have been limited and partial. Indeed, some scholars have claimed that experiences of poverty, or ‘enforced destitution’, among asylum seekers, and among refused asylum seekers in particular, may be a planned outcome of public policy aimed to ‘disincentivise’ these individuals to remain in the UK and to deter future arrivals.

Whilst recent years have seen the emergence of some innovative initiatives at the local level in the UK, such as the passing of motions by a handful of local councils against policies which are deemed to cause destitution among members of this group, there seems scant evidence that political will to reform the situation has developed. Earlier this year, for example, the UK government chose not to increase asylum support rates in line with incremental increases in the cost of living.

Recognising that asylum seekers and refugees sit at the cross-roads of intersecting policy agendas in the UK and often have a range of complex support needs which correspond to a range of pathways into poverty, this review engage in intersectional analysis of the causes and experiences of poverty in the UK among this population, paying attention to how these impact on different sub-groups within it. Based on these findings, it draw some insights about what should be included in contemporary UK anti-poverty strategies relating to refugees and asylum seekers.


Allsopp, J., Sigona, N. and Phillimore, J. (2014) ‘Poverty among refugees and asylum seekers in the UK: An evidence and policy review’, IRiS Working Paper Series, No. 1/2014. Birmingham: Institute for Research into Superdiversity

JRF (2014) Reducing poverty in the UK: a collection of evidence reviews, York, JRF: pp. 171-175

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