Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/843/20091
The Azure Card: isolation and stigmatisation of asylum seekers
The 'Azure Card' is given to asylum seekers who are under Section 4 - awaiting a result on their claim for asylum. Asylum seekers live on a measly £36.62 a week and the card limits where you can go to for food and other essentials.
They do not have access to other benefits and are not legally allowed to work. The voucher scheme was first used in England in 1999 and is currently frozen so that its value is being eroded by inflation.
Mark Gawthorpe is a volunteer with Refugee Action, a charity which offers support to asylum seekers. He reports that welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith was considering extending the use of the Azure Card to people with gambling, drug or alcohol problems, so that they can only spend money on 'essentials'. This further stigmatises vulnerable people and will exacerbate mental health issues.
Mark said: "People with dependency issues and drink or drug problems could unite with asylum seekers to stop this campaign of stigmatisation.
"There is a connection, sympathy and similarity between members of these communities, both are alienated and disenfranchised. If you have plenty of money, you are welcomed into the country on what is called an 'entrepreneurial visa', yet vulnerable people, who have gone through horrific experiences, are being targeted".
Mark thinks that this could be the thin end of the wedge, and the scheme could be extended to cover benefits in general, such is the extent of scapegoating of benefit claimants in the mass media.
At a support meeting in Leicester, I heard first-hand accounts from people struggling to live on the card: "Not having cash means that you cannot shop in charity shops or the market, which would be cheaper. I can only use Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Sainsburys for food".
"I have been an asylum seeker for three years, living in a pub and destitute. Maybe your nearest supermarket is far away, or you may be old, disabled or sick - you still have to walk to the supermarket and back."
"It makes you feel like a criminal, people in the queue stare at you".
"I can't save any money from week to week - if you do not use all the money up within a week, it disappears. It makes you a prisoner - you have no choice about where to shop or what to spend your money on. You cannot save up to give someone a gift, or to celebrate. You need to rely on other people to exchange the card for cash - this makes you vulnerable to exploitation".
At the meeting it was felt that a successful campaign to abolish the Azure Card might be like fixing a small cog in a big wheel - but it would be an important start and give people confidence that they can win victories.
The private company Sodexho profits from the Azure Card system. The Mirror ran a story showing the money made from asylum seekers by the 'big four' supermarkets - Tesco £20.6 million, Asda £11.3 million, Sainsbury £5.9 million, Morrisons £2.4 million. "Shops are inconsistent - they may take a card one week and not the next".
This stigmatisation of marginalised groups is part of capitalism. It is a deliberate strategy, to isolate and atomise working-class and poor people. Mainstream politicians, of all parties, argue that cuts are inevitable and we have no choice but to accept austerity.
Yet the people of Greece and Ireland have shown that there is an alternative to division and scapegoating, by rising up en masse against debt and water charges.
We need to do the same here, and also build a political voice for those who have no party to speak for them. The Socialist Party campaigns as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which is in the process of building a new political voice for the oppressed.
"Years of uncertainty and worry" - Heartbreak of Con-Dems' immigration laws
Becky and Jamie Davis
We are an American/British couple who married in 2012, applying for our spousal visa weeks before Home Secretary Theresa May imposed strict new financial requirements in July that year. I have fortunately just had my Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK approved after two years of uncertainty and worry.
It is a common misapprehension that marriage guarantees permission from the state to live in the UK. While citizens of EU states can enter freely with their spouses and families and settle in the UK, for non-EU migrants the process is far more lengthy, expensive and uncertain - in many cases heartbreakingly so.
First I had to apply from the US to enter the UK to marry with a fiancé visa. Cost - £601. There is no guarantee that it will be approved and you can be denied virtually arbitrarily, no refunds. This is true at every stage of the settlement process.
We had to extensively prove our relationship, prove that my fiancé could support me and that he had space for me to live with him. You can neither work nor have access to public funds while you are under this visa.
Once married we then had to apply for my spousal Further Leave to Remain (FLR) visa which took nine months to arrive. I was still not allowed to work or volunteer this entire time. Cost - another £601.
Then, after two years of marriage (five, under the new Home Office rules) and a pass qualification in the "Life in the UK" test, we had to apply for my Indefinite Leave to Remain, which allows some access to public funds. Cost - £1,093.
By post the wait can be five to eight months. If you pay an extra £400 you can have an appointment at a 'Premium Service Centre' and receive a same-day decision. If you pay £6,000 a mobile case worker will come to your home - you get the picture!
Under the tough new immigration rules British citizens must now make at least £18,600 a year if they want their non-EU spouse to live with them. If you have a child born outside Europe and want them to settle with you the threshold is £22,400 and an additional £2,400 for each additional child. Or you must have £62,500 in savings. The migrant's income is not taken into consideration.
By the government's own estimate, around 18,000 UK families a year will be prevented from living together by these harsh new rules. Many cases have hit the headlines of the national press. A petition for one such case can be signed at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/theresa-may-don-t-force-me-to-give-birth-without-my-husband
A Home Office spokesperson said: "Our family changes were brought in to make sure that spouses coming to live in the UK would not become reliant on the taxpayer for financial support and would be able to integrate effectively." Apparently it would seem you "integrate" more "effectively" the higher your bank balance!
The poor have had to fight attacks on jobs, attacks on pay, and attacks on welfare. Now it seems we even face attacks on love.
In The Socialist 11 February 2015:
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