Reflections on Live like an Asylum Seeker

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Last week, two of the Hope English School team took on the challenge to live like an asylum seeker for one week, limiting themselves to £36.95 to live on for that week. They hoped to gain an understanding of what life is like for the thousands of people living on asylum seeker’s allowance in the UK.

How did you prepare for this challenge?

Anna
To prepare I read the info pack and worked out a budget for the week. This required making some significant cut backs and reducing our weekly shop. When all the calculations were done we each had £8 disposable income for the week. 

Sarah
To prepare, I went through all of my expenses for the week and worked out how much of the £36.95 things like food, WIFI, TV licence, would take up. It was incredible how fast it mounted up, and by the time I’d budgeted, I had £11 left for the week.  

Did you have to cut anything out during your week?

Anna
During the week we had to cut out the following: public transport, buying lunches, our cleaner, attending gym classes, buying clothes and toiletries, buying books, language classes and eating out. I was caught particularly off guard during the snow when I was forced to catch a tram instead of walk and blew half my disposable income in a single go! 

Sarah
I was surprised that I didn’t have to in a big way. I think that the most significant thing was having a bike, which meant that I had free travel. Also, because this was just a week and I didn’t have to buy things like toiletries, I was able to make the £11 stretch. What changed was feeling like I couldn’t do small ‘feel-good’ things that I enjoy, like going out for coffee or when I wanted to buy a birthday present for my friend.

What was the most challenging thing?

Anna
The most challenging thing was feeling vulnerable. Without money for public transport I needed to ask friends for lifts to and from places. I also felt embarrassed during social situations because we couldn't afford to cover 'our round'. It made me realise how much I prefer being the 'giver' rather than the 'recipient'. There is a power dynamic at play when we 'give'. We give from a place of strength and it was interesting to be on the other end of that dynamic feeling weak.

Sarah
The most challenging thing was definitely the nagging worry of money running out! It was hard knowing that I had a very limited amount to spend because I knew that if I spent all of it at the beginning of the week and something unexpected came up at the end, I would be stuck!

How has this week changed your perspective on what life is like for asylum seeker’s in the UK?

Anna
It's made me realise just how fragile life is for the vast majority of them. We were fortunate to have friends who helped us out but for newly arrived asylum seekers they may have no-one to turn to, no-one to rely on and no financial cushion should something go wrong! 

Sarah
I think feeling the money pressure has helped me understand, how worry about money can really affect asylum seekers here. Feeling restricted in what you can do, not being able to treat yourself well, even in small ways – that must really get you down! It must be tough, and lonely too.

Has this week challenged any other attitudes or perspectives?

Anna
It's made me question the power dynamics at play when we give and the vulnerability and humility required to receive. As middle class British citizens I think we can sometimes struggle to receive from others when actually putting ourselves in a position to receive can lead to deeper more meaningful relationships. I wonder whether there is a correlation between loneliness/depression and self-sufficiency?

Sarah
I think I’ve realised how lucky I am, and how much I take things for granted. I’m able to buy things when I need – or want – to. I think I can often forget, in my comfortable life, that there are so many people who face massive challenges in their lives day to day.

Having completed this challenge, do you think that we should, as a country, change the way that we treat asylum seekers in the UK?

Anna
Yes. My eyes have been opened to just how difficult life can be on a day to day basis and how the smallest things can make a huge difference like someone buying you a coffee, giving you a bunch of flowers or offering to give you a lift. I'm definitely going to be more mindful of what I can do to help the asylum seekers around me and how I too can honour what they have to give by putting myself in a position to receive from them!

Sarah
Definitely. As well as providing better financial support (how can we think that 51% of job-seeker’s benefit is enough?!) I think we need to give them better support – to help them feel part of our community by letting them work, by providing English lessons, by local people just getting to know them. So many people feel so isolated, and just a friendly face could mean so much!

Thank you to everyone who has supported our Live Like an Asylum Seeker campaign. The money you’ve given will go into a generosity fund towards providing free ESOL classes for destitute asylum seekers.