I struggle to live off just £40.85 a week as an asylum seeker in the UK
It’s a long walk to the supermarket for me.
I’d get the bus, but it would cost nearly £5 there and back. I simply can’t afford that – especially because the cost of food is rising, too.
I have to budget everything down to the last penny because I am seeking asylum in the UK and while I wait for a decision on my case, I’m not allowed to work.
That means I have to live off just £40.85 per week in benefits. This has to cover my food, travel, toiletries, clothes and phone data so I can call my family and attend online classes to improve my English and IT skills.
So I just have to suffer with shoulder and back pain from carrying my shopping on the long walk home.
This is the stark reality for asylum seekers like me right now.
I arrived in the UK from India in 2016.
When I first came to Yorkshire, it was a traumatic time for me and my mental health was not good.
I didn’t feel safe outside because there was too much going on and I wasn’t used to that compared to where I came from, so I isolated myself and didn’t go out.
For the first two years, all I did was attend my weekly meetings with the Home Office and go to the library. That was my whole life.
Eventually, my doctor gave me a social prescription and I joined the local City of Sanctuary refugee support group. Little by little, I made some friends. That changed everything.
I started exploring the city and I even commenced my English GCSE, which was so fantastic. It felt like I was restarting my life and that possibilities were opening up.
I am safe now I am in the UK, but am I really living?
My plan was to study computer science because working with computers would be a dream. But then the following year, in 2019, the Home Office changed the rules and said I wasn’t allowed to study. It was devastating.
The doors that had opened up a crack were slammed shut again.
I didn’t give up. Instead of studying, I started writing and being creative – including drawing, painting and acting. I also rediscovered my love for singing and joined three different choirs.
Keeping busy helps me avoid negative thoughts. Being creative helps me to feel free.
But this year, I’ve noticed the rising cost of living is having a detrimental effect on me.
Of my £40.85 per week, I keep £10 aside for travel (to GP appointments, Home Office appointments or choir rehearsal), £5 to top up my phone and £5 for things like soap, sanitary pads or any emergencies. That leaves around £20 for my food for the week – that’s £2.85 per day.
When my money is this tight, I am constantly planning and budgeting. I always ask myself, what can I do without?
But everything is just so expensive now.
Milk and oil have doubled in price for me. Food that reminds me of home has also gone up – okra is now £8 per kilogram. In fact, all vegetables seem to cost more, and I don’t buy fruit anymore.
I used to buy big bags of lentils and chapati flour, but I can’t afford to now. I’m just cutting everything back.
I mostly eat potatoes and lentils, then sometimes when I have the money, I will buy eggs. I’ll then make an egg and potato curry, which will last me half the week.
I have noticed that the variety and colour has been stripped from my plate. Little by little, there is less veg, less fruit, and never any meat or fish.
I don’t want the Government to forget about people like me who are seeking asylum
I haven’t gone hungry yet, but I do really worry.
It’s the little things that would throw my whole budget off. If I need to buy some new undergarments or some warmer clothes for winter, how would I then make ends meet?
How will I keep busy if I can’t take the bus to my regular groups? How will I get around the city when I don’t have a proper winter coat? I am scared that the little freedom I have will be taken away.
If I am honest, I don’t know what to think of my future. I have no idea what I will do.
I don’t know what will happen. I can’t work, I can’t study. My future is blank.
When I let myself hope about what life could be like if I was able to work, I think perhaps I could start a little business cooking food that reminds me of home; things like curries, dal and chapatis. I would cook all the dishes that I love – the dishes that I can’t cook now.
There’d be rich meat curries filled with aubergines and whole spices served with buttery rice. I’d make homemade pickles and chutneys. Until then, those will be the dishes I think about when I’m trying to fall asleep.
I know the cost of living crisis is affecting everyone, but I don’t want the Government to forget about people like me who are seeking asylum.
I truly have no idea when I’ll have a decision on my asylum case – the system doesn’t give estimates on how long it will take.
I am safe now I am in the UK, but am I really living? Surviving on £40.85 a week isn’t a life.
Let me work, let me study, but until then, let me live.
*The name of the author has been changed.
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