‘I lived on £39.63 asylum seeker allowance for a week – here’s what I learned’


Aida Fofana reveals the realities of living on a tight budget of just £39.63 per week, the same that those awaiting their asylum claim are forced to make do with

Aida Fofana
Aida Fofana reveals the realities of living on a budget of just £39.63 per week

Living on a tight budget is a reality for millions of Brits.

But for the 62,651 individuals in the UK awaiting their asylum claim, £39.63 is the lifeline they are given to survive on, writes Birmingham Live reporter Aida Fofana.

When people arrive in the UK and apply for asylum, they are banned from working while they await a decision on their claim.

Those that have access to savings must rely on them but the large majority who are destitute as they’ve fled danger are entitled to a £39.63 per person per week allowance.

This works out as £5.66 a day and is expected to cover food, transport, clothing and toiletries but excludes the cost of housing and utilities.

The weekly allowance also covers data and phone credit to keep in contact with loved ones, toys for children, school uniforms and other day-to-day expenses.

A toiletry shop that cost more than expected
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Image:

Aida Fofana)

So how is it possible to live on a small amount? I decided to live on £39.63 for one week to try and highlight the reality of many asylum seekers living in Birmingham.

Beginning on a Monday, could I make it to the following Monday, covering my various expenses, for less than £40?

The biggest outgoing was on food and as a self-proclaimed foodie, it was hard to exercise self-control especially when I spotted Christmas treats. But that’s the reality. We’ve all been guilty of picking up more at the shops when we only wanted a pint of green top milk (or oat milk for us non-dairy drinkers).

According to the Office of National Statistics 2020 Family spending review, the average family weekly shop totals up to £63.70 and a food shop for one is £26.50 a week.

Having been aware of the costs I was full of optimism because I thought the items of food stocked up in my cupboards and fridge would carry me through – I was wrong.

I had blown £11 on food by Wednesday and it might not seem much but I still had toiletries and cleaning products to buy.

Cooking isn’t a problem but making do with little requires a certain skill. My uni days of making budget meals came in handy as I cooked up some Bacalhau – a Portuguese cod and potato dish- but I couldn’t imagine having to prepare three meals a day for a family.

Many families experience high levels of anxiety at the thought of ‘what are my children going to eat today but it’s through the use of charities and foodbanks that provide slight relief to a stressful situation.

The support allowance for asylum seekers increased by 3p from £39.60 to £39.63 in 2020 after a review by the Home Office despite charities pushing the government to increase it in line with universal credit.

Any optimism I had at the start of the week was diminished by Thursday after I went shopping for toiletries and cleaning products.

I went to the home of bargains, The Pound Shop, in the hope all my necessities would shave six pounds of the remaining £26.55 in my account.

Dinner made with the tiny budget
(

Image:

Aida Fofana)

To call it a humbling experience would be an understatement.

I obsessively counted how many items I had in my basket to make sure I was buying what I need and resisting the temptation to pack cinnamon apple scented candles. But I was faced with a decision I never imagined I would have to make.

Toilet roll or tampons?

I held a four-pack under my arms while inspecting the price of a 16 Tampax contemplating if I could finesse this somehow.

I needed both and to compromise one for the other seemed absurd to me so I closed my eyes and placed them both in my basket before rolling it towards the self-checkout.

I hoped the faster I scanned my products my eyes would avoid seeing the price displayed on the screen.

“£10.00 please, cash or card” the machine barked at me.

Mental maths kicked in as I thought a mistake must’ve been made for me to tip £4 over my budget but everything I needed was in the bag.

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Period poverty is a stark reality for many women seeking asylum. Having to choose between period products and other necessities negatively impacts a women’s physical and mental health.

Asylum seeking women in Birmingham have reported having to resort to using tissue because they could not afford the appropriate products.

Contrary to how others feel, Boris Johnsons ‘Work From Home order was music to my bank account’s ears. I was able to save a bit of change on transport despite already spending £16 on any time ‘Daysaver’ tickets. I did, though, fall victim to WFH snacking.

Everyone loves a nibble on a chocolate bar or can of pop and my malted milk biscuits weren’t satisfying my sweet tooth – this required a trip to my corner shop.

I had successfully avoided the shop due to their £3 minimum spend but struck gold when I found £2.70 in my jacket – the serotonin rush that came with finding the pennies was a needed pick me up as I accepted defeat.

In total I had spent £37.00 leaving me with £2.63 by Friday – not even enough to cover the cost of a Tesco meal deal – and two days before the end of my week.

An asylum seeker in this position would be left to the mercy of others – charities, foodbanks or neighbours, assuming they had access to any of those.

And even if the money had stretched to the full week – in my experience a near impossible task – on Monday the battle to survive would begin again. It is a battle which, for many, goes on for months, or even years.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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