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29th June 2015

Compassion vs Scapegoating

We’ve recently recieved a circular email highlighting the low state pension, and laudibly calling for it to be raised, but sadly blaming the situation on refugees.

It’s a timely example of the negative attitudes and misconceptions faced by asylum seekers and refugees.  People are understandably worried about pensioner poverty, just as they are about jobs, housing and other social isues.  These are genuine issues that need addressing – but they will only be addressed through a compassionate society and government that puts people first – not by scapegoating a tiny number of people who have asked for help in their hour of need.

Various erroneous figures and terms are stated in the message about how refugees recieve huge amounts in benefits, but perhaps the most worrying statement is ‘isn’t it about time we put our own people first.’  We have a moral duty to provide shelter to those who need it most – whoever they are, and whatever country they happen to have been born in.  That’s the reason that Quakers continue to champion the right to asylum, and the reason we hope you’ll join us in being the friendly face of Brum.

Read on to see the full text of the email, and our detailled response.

Here is the message, as recieved:

“I wish to ask you a Question:-  “Is This True?”

I refer to the Pension Reality Check.

Are you aware of the following?

The British Government provides the following financial assistance:-

BRITISH OLD AGED PENSIONER
(Bearing in mind they worked hard and paid their Income Tax and National Insurance contributions to the British Government all their working life)
Weekly allowance: £106.00?

IMMIGRANTS/REFUGEES LIVING IN BRITAIN
(No Income Tax and National Insurance contribution whatsoever)
Weekly allowance: £250.00

BRITISH OLD AGED PENSIONER
Weekly Spouse Allowance:£25.00?

ILLEGAL  IMMIGRANTS/REFUGEES LIVING IN BRITAIN
Weekly Spouse Allowance:£225.00

BRITISH OLD AGED PENSIONER
Additional Weekly Hardship Allowance: £0.00?

ILLEGAL  IMMIGRANTS/REFUGEES LIVING IN BRITAIN
Additional Weekly Hardship Allowance: £100.00

A  British old age pensioner is no less hard up than an illegal immigrant/refugee yet receives nothing.

BRITISH OLD AGED PENSIONER – TOTAL YEARLY BENEFIT £6,000

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS/REFUGEES LIVING IN BRITAIN – TOTAL YEARLY BENEFIT: £29,900

Please read all and then forward to all your contacts so that we can lobby for a decent state pension.
After all, the average pensioner has paid taxes and contributed to the growth of this country for the last 40 to 60 years.

Sad isn’t it? Surely it’s about time we put our own people first.
PLUS THEY CAN WALK INTO ANY HEALTH CENTRE AND GET FREE CARE AND MEDICINES AT NO COST”

 And here is our more detailled response.  There are four key points:

  1. The amount of state pension someone will receive varies according to their circumstances, but the figures they quote are approximately right for someone who’s worked in the UK most of their life.  It’s not a huge amount to live on, and there’s certainly a case for campaigning for better state provision for pensioners.  But this situation has been caused by an aging population, not by immigration – pensions take up by far the biggest slice of the welfare pie (see Lancaster Quaker’s Welfare: Fair Wealth for All) because people are living longer, and pensioners now account for 18% of the UK population.
  2. The email doesn’t actually mention Asylum Seekers – these are people who are awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. They receive a £36 per week allowance, and are not allowed to work or claim any other type of benefit.
  3. The email repeatedly mentions ‘illegal immigrants’ – obviously a person cannot be ‘illegal’, but this term generally refers to people who remain in the UK without a visa or leave to remain.  People whose asylum claim has been turned down make up a small fraction of this group, but they are mostly people who have come to the UK on a limited work or study visa and overstayed.  Crucially (in this context) people in this situation cannot claim anything from the state, and attempting to do so would flag up their illegal status and get them deported.
  4. Refugees are people whose asylum claim has been successful, they make up 0.04% of the UK population – they are not automatically entitled to anything (they do not receive the £36) but are allowed to work and apply for benefits, just like any UK citizen.  The exact amount that someone could claim is very complex depending on circumstances (there’s a full list of up to date benefits from DWP) but the most any non-disabled refugee could claim would be capped at £350 per week  – that would work out at £18,200 per year, substantially less than the £29,900 quoted in the email.  In reality, very few people would reach this cap – a more likely scenario would be that they claimed jobseekers allowance whilst out of work (£73 per week) or income support (which tops up your pay to around £73 per week if you earn less than that and don’t have savings), and possibly housing benefit (which pensioners are also able to apply for, and varies depending on the cost of housing where you live.)  But in fact the most likely scenario is that a refugee would be working and paying tax: on average, refugees’ net contribution to the state per year (i.e. the amount they pay in tax, minus the amount they claim in benefits) is higher than the contribution of the average person born here, according to IPPR.

So in answer to the question posed by the emailer: ‘is this true?’

  • the parts about pensions are true, and pensioner poverty is an issue that needs addressing with compassion,
  • but the parts about ‘illegal immigrants and refugees’ are not true, and scapegoating refugees will not help pensioners.

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