JRS UK calls for change after report reveals widespread malnutrition and food insecurity among London asylum seekers

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK has joined the charities Sustain and Life Seekers Aid in highlighting widespread malnutrition and food insecurity among people seeking asylum in London and calling for action to be taken at local and national levels.

The report, Food experiences of people seeking asylum in London: areas for local action, drew on accounts of people with experience across the different stages of the asylum process – including asylum hotels, dispersal accommodation, and destitution following refusal. It found that, in all contexts, people seeking asylum seriously struggled to meet their nutritional needs and those of their children, and this had a significant negative impact on both physical and mental health. The report includes evidence of serious health and safety deficiencies in food provided in asylum hotels, including raw or undercooked meat and failure to accommodate medical dietary requirements, sometimes leading to hospitalisation; a chronic struggle to make ends meet and eat enough whilst living on asylum support; and difficulty managing long-term health problems in a context of destitution, very low income, and lack of agency over what food one eats.

Sarah Teather, JRS UK’s Director, said:

“This report lays bare the horrifying impact of food insecurity for people in the asylum system: Children going to bed crying in hunger, people becoming ill because of the only food they can eat, a daily struggle to make ends meet. These are ultimately the result of a deliberate policy to force people seeking asylum to live in poverty. This should not be normal. As this report reveals these realities, it also shows that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can and must change this.”

The report includes examples of good practice in food provision at a local level, and offers recommendations for change locally, whilst setting these in a national context. Among recommendations for local action, it calls on councils to work with Public Health and Environmental Health teams to improve the safety of food in hotels; and to widen the eligibility criteria for existing financial support programmes to include residents without recourse to public funds.