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Food experiences of people seeking asylum in London

This new research from Sustain UK explores the food experiences of asylum seekers in London.

Asylum seekers face high levels of food insecurity. In turn, this can have damaging impact on people's lives. This project sought to raise the voices of people with lived experience of the asylum system to highlight the issues they face around food, promote any positive food environments they have engaged with, and identify actions they would like to see locally.

The research was carried out by Sustain in collaboration with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK and Life Seekers Aid. It included three focus groups with people with lived experience of the asylum system, ten interviews with local authorities, healthcare providers and voluntary and community sector organisations (VCSOs), and a workshop with local authorities to identify key areas for local action.

Key findings

  1. Basic needs are not being met for people seeking asylum in London. Many participants found it challenging to meet their nutritional needs, and those of their children.
  2. A lack of agency was a recurring issue, along with a lack of access to kitchen space. Many participants found their experiences with food in the asylum system degrading and dehumanising.
  3. Mental and physical health were negatively affected by a lack of access to adequate food. This led to difficulties managing health conditions and impacted people's mental health, especially for mothers struggling to feed their children properly.
  4. Health and safety concerns in catered accommodation. Some participants in catered accommodation reported a variety of health and safety issues - on occasion resulting in illness. This was worsened by a lack of effective complaints mechanisms.
  5. Barriers to accessing support. People without immigration status reported feeling unsafe seeking help from the local authority or other support services. On top of this, the ban on work and limited financial support limited the amount, quality and appropriateness of food people could purchase.

Key recommendations

For local action:

  1. Collaboration and coordination: Local authorities should bring together relevant stakeholders, including public health and homelessness teams, to work collaboratively on improving food access and health for asylum seekers. Regular meetings with accommodation providers and the Home Office are crucial for addressing local issues effectively.
  2. Safety and accountability in accommodation: Urgently review infant feeding safety in asylum accommodation, conduct health and safety inspections, and ensure hotels meet food hygiene standards. Establish effective feedback mechanisms for residents and promptly address any deficiencies.
  3. Addressing barriers to support: Widening eligibility criteria for financial support programs and council-funded community food, so they are accessibly to residents without access to public funds.

For national action:

  1. Address the root causes driving food insecurity by increasing asylum support rates, allowing people seeking asylum to work, and expanding Healthy Start to people without recourse to public funds.
  2. Reduce the amount of time people spend in hotels and hostels, particularly
    families with children. People seeking asylum should be housed in
    accommodation with kitchen facilities and integrated in local communities.
  3. Ensuring food standards, particularly for vulnerable groups like infants, children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and those with medical dietary requirements.

For a full list of recommendations and key findings, read the full report.

Find the full report here

About Sustain

Sustain is an alliance of organisations working together for a better system of food. It advocates for food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture, and promote equity.

About the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)

JRS supports refugees and forcibly displaced people in 50 countries worldwide. JRS in the UK works with people who have been made destitute by the asylum process, and typically have experience of a range of different types of asylum support; and with people in immigration detention. They also conduct research on the asylum system and immigration detention. Their centre is based in Wapping, East London.

Life Seekers Aid

Life Seekers Aid is a new organisation, run by people with experience of seeking asylum and refugees. They work for the welfare and rights of people seeking asylum housed in camps, hostels and hotels during their asylum claims and cooperates with local and national charities, legal and medical organisations, and official bodies.