New data obtained under a Freedom of Information request has provided fresh evidence of government exploitation of asylum seekers.
Documents seen by openDemocracy, an independent media platform, claim to demonstrate that asylum seekers in detention centres run by Home Office contractors are paid £1 an hour as a fixed rate to carry out work. The wages are funded by the Home Office but paid to detainees by the private contractors that run the detention centres. This has not changed in line with inflation.
Detainees are currently exempt from minimum wage legislation. This policy has been in force since 2006 and was previously challenged under judicial review unsuccessfully in 2019 at the High Court. The following year, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal.
Records under Freedom of Information requests reveal that detainees carried out 215,000 hours of work in 2022. Campaigners argue that centres rely on detainees working to ensure that they properly function.
The roles vary but include: cleaners, welfare buddies, kitchen assistants, barbers, laundry orderlies, painters, gym orderlies and shop assistants. The work has been described by one detainee as “like slave labour”. Such roles are voluntary.
However, it often preys on the vulnerability and poor financial conditions of arriving asylum seekers. The money earned from work is often used to buy essentials. Detainees currently get an allowance of 71p per day, which is not enough to purchase basic food from the detention centre shop.
Nasrin Warsame, Research and Policy Co-ordinator at Bail for Immigration Detainees, commented that the “the reality is that this policy preys on how restricted people are, taking advantage of them to accept such low wages”.
The Home Office has previously stated that “the longstanding practice of offering paid activities to people in immigration detention centres help to keep them occupied while their removal is being arranged.”