In the UK, living costs are increasing and negatively impacting families. Mothers seeking asylum are experiencing the worst experiences in providing for their children. Thanks to some grassroots organisations, they are taking a breath in a system created to suffocate.
A mural celebrating Black motherhood at Princess Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow. Image credit: Juliana da Penha
It is unlikely you will not be surprised by the prices in a supermarket today. Official figures in the UK demonstrate that the annual rate of inflation reached 11.1% in October 2022, a 41-year high, before easing to 10.7% in November 2022.
The cost-of-living crisis that followed the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit negatively impacts the economy and individuals. Businesses and the public sector are facing the effect. The health and mental health impact on families is enormous, especially the ones with limited financial resilience having to make tough decisions, living in debt and suffering.
The estimated monthly costs in the UK for a family of four are £2406 without rent. Could you imagine a family of four living with £8 a week per person, £32 a week, during the cost-of-living crisis?
“Everything is so expensive. All the prices are higher. For us, it is higher. Me and my husband I don’t buy anything for ourselves. We eat the food they give here or maintain ourselves with milk, cereals, or bread. This is all we eat. We try to give our children something different that can give them nutritional value,” says Lucia, a mother of two, a one-and-a-half-year-old boy and three years old. Lucia is an asylum seeker mother from El Salvador.
She arrived in the UK with her husband to find safety for her children but is facing one of the most challenging moments of her life. “It’s sad. It’s sad. Sometimes you feel you are the worst mother in the world.”, she said.
During our interview, Lucia described situations no mother would like to face. “Sometimes your children are crying hungry, and you don’t have what to give him.”
“It’s an insensitive system for people to navigate and designed to be in that way”, said Maree Aldam, Chief Executive Officer of Amma Birth Companions.
“It is fair to say that they are absolutely on the ‘sharp end’ of the cost-of-living crisis, which many people in the UK are experiencing right now. There has been a slightly raised in the support available for asylum seekers per week, but as we are seeing, many people do not receive this raise.”
Amma Birth Companion is an organisation in Glasgow providing care, information and advocacy to pregnant people, new parents and families in need of additional support. 70% to 80% of their clients are in the asylum system.
Maree explained that in section 4, the support available for people who claimed asylum and was unsuccessful slightly increased. It’s support provided by a pre-paid card that people can use in a shop and not provided in cash.
Those housed in hotels receive a small amount of cash per week, £8 per week. “It’s self-evident to say that is enough life, and if people don’t have cooking or kitchen facilities, they can’t have meal planning”, said Maree.
“We are seeing pregnant mothers in a situation where they can’t nourish themselves, mothers, who are breastfeeding, with new babies, and they are unable to afford the healthy food they need to nourish themselves.”
“I lost all my calcium. I am doing some exams because I have suspected arthritis, I believe because of it. My hair is falling out, I have parts of my head without hair, I have inflammation in my hands.”, said Lucia.
The support available
“It’s not enough to leave on, and there is no mainstream financial support available”, explained Maree.
The Home Office provide an additional amount, £3 extra per week, for asylum support. A woman needs a certificate provided by the midwife on the 20th week, halfway through pregnancy, to have that additional weekly support available. Still, there is a whole process around that as well. To get this certificate, there is a need for proof of pregnancy to activate that.
There is also support available at the 32 weeks of pregnancy, a grant of £300 intended to cover the period until the child is eligible for asylum support. “But we see lengthy delays in that frequently, sometimes weeks and even months for people accessing that grant.”, explained Maree. “There is a whole process that grant needs to be requested. It doesn’t happen automatically”.
Once the baby has been born, there is support available, but a birth certificate needs to be provided. There is no mainstream entitlement for benefits such as asylum seekers’ child benefits.
In Scotland, they are entitled to the NHS Baby box, but it is also a process, and Amma Birth supports women applying for that.
The Human Rights framework
The Article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of them and their family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services. It goes on to state that:
“Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection”.
However, asylum-seeker women and children see their fundamental rights neglected during the cost-of-living crisis. Lucia and her babies are facing this.
“Another time, we saw an image of Santa Claus, and I asked my older son what he would ask Santa because in our country, we have this culture, and he said: “I will ask a tasty food”.