I struggle to live on £40.85 a week as an asylum seeker in the UK

I struggle to live on £40.85 a week as an asylum seeker in the UK

It’s a long walk to the supermarket for me.

I would take the bus but it would cost almost £5 return. I just can’t afford it, especially because the price of food is also going up.

I have to budget everything down to the last penny as I am applying for asylum in the UK and while I am waiting for a decision on my case I am not allowed to work.

This means I have to live on just £40.85 a week in benefits. This needs to cover my food, travel, toiletries, clothes, and phone data so I can call my family and take online courses to improve my English and computer skills.

So I have to suffer from shoulder and back pain from carrying my groceries on the long walk home.

This is the harsh reality for asylum seekers like me right now.

I came to the UK from India in 2016.

When I arrived in Yorkshire it was a traumatic time for me and my mental health was not good.

I didn’t feel safe outside because there was too much going on and I wasn’t used to where I was from, so I isolated myself and didn’t go out.

For the first two years, all I did was attend my weekly meetings with the Home Office and go to the library. It was my whole life.

Eventually my doctor gave me a social prescription and I joined the local City of Sanctuary refugee support group. Gradually, I made friends. It changed everything.

I started exploring the city and even started my English GCSE which was really fantastic. I felt like I was starting my life over again and possibilities were opening up.

I’m safe now that I’m in the UK, but am I really living?

My plan was to study computer science because working with computers would be a dream. But the following year, 2019, the Home Office changed the rules and said I was not allowed to study. It was devastating.

The doors that had been ajar closed.

I did not give up. Instead of studying, I started writing and being creative – including drawing, painting and acting. I also rediscovered my love for singing and joined three different choirs.

Being busy helps me avoid negative thoughts. Being creative helps me feel free.

But this year, I noticed that the rising cost of living is having a bad effect on me.

Of my £40.85 a week, I keep £10 aside for travel (GP appointment, head office or choir rehearsal), £5 to top up my phone and £5 for things like soap, sanitary napkins or any emergency. That leaves me around £20 for my food for the week, or £2.85 a day.

When my money is so tight, I am constantly planning and budgeting. I always wonder, what can I do without?

But everything is so expensive now.

Milk and oil have doubled in price for me. Food that reminds me of home has also increased – okra now costs £8 a kilogram. In fact, all vegetables seem to cost more and I don’t buy fruit anymore.

I used to buy big bags of lentils and chapati flour, but I can’t afford them now. I just cut everything.

I eat mostly potatoes and lentils, then sometimes when I have money I buy eggs. Next I’m going to make an egg and potato curry, which will last me half the week.

I noticed the variety and color was removed from my plate. Little by little, there are fewer vegetables, fewer fruits, and never any meat or fish.

I don’t want the government to forget people like me who seek asylum

I’m not hungry yet, but I’m really worried.

It’s the little things that would upset my entire budget. If I need to buy new underwear or warmer clothes for the winter, how can I make ends meet?

How will I keep busy if I can’t take the bus for my regular groups? How am I going to get around the city if I don’t have a proper winter coat? I’m afraid that what little freedom I have will be taken away from me.

If I’m honest, I don’t know what to think about my future. I have no idea what I’m going to do.

I don’t know what will happen. I can’t work, I can’t study. My future is empty.

When I get my hopes up about what life could be like if I could work, I think maybe I could start a small cooking business that reminds me of home; things like curries, dal and chapatis. I would cook all the dishes I like – the dishes I can’t cook now.

There would be rich meat curries filled with eggplant and whole spices served with buttered rice. I would make homemade pickles and chutneys. Until then, these will be the dishes I think of when I try to fall asleep.

I know the cost of living crisis is affecting everyone, but I don’t want the government to forget about people like me who are seeking asylum.

I really have no idea when I will have a decision on my asylum application – the system gives no estimate of how long it will take.

I’m safe now that I’m in the UK, but am I really living? Surviving on £40.85 a week is no living.

Let me work, let me study, but until then let me live.

*The author’s name has been changed.

Immigration Nation

Immigration Nation is a series that aims to de-stigmatize the word ‘immigrant’ and explore the powerful first-person stories of people who have arrived in the UK – and called it home. If you have a story you would like to share, email james.besanvalle@metro.co.uk

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