Tuesday 4 December 2018 1:14 pm

Waiting isn’t working for people seeking asylum in the UK

It’s a Tuesday morning, and for many of us that familiar post-weekend dread remains, as we think about leaving our cosy beds for the glaring office lights. But mornings aside, working can offer so much more than a pay cheque – work can offer us a sense of purpose, inspiration, and the chance to connect with a wider community.

As it stands, the opportunity to work, and the purpose, inclusion and inspiration that so often go with it, are denied to people seeking asylum in the UK.

After a period of 12 months from making a claim for refugee status, people are permitted to apply for the right to work – but only if they can fill a role on the UK government’s famously restrictive Shortage Occupation List. This is a set of jobs so narrow and unusual in their scope that it includes roles like “classical ballerina” and “nuclear medicine practitioner”. Therefore in practice, these people are effectively banned from working.

According to official government statistics, almost half (48 per cent) of people seeking asylum wait more than six months for a decision on whether their refugee application has been accepted, during which time they are not allowed to work.

Many people find themselves waiting years in limbo and without the means to support their family through work. People seeking asylum are reliant on a small amount of government support of just £5.37 a day to survive, and so are pushed into isolation and poverty.

We aren’t the only ones who think that this doesn’t make sense – recent research found that over 70 per cent of UK people are in favour of giving those seeking asylum the right to work.

People often ask why an ice cream company gets involved in social issues, but our values have been at the heart of how we do business throughout our 40-year history.

Way back when Ben & Jerry’s began, our founders felt strongly that businesses have an obligation to give back to the communities that they were serving and create a vision of the future that is built on fairness, compassion and justice for all.

To advance justice, we need to enable people to take an active role in society, free of barriers to full economic, social, cultural and democratic participation. Employment is one of the most powerful drivers for integration, and one of the ways in which people can start to rebuild their lives.

That is why we have teamed up with Refugee Action and a coaltion of over 100 other charities, faith groups, businesses, and trade unions to call for systemic change for people seeking asylum, by lifting the ban and restoring the right to work. We urge other businesses and individuals to join us and support the call for change through the “Lift the Ban” coalition.

Removing this obstacle would require just a small change in the UK’s immigration rules, but it has the power to restore purpose, inspiration, and the ability to provide for their families to people who have escaped from war and persecution.

It would also bring the UK in line with the vast majority of comparable countries, both in and outside of Europe. People seeking asylum can’t wait to work, so let’s give them that the right, right now.