Illustration by Adam Q

Displaced life: seeking asylum in a divided Britain

Living on £5.66 a day isn't easy, but I won't give up on making a home for myself
December 9, 2021

I awake to a new day thankful for life. With no right to work, I ponder how I can be of use today—as well as how much money I have in my pocket. Living on £5.66 a day isn’t easy, and it won’t be getting easier with inflation affecting food, gas and electricity prices.

I have been an asylum seeker in the UK for seven years. What makes the most difference to my happiness is how integrated I feel within the community that I’m living in. I’ve found certain local authorities in England welcoming, while in other areas the bewildered stares and hushed murmurs from members of the public have made me feel very different.

On arriving in the UK in 2014, I lived in southeast London for two years. London was an absolute joy for me socially, as I’m originally from a multicultural country in the southern Caribbean. The racial diversity suited me, the travel fares were reasonable and there was a plethora of diverse places to eat. But most of all I never felt unwelcome or judged.

In 2016 I was sent to Leeds, which was a diverse city in its own right—but was not as open to all as the sign on the city’s outskirts suggested. I was then moved to Doncaster in south Yorkshire, where I currently live. As an asylum seeker, I am provided with accommodation, but have no say over where it is. Living here has been like being on a mental merry-go-round. Compared to nearby Sheffield—which is such an inclusive city for refugees—Doncaster has an old-school way of socialising. I visited a pub once in the town centre—once and once only. When I walked in the locals gave me looks that turned into stares. I started to think to myself: do I smell? Do I have something on my face?

When, finally, a man did come over to introduce himself to me, we exchanged pleasantries: he asked me where I’m from and what my name is. Usually, when I tell people I’m seeking asylum and explain why, they respond with empathy. But he claimed to be joking when he said: “Oh, you’re here to take our jobs and live off taxpayers’ money.” Feeling uncomfortable, I tried to laugh along, but I didn’t find it funny. I’m the kind of person who gets along with anyone but, over the years, comments like this have changed how I socialise. I no longer trust some folks, and this has left me isolated.

I’m naturally outgoing, but getting to places where I can make friends is a challenge. I receive £39.63 per week in asylum support and, depending on what local authority I am living in, travel fares take up a good chunk of that, especially when I’m doing voluntary work multiple times a week. Budgeting is a challenge—for food I have to be extremely frugal, shopping between four supermarket chains like Lidl and Aldi in a day to get my essentials at the lowest prices. Some items have to wait for the next week, or the next. Thank goodness for Poundland—my toiletries for a month cost £6.

My budget means that most of the time I keep within my environs, which is so depressing. It gives me too much time to sit and contemplate. How can I push myself forward? How do I prove my worth to the Home Office and the people of this country?

Before I came to the UK, I had been working since I was 16 years old, and I never felt useless. But negative thoughts now crowd my mind. So many feelings have come at me in a wave: the inferiority, panic, loneliness, unpredictable anger and anxiety, all with a cloud of steady depression that just sits on me daily.

But I’m not giving up on making a home for myself.

I’ve learned that building a social element into my life is a character-forming experience, which slowly bridges the gap between myself and the folks who are antisocial towards me. Going on day trips or treating myself to local theatre shows or musical events (after saving up) helps me so much with my depression and anxiety—along with the help I get from NHS mental health care. I’ve assessed my interactions with folks here in the UK and realised that if the structure of the asylum system doesn’t permit dialogue, then I must change the structure. I am working with various organisations as an expert by experience, to provide support for other LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers.

The ruthless aggression from the home secretary Priti Patel in implementing the Nationality and Borders Bill is a full-on assault on people like me, creating a two-tier asylum system that criminalises people based on their mode of travel. The bill proposes to send people back to any “safe” country they have travelled through to keep them out of the UK, and will also allow the Home Office to strip people of their citizenship without warning. I’ll end in saying this: if this bill passes, it will show that the British government has no sympathy for human pain.