Lib Dem attacks May over asylum seekers support freeze

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A Lib Dem has criticised the home secretary's decision to freeze the level of financial support for asylum seekers, claiming it was driven by "base political motives".

Sarah Teather raised an urgent question on 10 April 2014 after Theresa May lost a High Court battle over support given to the poorest asylum seekers while their claims are being processed.

A coalition led by Refugee Action said it was unacceptable that the amount of money - about £36 a week for a single adult - had been frozen since 2011.

The court agreed, ruling that the home secretary had not acted "rationally".

Addressing the Commons, Ms Teather said the judgement was a "damning" assessment of the process Mrs May used to reach her decision and called on the government to review the way it makes decisions on the financial assistance it agrees for asylum seekers.

The Brent Central MP, who is standing down at the 2015 election, added: "Isn't the problem here that this decision is effectively a personal fiefdom of the home secretary and driven entirely by base political motives?

"She can and does ignore detailed representations by other ministers around government, she can and does ignore parliamentarians including a cross-party inquiry that I chaired last year, she can and does ignore the pleas of those who work with victims of torture, who say that she is exacerbating their trauma and forcing them into very severe poverty."

Ministers should accept the Home Office "can't be trusted to make a rational or humane decision on this alone" and submit to a "transparent process with cross-government oversight", she argued.

Labour agreed with Ms Teather's assessment that the High Court judgement was "damning" and pressed the government to say whether it would appeal the decision, and how much this would cost.

Responding, James Brokenshire said the government believed the current level of support for asylum seekers is "appropriate", given that accommodation and utilities are provided free.

The Home Office minister rejected Ms Teather's characterisation of the assessment process, emphasising that a detailed review of the level of support had taken place last June, while another is planned for this year.

He said the department would reflect carefully on the "detailed" and "lengthy" judgement to determine whether an appeal is appropriate.

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