“….the identification of Muslims, migrants, asylum seekers and gypsies/travellers as the targets of press hostility and/or xenophobia in the press, was supported by the evidence seen by the Inquiry.”
– The Leveson Report.
It is quite true that misinformation, and outright lying has been used as a political tool for centuries. Today, we have a paradox. The hysterically inaccurate information that we are sometimes presented with so quickly and so easily due entirely to the speed of communication via the internet; can just as quickly and easily be discredited and dismissed, and yet it often isn’t. It’s often accepted and spread faster than ever before. We are a generation with access to information on a scale never seen before, and yet we tend to rely on how others interpret that information, rather than investigating for ourselves. Often the misinformation is presented in such a dramatic and sinister manner, so as to appeal to our preconceived prejudices (of which we all have) about the given topic, and so don’t tend to then spend time proving the claims wrong. I have wrote previously on The Sun’s manipulations, misinformation, and potently devious, divisive rhetoric, when it comes to perpetuating the myth of ‘benefit scrounging’. And so with this article, I thought i’d attempt to point out the inaccuracy that exists in a particular piece of complete fabrication that appears to be doing the rounds on twitter and on facebook. The misinformation in question is this:
Sometimes it is accompanied by a picture of a poor old white lady counting 1p coins with a melancholy look strewn across her impoverished face. Impoverished, due apparently, to the rich benefit cheating brown skinned family seeking asylum, pictured next to her. The pictures are added manipulations, but the key to the nonsense are the claims themselves. So let’s examine the claims. I’m going to take the asylum/illegal claim first, because it flows nicely into the pensioner claim.
Illegal immigrants and Asylum Seekers pocket £29,900 a year in benefits. This suggests one of two things. Firstly, that illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are the same thing, and given the same benefits. And secondly, and I cannot stress the stupidity of this point enough… that illegal immigrants are actually entitled to benefits anyway. If you are illegally in the country, by definition, you cannot call up the Home Office and say: “Hi, erm, so i’m here illegally, snook in through Calais, my documents are fake, totally here illegally…..so do I get my twenty-nine grand in a lump sum, or every month? How does my illegal immigrant benefit work?” They have no legal status, including within the Welfare system.
Asylum seekers are different. To qualify for asylum, the guideline is quite clear:
Asylum is protection given by a country to someone who is fleeing persecution in their own country. It is given under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. To be recognised as a refugee, you must have left your country and be unable to go back because you have a well-founded fear of persecution.
The UK also adheres to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prevents us sending someone to a country where there is a real risk that they will be exposed to torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
– I am proud to live in a country that provides a safe haven for people who are persecuted, tortured, or threatened with degrading treatment in their home country. This is the mark of a civilised nation.
Here’s the cash sums that the Home Office says asylum seekers are entitled to:
The top point by the way, the mention of “civil partnerships”, so outraged the right winged press that the Express printed this little gem the next day:
– Apparently gay asylum seekers (perhaps fleeing persecution from the horrifying Ugandan anti-gay laws, which is slowly leading to a genocide of gay people in the country) is a step TOO far for a Daily Express audience who dislike not only asylum seekers, but gay people too. Imagine if they were gay, asylum seekers, that didn’t like Princess Diana. The Express would implode with rage.
Back to the entitlements set out above. If we are to compare, as the original email does, a single pensioner, with a single asylum seeker, we see that the asylum seeker is entitled to £36.62 a week. That is £1904.24 a year. That amounts to £5.22 a day. Asylum seekers, are entitled to a cash benefit of a little over £5 a day. That’s less than minimum wage for one hour’s work. So let’s have a bit of perspective.
A Parliamentary briefing paper states:
“People who require leave to enter or remain in the UK, but who do not have it, are ‘persons subject to immigration control’ within the meaning of section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and as such are not eligible for social security benefits, except those which depend on National Insurance contributions, such as contribution-based JSA. However, it is highly unlikely that a person in the UK without legal status will have a sufficient NI contribution record to gain entitlement to contributory benefits.”
“Asylum seekers – i.e. persons waiting for a decision on an asylum application – are not entitled to mainstream non-contributory social security benefits including income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Housing Benefit. Instead, they may be eligible for accommodation and/or financial support from the UK Border Agency. Cash support for asylum seekers is less generous than social security benefits; for example, a single person.”
– I am therefore, unable to find anything close to the £29,900 that the above print claims those seeking asylum in the UK are entitled to. It is simply a fabrication. Much like the idea that illegal immigrants are entitled to benefits. The daily allowance for asylum seekers is pittance, that most of us would be outraged if we even had it per hour. It is also worth point out that the number of people claiming asylum in the UK has dropped hugely since 2003. In 2003, the numbers were 80,123. At the end of 2012, the number was 20,182. A huge drop.
British old age pensioners yearly entitlement comes to just £6000. This is completely untrue. The minimum state pension credit guarantee, will top up your weekly income £145.40 for a single pensioner. This is £7560.80 a year. We should all agree, that this is far too low. However, it is £5656.56 more than an asylum seeker. But, the statement made speaks not simply of pension, but all benefits. So, we must also include the Fuel Allowance.
If you are over 80, and you live alone, you also qualify for the Winter Fuel Allowance, worth £300 between November and December. Asylum seekers are not entitled to this. So that brings pensioner total to £7860.80 a year. This is now £5956.36 more than asylum seeker. We could also add council tax benefit and housing benefit to that list of benefits afforded to pensioners too. The point being, asylum seekers are entitled to next to nothing. They must have reason to be entitled to anything in the first place; meaning their lives are filled with fear, and they’ve fled their home to get away from the prospect of torture, degradation, or murder. £5 a day, does not qualify as ‘milking the system’.
I am disheartened by the amount of people willing to simply accept such intensely misleading and so glaringly wrong claims, and to further perpetuate it. Inaccuracies over asylum and immigration are more subtly presented in the press because they seem to come with deeper information. Though, two seconds of research will note, just as misleading. Take this January headline from The Daily Mail:
– Instant attention grabbing headline for those who need this sort of hysteria to confirm their prejudices, regardless of whether or not its based on any fact. There’s also the by-line to throw in a bit of anti-EU rhetoric. The problem is, practically every word of this headline is wholly misleading.
It is a written answer to a Parliamentary Question posed by Priti Patel MP and answered by Mark Harper at the Home Office. The Home Office say:
“3,980 foreign nationals in the UK subject to deportation action living in the community.
We continue to pursue removal in all these cases. The principal barriers to removal are non-compliance on the part of individuals which means we have insufficient evidence of nationality and identity to obtain a travel document, ongoing legal challenges and the situations in countries of return.””
– What this means is, firstly, the suggestion that we “can’t throw out” is completely misleading, as these foreign nationals are currently under deportation action, and may very well be ‘thrown out’, they are just under investigation. It is true that the Daily Mail can’t, right this second, throw them into the English Channel with cannons levelled at them if they attempt to swim back. And secondly, nowhere in the Home Office answer does it mention the crimes that these foreign nationals have committed. There is no break down of their crimes, anywhere. Therefore, The Daily Mail added “murderers and rapists” to affect. When presented with the fact that they’d blatantly just invented a non-story, for shock value, the Mail issued this apology:
– You might just be able to see it, underneath the other completely misleading anti-immigrant story, and the enticing Asda ad. Or maybe not. Because instead of being an apology on the front page, where the original misleading story was, it is instead printed, in small at the very bottom of the fourth page. The correction reads:
“The headline of an article on 3 January suggested that there are 4,000 foreign murderers and rapists in the UK who cannot be deported.
We are happy to clarify that, as the article stated, the figure in fact refers to 3,980 foreign criminals, including murderers and rapists, who are currently subject to deportation orders.”
I am unsure who is to blame for this age of hysteria. Is it the people, for providing a market place for publications like the Mail to flourish? There is obviously a market for hysteria. Sensationalism sells. Weak conjecture, presented in a couple of hundred words, that require no real thought on the part of the reader, sells. People must surely shoulder some of the blame, if they are to read statements like the pensioner/asylum statements without actually questioning it. Perhaps the education system is failing to cultivate curious minds, and instead works to produce minds that accept. Curiosity must be valued and promoted. That is how we progress.
Maybe the people rely too heavily on the press for information within a democratic framework; perhaps we put our trust in the news media; perhaps we delegate our responsibility to understand and to question, to those we feel are qualified to do so, without actually knowing who those people are. We trust them in their capacity to shape and indeed, create the prevailing discourse of the time. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. The papers promote, and the readers perpetuate hostility based on distortions and nonsense. Either way, it is then no surprise to me, that the UK currently has such a vicious right winged government that relies on such a manipulative right winged press to push its message and its goals.
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