Shine A Light

British press poisons minds against asylum seekers

How the Daily Telegraph twisted an official audit of a botched privatisation . . . to smear and defame asylum-seekers.

Peter Richardson
13 January 2014

Last week government auditors published a report on Britain's botched privatisation of housing for asylum seekers. In summary: the government handed massive contracts to commercial providers G4S and Serco, who failed to deliver and cost the taxpayer more than budgeted. OurKingdom ran a comment article here.

The Daily Telegraph covered the story like this:


Reporter David Barrett informed Telegraph readers:

"Asylum seekers who claimed they were penniless in order to receive free housing at the taxpayer’s expense were found to own luxury goods including iPads and widescreen televisions, official watchdogs have revealed."

He reported auditors had: "carried out 10 visits in each of three regions of the country and found 'at least one' address in each area where there were 'indications of prosperity'."

The Telegraph's man extrapolated that 2000 asylum-seekers could be more wealthy than they claimed to be.

This doesn’t match my experience, where wealth and seeking asylum do not go together. I remember one asylum seeker friend explaining how finding just 20p transformed his week. Another asylum seeker’s life was hardly luxurious – with five people accommodated in a house furnished with only four chairs. She graciously remained standing when I visited.

Another asylum seeking couple told me how much they dreaded birthday parties. They knew that the party-bags given to their daughter by her friends would cost more than they could afford to spend on a present.

Are asylum seekers really living in luxury as David Barrett suggested? I reread the National Audit Office's report. (The PFD is here).

In 40 pages of text there is no mention of iPads, televisions or luxury goods.

On page 39 of the report, I found this:

"During the fieldwork for our investigation, we visited a sample of properties used to house asylum seekers. In some of these, it was clear that the occupants may have a level of income above that expected of someone receiving the minimum level of support under section 4 or section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. There is a risk that individuals or families may be occupying properties to which they are not entitled, thus taking resources away from those more in need. Where housing officers see signs of wealth on their regular inspections, indicating that the occupant may have a higher level of income, they have a contractual duty to report this to the relevant authorities in the Department within one working day."

I called the National Audit Office. A press officer told me that auditors had indeed visited 10 houses in each of three regions (North West, Yorkshire and Humber and London). In at least one house in each region they saw at least one of these items: mobiles, push bikes, televisions, iPads. The press officer stressed to me that this was reflected in a “very minor part of the report” and that “the sample was very small".

Let's consider for a moment the items that the Daily Telegraph has magicked into "luxury goods".

Mobile phones are essential to asylum seekers. They provide the only way for people to keep in contact with their solicitor to pursue their legal case.  Pafras, a local charity in Leeds, collects old mobiles to give to destitute asylum seekers.

Another charity, Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network, has had many asylum seekers working as volunteers. One of them was given a push-bike so that he could get to the office to do his voluntary work. He had no cash for bus fares as he lived on £35.39 per week in supermarket vouchers.

And televisions? As one Daily Telegraph commenter pointed out, "having a television only an indicator of wealth if you paid a lot for it."

Which leaves iPads.

The National Audit Office tell me they’ve no idea how many iPads were spotted — or bikes, mobiles and televisions. This wasn’t part of the study; it wasn’t recorded. 

So let's get this straight. Government auditors visited 30 homes. In about three homes they found at least one of the following items: mobiles, push bikes, televisions, iPads. The watchdog did not consider these discoveries worthy of mention anywhere in their 40 page report.

The Daily Telegraph, instead of highlighting the government and corporate waste and incompetence exposed by Friday's report, chose to offer readers a distortion.

Among Telegraph commenters who took the bait was "King-Arthur" writing under the under the flag of St George. His response? "Two words: filthy vermin".

Another commenter opined:

"Our border controls are not worth a w**k. Why don't we do as others do and ship them out soonest? Bloody human rights lawyers are making a packet and my taxes are paying for it."

With reporting like the Daily Telegraph's, is it any surprise that many people are hostile to asylum seekers, or that three quarters of Britons wildly overestimate the number of refugees granted asylum in the UK? 


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