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EDITIONS
Labour Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Asylum vouchers to be reviewed
Asylum seekers
Critics say a black market has grown around the vouchers
The government is to review the voucher system for asylum seekers, though has refused to bow to demands for it to be scrapped altogether.

Home Office minister Barbara Roche told the Labour conference in Brighton that the controversial system was working well and there had been few complaints.


When people are accepted here they should be treated fairly and with some respect and some decency

Bill Morris, TGWU general secretary
But she did concede that there had been concerns and the scheme would be reviewed to bring in lower value vouchers and to allow change to be given by shops.

However, Prime Minister Tony Blair made clear in a BBC interview that the voucher system would remain.

The announcement of the review headed off another potential clash between the leadership and delegates.

Transport and General Workers' Union leader Bill Morris dropped his motion calling for an end to the scheme after being given assurances about the review.

Problems with scheme

There have been complaints that stores and supermarkets are "profiteering" from a scheme because no change can be given for the vouchers, and also that a black market had grown up round the vouchers scheme.

The vouchers were introduced in April to replace cash benefits in a bid to deter economic migrants.

Under the scheme, asylum seekers get 10 cash a week and vouchers worth between 18.95 and 26.54 depending on age.

Couples get vouchers worth 47.37 plus the cash.

Only this week the system was extended across the country to all asylum seekers.

The TTGWU has been leading the fight against the scheme at the conference.

Boycott

The union called the vouchers "inhuman" and published a dossier showing that refugees feel "deeply ashamed" when using them.

Mr Morris said the system "provided fuel for the ugly face of racism and discrimination".

He backed his belief by giving a moving account of how he had gone shopping with a 30 year-old GP asylum seeker who had fled persecution in Iran.

Mr Morris said he saw the look of "despair, anguish and shame" when the doctor reached the checkout and had to hand over his vouchers.

"All we are arguing is that when people are accepted here they should be treated fairly and with some respect and some decency," he said.

"We should work towards a system of support which eliminates the voucher altogether."

The scheme has also been attacked as "penny-pinching" by charities and refugee groups.

Oxfam announced it was boycotting the voucher system at its outset.

The charity said it would not accept the tokens at its chain of 840 stores across the country.

The Refugee Council also insisted that speeding up the decision-making process would be the best way to improve the situation.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar in Brighton
"The critics say vouchers take away refugees' dignity"
Bill Morris, leader, TGWU
"When people are accepted here then they should be treated fairly"

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25 May 00 | UK Politics
04 Apr 00 | UK
03 Apr 00 | UK Politics
03 Apr 00 | Scotland
15 Jun 99 | UK Politics
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