Nabi and Fatima are Syrian Kurdish refugees who, along with their two young children, were resettled to the UK under the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme in autumn 2016. After fleeing the war in Syria, the family lived in Lebanon for some time in difficult conditions: ‘In Syria, our houses were demolished.’ ‘In Lebanon our situation was terrible…we were living in one room, even the fridge was outside.’
Nabi and Fatima have very limited literacy in their native languages. Once in the UK, they had sporadic and limited access to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses from the time they arrived, because formal provision at their level is scarce in the area. They have mostly had to rely on limited informal and conversational classes with volunteers. At the time of the interview, their English was still limited and we used an interpreter.
Nabi and Fatima live in a housing association flat in the South East of England. Their rent is covered by housing benefit. They receive jobseeker’s allowance, as well as child tax credit for the two older children and child benefit for all three children. They have no other income or savings.
Nabi has been searching for work since they arrived in the UK. In addition to approximately two years working as a barber, he has over 20 years of experience working in shoe production. ‘I don’t really know any other professions, like a restaurant for instance…I might start and then they let me go, but in my profession, I know it – it’s my job.’ Despite searching constantly and volunteering to improve his language and prospects, he has found the main barrier to securing employment is his lack of English.
Prior to having their third child, the family said they were just managing financially: ‘It was just enough. If we had extra, we would take the kids out. If we didn’t, we’d stay home.’ Having lived in poverty in Lebanon, they found the adjustment to their new income and expenses manageable: ‘In Lebanon, we were used to being in poverty, and then when we came here we were already used to it so we got by. There’s no other way.’
Following the birth of their third child and the application of the two-child limit, the family say they are struggling financially more than before. The baby’s child benefit is not even enough to pay for his milk every week. They have tried to find practical solutions to resolving this by changing utility providers, cutting down on internet costs; Fatima no longer tops up her phone: ‘We cut down on everything.’ But still it is hard for them to provide more than the very basic necessities for their children.
They do their best to not deprive the children of the things they’d like to do, but they are finding this difficult.
‘We are cutting down on spending money on the other two, just so we can spend money on the baby. Because the eldest two will understand, but the baby, without milk for instance, wouldn’t survive.’
The older two children have felt the impact of this. Before, they were able to pay for the oldest to have swimming lessons at school, but even though she loves swimming, they doubt they will be able to afford it this year: ‘Honestly, at school, everything is expensive. They keep asking us to keep paying but you know we can’t keep paying. For sports, trips – the oldest child sang at a concert in London and we managed to get funding for her to go but we could only afford for Nabi to go watch her.’
Nabi and Fatima didn’t know about the two-child limit policy until Fatima got pregnant, when the Refugee Council told them. The other agencies they were in touch with – the Job Centre, their midwife, health visitor, children’s centre, doctor – did not tell them about it. They were surprised and worried that they wouldn’t be able to manage. Fatima said it was her faith that got her through that period: ‘I couldn’t just abort because of the money.’
If they were getting child tax credit for their baby, they said they would spend it on the children. They would be able to afford to visit Fatima’s sister, who the children are very close to and who was also resettled under the VPRS programme: ‘Our children keep asking us to go every two weeks, but we can’t afford it.’ The last time they were able to visit was because a friend took them for free. They would also be able to afford the clothes the children need as they are growing.
In response to asking what they thought about the policy, they said:
‘It’s not good…We came here to have a better life, not to live like we were in Lebanon. It’s not enough, we just go from here to school, school to here.’
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