Struggling to live on £40.85 a week as an asylum seeker in the UK

For me it’s a long way to the supermarket.

I would take the bus but it would cost almost £5 return. I just can’t afford that – especially since food prices are also rising.

I have to budget everything down to the last penny because I am seeking asylum in the UK and while I am awaiting a decision on my case I am not allowed to work.

This means I have to live on benefits for just £40.85 a week. This needs to cover my groceries, travel, toiletries, clothes and phone details so I can call my family and take online classes to improve my English and IT skills.

So I only have to suffer with shoulder and back pain from carrying my groceries on the long way home.

For asylum seekers like me, this is the stark reality.

I came to the UK from India in 2016.

When I first came to Yorkshire it was a traumatic time for me and my mental health was not good.

I didn’t feel safe outside because it was too busy and I wasn’t used to it compared to where I come from, so I isolated myself and didn’t go out.

For the first two years I only attended my weekly meetings with the Home Office and went to the library. That’s been my whole life.

Eventually my doctor gave me a social prescription and I joined the local refugee support group City of Sanctuary. Gradually I made some friends. That changed everything.

I started exploring the city and I even started my English GCSE which was so amazing. It felt like I was rebooting my life and opportunities were opening up.

I’m safe now, I’m in the UK but am I really alive?

My plan was to study computer science because working with computers would be a dream. But then the following year, in 2019, the Home Office changed the rules and said I wasn’t allowed to study. It was devastating.

The doors, which had opened a crack, were slammed shut again.

I haven’t given up. Instead of going to college, I started writing and being creative—including drawing, painting, and acting. I also rediscovered my love for singing and joined three different choirs.

Keeping busy helps me avoid negative thoughts. Being creative helps me feel free.

But this year I’ve noticed that the rising cost of living is affecting me adversely.

Of my £40.85 a week, I keep £10 for travel (to GP appointments, home office appointments or choir practice), £5 to charge my phone and £5 for things like soap, sanitary napkins or emergencies. This leaves around £20 for my meal for the week – that’s £2.85 a day.

When my money is so tight, I plan and budget all the time. I always ask myself what can I do without?

But now everything is so expensive.

Milk and oil have doubled in price for me. Food that reminds me of home has also gone up – okra is now £8 per kilogram. In fact, all vegetables seem to cost more, and I no longer buy fruit.

I used to buy big bags of lentils and chapati flour, but now I can’t afford it. I just cut everything back.

I mostly eat potatoes and lentils, and sometimes, if I have the money, I buy eggs. Then I make an egg and potato curry, that’s enough for half the week.

I noticed the variety and color was taken off my plate. Gradually there are fewer vegetables, less fruit and never meat or fish.

I don’t want the government to forget about asylum seekers like me

I haven’t gotten hungry yet, but I’m really worried.

It’s the little things that would break my budget. If I need to buy new underwear or warmer clothes for the winter, how would I make ends meet?

How do I stay busy if I can’t take the bus to my regular groups? How do I get around town if I don’t have a proper winter coat? I’m afraid that this little bit of freedom will be taken away from me.

To be honest, I don’t know what to think of my future. I have no idea what I’m gonna do.

I don’t know what will happen. I can’t work, I can’t study. My future is empty.

As I gave myself hope of what life might be like if I could work, I think maybe I could start a small business of cooking food that reminds me of home; Things like curries, dal and chapatis. I would cook all the dishes I love – the dishes I can’t cook now.

There were rich meat curries stuffed with eggplant and whole spices served with buttered rice. I would make homemade pickles and chutneys. Until then, these are the dishes I think of when I’m trying to fall asleep.

I know the cost of living crisis affects everyone, but I don’t want the government to forget people like me who are seeking asylum.

I really have no idea when my asylum case will be decided – the system doesn’t give any estimates of how long it will take.

I’m safe now, I’m in the UK but am I really alive? Surviving on £40.85 a week is not living.

Let me work, let me study, but until then let me live.

*The author’s name has been changed.

immigration country

Immigration Nation is a series that aims to destigmatize the word ‘immigrant’ and explore the powerful first-person stories of people who have arrived in Britain – and called it home. If you have a story you’d like to share, email

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Justin Scacco

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