Monday, 8 February 2010

Cold, Confused and Cashless: South Wales Citizens celebrate successful negotiation with the UKBA to help bring the cashless out of the cold'

Before Christmas South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary, an alliance of faith, citizen and refugee groups, held an action in Cardiff to test out the new Azure card and to monitor the impact of the card on people seeking sanctuary. Local communities formed Citizen Monitoring Teams to assess the impact of the new Section 4 payment card on dignity, stigma, travel, access to food, clothing and healthcare, ease of use and value for money. The Citizen Monitoring Teams who braved sub-zero temperatures for the action found the card to be poor value for money, inadequate to meet the needs of families and unacceptably difficult to use.

The action was a media success and the inadequate provision for people seeking sanctuary on Section 4 was covered by the Western Mail, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and on BBC1 Wales 6 o’clock News.

The findings of that action have now been collated and published in the South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary report, ‘Cold, Confused and Cashless’. And, on Friday 29th January Mr. Philiip Smith, UKBA Regional Chief of Operations for Wales and the South West, met with a team of leaders from South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary to discuss possible solutions to the many problems they had been recording since the introduction of the Azure card to Wales in early December. The CITIZENS for Sanctuary team in South Wales presented Mr. Smith with the 'Cold, Confused and Cashless' report which outlined their requests to address some of the pressing concerns around the Azure card.

The South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary negotiation with Mr. Smith was a cause for celebration. The team was really pleased to hear that Mr. Smith would work with them to sign up local charities shops and businesses to the Azure card, providing they meet UKBA requirements. He also agreed to join CITIZENS for Sanctuary to meet with Cardiff Bus to discuss signing them up to the Azure card scheme in Wales. This would make an enormous difference to people like Constance and her family who have to survive on the Azure card. Constance said “trying to look after my two young boys with no access to the bus is so hard. I was forced to walk back in the driving rain over three miles with my young children and our shopping bags which left me and my family ill for several days. All because I couldn’t get on the bus. So now I am really pleased that Mr. Smith has now agreed to work with us on the issue.”

Sister Ruth O'Neil and Edie who is seeking sanctuary from Zimbabwe, both leaders from South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary, raised concerns about staff training. Edie’s powerful testimony about the loss of dignity she feels using the Azure card, especially when shop assistants don't recognise the card or she is unnecessarily forced to show ID, moved Mr. Smith to agree to work on reminding stores of their obligation to train staff. Mr. Smith even agreed to meet with Cardiff City Council to discuss children accessing school trips if their parents are on the Azure card. It was a very successful morning and gave citizens and people seeking sanctuary the chance to hold the UKBA to account and to look together at solutions for some of the problems associated with the Azure card.

However, the team was most impressed by Mr. Smith’s agreement to build a relationship with South Wales CITIZENS for Sanctuary. Reynette Roberts, who chaired the meeting, said:

"This is a really positive outcome and I am looking forward to working with the UKBA to address the concerns of local citizens and people seeking sanctuary in Wales".