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How Ben and Jerry's is campaigning for refugees

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Since Ben and Jerry’s was founded almost 40 years ago, it has always strived towards bringing social justice and giving back to the community - working hard to make its actions both socially and environmentally friendly.  

Recently, Ben and Jerry’s have teamed up with Refugee Action for its campaign ‘Waiting isn't Working’, pushing for a change in government policy on a law that prevents asylum seekers from working in the UK whilst their application is processed.

I spoke to their Social Mission Manager, Rebecca, to find out more about why this campaign means so much to the company.

I asked Rebecca how Refugee Action UK and Ben and Jerry's came together: "We’ve been working in this space for a few years," she says. "Refugee Action was one of the groups I've been speaking to... They came to us and said we've got this idea for a campaign coalition, we want to get loads of companies involved to change the government's mind."

Has the company received any negative responses to their political campaign?

“It doesn’t matter what campaign we run," Rebecca says, "we do get people, usually on social media channels, saying ‘we don’t want politics in our ice cream’.

“But we’re never not going to do it because we get criticisms. We do it because it's the right thing to do. We want to introduce people to these issues in an accessible way. There are things that we can do- there are policies being discussed right now whose decisions we can influence.”

So why is this policy in place?

 

Surprisingly, the UK is actually the only European country that implements this policy. All the other countries give asylum seekers the right to work.

 

Rebecca explains that it used to be the case in the UK that asylum seekers could seek work after six months. Then in 2002 that policy changed because people were being processed much quicker than that time mark.

So, the government got rid of the policy and this made sense at the time. However, as we’ve gone on, the waiting time has just got longer and longer. In the past, the government has said that the reason they have kept this policy in place is because they don't want to create a pull-factor for people to come to the UK. Rebecca told me that the government has admitted this is "nonsense", saying, "a lot of the time when people flee their country they don't know where they're going to end up."

The government is now showing signs of listening. All major parties now have pledges to take on this change as part of their legislation. The conservatives themselves have not actually done it yet, but have said that they are willing to be persuaded.


Image credit: Ben & Jerry's

How are families expected to support themselves through this time?

Rebecca explains that they are given a grant of £5.39 a day.

"This really isn't much. It really comes down to do I get a bus to see my immigration lawyer or do I feed my children? People are very often pushed into poverty in this way."

Rebecca, who reveals that the campaign has a target of 50,000 signatures and is over halfway there, adds: "The reason that we’re doing this now is because there is going to have to be a new immigration bill before March, and that's where we can get the policy change."

Ben and Jerry's ran a tour in November around the UK, where "we had an ice cream truck visiting and talking mainly to student unions, high street stops, talking to people about the campaign and giving out free ice cream - getting them to sign petition."

The event really brought the campaign into the spotlight, as many people were not aware of the law before now. The tour also brought attention to the new immigration bill due to be developed in March, and Refugee Action is hoping to produce a policy change as a result.

Image credit: Pixabay

I spoke to a woman who experienced this system when she came to the UK in 2012.

Now 37, Laura's case took three years to process, meaning that she could not work for this entire period. She says that "To find a meaning, something to look forward to" she volunteered at charities and local organisations. Laura wanted to work, to support herself - and yet the law disallowed this.

"(It's) awful that the government makes people wait and pays for their bills. Working isn't just about money, it's about dignity. People shouldn't be put in a position where they cannot work.

"The money that the government is spending on this housing they could be spending that money on the NHS, or the disabled. Not those who want to work."

Click here to sign the petition.

Find out more about the Waiting isn't Working campaign here.




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