A HARD-HITTING report has highlighted the “thousands” of asylum seekers living in destitution for years because of the failures of local and central government.

The Sunderland University report looked at the plight of people facing a daily struggle to find food and shelter for the night.

It called on asylum seekers to be allowed to work while waiting for their applications to be heard.

In 2005 it was estimated that 283,500 people in the UK who came into the asylum process were living in poverty - some for more than six years - and it is believed the number has increased.

The report, Between Destitution and a Hard Place: Finding Strength to Survive Refusal From the Asylum System, said those fleeing persecution in their home country live in constant fear and anxiety about their situation.

Several of those featured in the report were themselves or knew of people becoming depressed or mentally ill.

Some were relieved when they were diagnosed with illnesses like tuberculosis because it meant they would be treated like human beings.

Strength was found through the support of friends and also “trusted” individuals in local churches, charities and organisations.

The report, which has been sent to MPs and charities, urges the Government to improve financial support for those organisations.

One of the key recommendations is to allow asylum seekers to work while they are waiting for their cases to be heard.

The report claims not giving people the right to work often leads to crime and exploitation.

Dr Fiona Cuthill a senior lecturer in public health at Sunderland University, led the report assisted by Omer Siddiq Abdalla and Khalid Bashir, who both originated in Sudan.

Rather than using destitution “as a tool to force people back to their country of origin” she said central and local government need to “harness the strength and resilience” of asylum seekers.”

“To give them the right to work would be a start. It is only then, that we can maybe say with some confidence that the UK is pursuing every opportunity to promote human rights and political and economic freedom,” she added.

Male asylum seekers felt ashamed at food hand-outs and said they wanted to pay their own way in life. Some were exploited, working in factories 12 hours a day for seven days without pay.

Pete Widlinski, Tees Valley Area Manager, North of England Refugee Service, said the report: “raises the awareness of the failures in the asylum system, particularly on the lack of support element.”