A FEW days ago members of the Poverty & Inequality Commission for Scotland met online with asylum seekers housed in Glasgow. We heard harrowing first-hand accounts of the hunger and destitution caused by the Aspen Card scandal – the comprehensively mishandled transfer of asylum debit card contracts from Sodexo to PrePayment Financial Services.

With no access to cash and provided with debit cards that either did not work or did so only intermittently, hundreds of asylum seekers have been left destitute, parents have been unable to feed themselves or their children and vulnerable older and disabled asylum seekers have been left distressed and abandoned in the middle of a global pandemic.

Worse, when many sought emergency aid from Migrant Help (the Home Office-funded helpline) or the Mears Group (which houses asylum seekers in Glasgow) they were unable to get through or kept on hold for hours – possibly due to the sheer number of callers in desperate need of assistance.

Asylum seekers were forced, and not for the first time, to seek aid from local voluntary agencies such as MORE (Migrants Organising for Rights and Empowerment) and Positive Action in Housing, rather than through official agencies. Without these voluntary emergency food parcels and help a human catastrophe could have unfolded in Scotland’s largest city.

Today, three weeks after the new cards should have been in place, there are still those seeking asylum who have no cash on their debit cards. A wheelchair-using mother contacted MORE at the weekend. Ashamed that she could not buy a cake to celebrate her daughter’s birthday, she said: “It's like living in hell for the past three weeks, we didn't even have money to buy milk. I was ashamed to look at my children. Having a disability does not mean that you commit a sin and have to get punished."

As a commission we unfortunately have no powers or resources we can use to intervene. However, we have met with Shona Robison, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, and asked her to convey our anger and concern to the Home Office about its, and the private companies’, failure to properly manage the debit card transfer.

It is simply not good enough for Home Office ministers and officials to shrug their shoulders and talk about “teething troubles” when the basic needs of asylum seekers are not being met and their human rights are being trampled on. The commission wishes to publicly state that “enough is enough” and that the Home Office should abandon its policy of creating a “hostile environment” and instead start to meet its responsibilities under the European Convention on Human Rights. We look forward to a response from the UK Government that properly addresses the urgent and growing needs of those seeking asylum.

Bill Scott, Chair of the Poverty & Inequality Commission for Scotland, Glasgow (on behalf of the full commission).


WHILST it is important to challenge religious bigotry, we must make sure we are accurate in our arguments. Jeanette Findlay (Letters, June 5) repeats an often-misused claim that “42 per cent of reported hate crime is anti-Catholic”. This is simply untrue.

According to the COPFS hate crime statics for Scotland for 2019-20, there were 3,038 charges in relation to race; 1,486 charges in relation to sexual orientation; 660 charges in relation to religion; 387 charges in relation to disability; 41 charges in relation to trans.

Of the religious complaints, 42% were anti-Catholic. So this means of the 5,612 charges, 277 were anti-Catholic. In truth, anti-Catholic crime made 5% of hate crime in Scotland, not 42% as claimed.

Gordon Irvine, East Kilbride.


I WAS upset to find your furthering the untrue claim by the RSPCA that it operates in Britain ("Pick of the week: The Dog Rescuers", Herald Magazine, July 5). The RSPCA can only operate in England and Wales, it has no remit in Scotland, which is served by the Scottish SPCA. The Dog Rescuers never makes this clear.

Mrs Carol Primrose, Bishopbriggs.


IS it just me, or has the art world gone completely bonkers? Paying nearly $20,000 for nothing ("Issue of the day: Invisible sculpture auctioned off", The Herald, June 7) smacks of the Emperor's new clothes.

Katrina Will, Troon.


I HAD the misfortune of travelling – Covid-safe – to the Southern environs. Fuel in Stirling and in Kent was 126.9p per litre. On the M6 it was advertised as being available (not to me!) at 152.9p per litre. That is £1.18 per gallon more expensive and is scandalous, daylight robbery. Who do these service stations think we are?

Steve Barnet, Gargunnock.


WISE guidance from the Letters Editor ("When is an insult beyond the pale?", The Herald, June 5), which I will endeavour to bear in mind when in danger of crossing the line from tempered censure to unacceptable invective when provoked by the shenanigans of snollygosters, ultracrepidarians, stiffrumps, throttlebottoms and quockerwodgers.

As a part-time mubble fubbler I will try to look on the bright side and remember the old adage on glass houses and chuckies.

Henceforth, it’s goodbye Schadenfreude and hello confelicity.

R Russell Smith, Largs.