“A good life means you have many choices.”
One of the main themes that emerged in conversations was the vital importance of participants being able to have choice and control over their lives. This could include specific elements – being able to get a job, being able to choose what you eat, and/or being able to work or study. A few mentioned how their inability to have any choice in what they ate was a source of frustration and contributed to poor mental health. One person described missing being able to grow their own vegetables, as well as the smell and taste of foods from home.
“I came here for a better life. I escaped from religious persecution. But I am not allowed to work.”
“To leave your country and go to a completely new place, [you have to be] a strong person. It’s a strong person who leaves their home. They are very ambitious people, but don’t have opportunity. Don’t have choices. At least if I had education I would be learning for the future.”
Some described a more general inability to make day-to-day choices, particularly those lacking legal residency status. For them, a good life was one where they had freedom and could make decisions about their life. Comments routinely described freedom of choice as a prerequisite to a good, happy life.
“I want to be free.”
“I wish I could have more freedom and happiness in my life.”
This feeling could be exacerbated by the reality that some wished they could be back in their home country, particularly if they still had family there.
“I can’t go home but if I stay here, I am illegal … I need help to carry on with life.”
Having the ability to work and/or receive benefits was key to having financial freedom and choice. With the majority of participants still unable to work, despite many having been in the country for years, the ability to achieve their ambitions and make decisions about their future could be greatly limited. One person described having been in the country for twenty years without the ability to work, repeatedly asking for permission to work from immigration services, explaining, “If I get status I would be happy”. Others expressed similar sentiments.
“I asked my solicitor to give me permission to work … They don’t listen … This government doesn’t listen. I am not a criminal. I want food, children, and clothes. What do I do?”
“If I had papers, a good job, more money, it would give me more choices of what I can do.”
Some described feeling stuck in “the system”, being repeatedly told to wait and, for some, after more than one or two decades, feeling increasingly frustrated and trapped.
“We need someone to advise us how we get into the system. The process of waiting, waiting, waiting is affecting my mental health. It is a big strain. When I say I need to speak to someone, I really need to. It is for my mental health … The process of waiting is too much. We need to be properly included in the system. After 3 years we still have to wait more. Sometimes it makes us stress and overthink.”