By Emma Batha
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A record number of asylum seekers in Britain are being left destitute, and planned legislation could plunge thousands more into poverty, the British Red Cross said on Wednesday.
The charity said it had supported more than 9,000 refugees and asylum seekers who were destitute last year, compared with 7,700 in 2014. The youngest was less than one year old and the oldest was 81.
The Red Cross said an Immigration Bill, being debated in the House of Lords - Britain's upper parliamentary chamber - was expected to reduce asylum support further.
Some 29,000 people applied for asylum in Britain between September 2014 and October 2015, 19 percent up from the previous year.
Nearly 44 percent of destitute asylum seekers supported by the Red Cross were from Eritrea, Sudan, Iran and Syria, which are among the biggest sources of refugees.
British Red Cross asylum expert Karl Pike described the situation as a "quiet crisis".
"Refugees should not be left destitute, having fled awful violence and persecution," he said. "People refused by the system, but who the Home Office accept cannot return to their home country, should not be left with nothing."
The Home Office had no immediate comment.
Those supported by the Red Cross included people who had been granted refugee status but had not been given enough time to change to mainstream benefits from asylum seeker support.
The Red Cross said research in one northern region found two-thirds of asylum seekers with no access to public funds went hungry regularly, and one-quarter were hungry every day.
More than three-fifths had no fixed accommodation and more than half reported worsening health. Some had been destitute for up to eight years, it said.
The Immigration Bill aims to limit support for failed asylum seekers and their dependants to those who are destitute and cannot safely return to their home country.
The Red Cross says proposed changes in the Bill could push thousands of other failed asylum seekers into poverty.
It also wants asylum seekers granted refugee status to be given more time to move to mainstream benefits or paid work before asylum support is withdrawn.
(Editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)