Plans to cut asylum seeker support for families are an "assault on vulnerable children's lives", a leading children's charity has warned.
The Conservatives plan to remove a weekly allowance for 2,900 families with a dependent child who have failed to secure asylum, under tough new measures currently in consultation.
"Government plans to cut critical support for families denied asylum is a direct - and potentially devastating - assault on vulnerable children’s lives," Peter Grigg, director of external affairs at The Children's Society, said.
"Cutting the amount of time a family can get the vital support they need in order to live to just 28 days would mean putting children at risk of being made hungry and homeless.
"These families are not allowed to work and are wholly dependent on this support. Many have fled violence, war and persecution and are often unable to leave the country immediately, as this may put their health or safety at serious risk.
"Levels of support are already so low that families are struggling to provide for their children. Cutting it further will completely remove support for these very marginalised children."
The policy is almost certain to hit genuine refugees. A report by the Independent Family Returns Panel found 41% of families the government considered to have no right to remain in UK were subsequently given leave to remain in the country.
The plans could see up to 2,900 families face destitution when the £36.95 a week they receive in allowance is removed.
The changes, which are part of a raft of tough new measures designed to discourage people coming to the UK to claim asylum, will also suggest that those who have lost their appeal are no longer called 'asylum seekers'.
Ministers say local authorities will be told "beyond doubt" that they have no obligation to help rejected asylum seekers and their children, who will purposefully be left destitute in a bid to convince them to leave the country.
Many failed asylum seekers are unable to return home, either because it is a war zone or because they lack travel documents, leaving them potentially trapped in the UK with no financial support, no right to work and no accommodation.
The government says it will have some sort of exemption for this category of people, but experts question whether it will be appropriately targeted or effective. The majority of the failed asylum seekers still in the country are thought to be legitimately unable to return home.
The consultation on the change was published yesterday, alongside financial figures which have previously never been shown to the public showing that failed asylum seekers cost the public purse £73 million. It is thought the figure was released to drum up public support for the changes.
Support for families with children accounts for £45 million of that figure.
The government said the support is "'wrong in principle and sends entirely the wrong message to those migrants who do not require our protection but who may seek to come to or remain in the UK in an attempt to benefit from the support arrangements we have put in place for those who need our protection".
There is no evidence that support levels affect asylum claim numbers, however. A fall in asylum support in 2011 actually saw an increase in the number of applications.
Analysts suggest the prevalence of Syrian, Libyan, Eritrean, Somalian and Afghan asylum seekers shows most people coming to the UK are fleeing violence and civil war.