EXCL Sadiq Khan tells Boris Johnson to ditch Universal Credit ban for migrants with no recourse to public funds or risk ‘destitution’
Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan has heaped fresh pressure on Boris Johnson to scrap an “appalling“ rule that stops some migrants claiming a raft of state benefits despite paying taxes - as he warned Londoners face a “cliff edge of destitution” during the coronavirus pandemic.
The London mayor urged the Prime Minister to “ameliorate the struggles of countless people facing destitution“ by scrapping the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) immigration condition, after Mr Johnson promised MPs he would look into the issue.
Migrants who have been given NRPF status by the Home Office are not eligible for most state benefits, including Universal Credit, employment support allowance, housing benefit, or help with council tax payments.
The rule was introduced under Labour and significantly toughened up under the coalition government.
It also denies access to means-tested free school meals for the children of those with the condition, which is now routinely applied to people granted leave to remain in the UK.
Mr Johnson raised hopes of a review of the longstanding status when he told the Commons Liaison Committee last week that people who “live and work here should have support” during the coronavirus crisis.
But he initially appeared to be caught off-guard about the NRPF rules during his select committee grilling last week, asking Labour MP Stephen Timms: “Hang on Stephen. Why aren’t they eligible for Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance or any of the other [benefits]?”
In a new letter to the Prime Minister, seen by PoliticsHome, the mayor of London warned of what he called “the appalling situation many Londoners are finding themselves in” because of the NRPF rule.
“Despite their contribution to London’s society and economy, tens of thousands of Londoners struggle without support as a result of the NRPF condition, including key workers such as delivery drivers, cleaners, carers and NHS staff,” he said.
“Londoners with NRPF are facing homelessness, are denied access to Universal Credit support when they lose their income and their children are refused access to child-related benefits.”
And he added: “Children are especially harmed, as highlighted in a recent legal challenge in which the policy was found to be unlawful. Survivors of domestic violence with NRPF face additional challenges to fleeing abuse and seeking out support during this time.”
The mayor of London said councils had worked “tirelessly” to help rough sleepers access safe accommodation during the crisis as the Government launched a wider crackdown on homelessness.
Bur Mr Khan said ministers had shown a “lack of clarity” on how far councils are able to support people subject to NRPF conditions during the pandemic.
“Local authorities do not have the capacity to address the scale of need for support to people with NRPF, without a significant shift in policy from your government,” he said.
“It is crucial that the impact of immigration-based exclusions from welfare and homelessness assistance are reviewed urgently and that changes are made to adapt to these exceptional times.”
Urging the Prime Minister to take action, the London mayor said: “You have an opportunity now to ameliorate the struggles of countless people facing destitution without access to the welfare safety net during these difficult times, and to end rough sleeping for good.
“During this pandemic, thousands have faced a cliff edge of destitution and timely action from you will ensure that more do not end up in this situation.”
Meanwhile a separate letter from Labour’s Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, also sent in the wake of Mr Johnson’s committee grilling, warned the Prime Minister that the welfare ban could put an “unnecessary drag” on his city’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.
Mr Rees said: “The response to the COVID emergency has shown that when we all pull together as one society we can achieve extraordinary things.
“Scrapping the NRPF status would be a powerful symbol that the Government is committed to ensuring that we really are ‘all in this together’ and that our recovery from COVID will be on the basis of fundamental equality, inclusion and fairness.“
A hard-hitting report by the Children’s Society, published last month, estimated that “thousands” of children in the UK face “deep, long-term poverty because of strict immigration rules” banning access to “mainstream benefits of vital support, even in a crisis”.
“Although some families may be able to get the NRPF condition lifted, this only happens in a small number of cases as the process is fraught with difficulties,” the charity warned.
“Furthermore, every time families apply to extend their leave, the NRPF condition can be re-applied, which means that families are plunged back into poverty and homelessness. As a result, children in these families are living in deep poverty throughout their childhood and into
'WHATEVER IT TAKES'
Responding to the letters, a Government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that no one should find themselves destitute during this crisis due to circumstances beyond their control.
“We have taken extensive action to support those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), including protections from eviction for renters and mortgage holidays, helping the employed, self-employed and those on zero-hour contracts.
“The Government has also allocated more than £3.2 billion to local authorities to help provide support to the most vulnerable and migrants with leave under the Family and Human Rights routes can apply to have their NRPF status lifted.”
The Home Office has meanwhile said it is “committed to doing whatever it takes to support everyone through this crisis”, pointing out that NRPF is a long-established part of the immigration system.
A fact-sheet produced by the department said: "These measures have been developed over many years, by successive Governments.
"They are consistent with legislative frameworks operated by comparable countries. This position has been approved by Parliament in primary legislation, most recently in the Immigration Act 2014.”
Mr Johnson told MPs last week: “Clearly people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here should have support of one kind or another.
“But you’ve raised a very, very important point.
“The condition of their leave to remain is that they should have no recourse to public funds.
“I will find out how many there are in that position and we will see what we can do to help.”