Home Office does not know how many people facing migrant welfare curbs amid coronavirus pandemic, minister confirms
Priti Patel this week confirmed she would not ditch the No Recourse To Public Funds status.
The Home Office does not have any estimate of the number of migrants subject to a wide-ranging ban on welfare support, despite warnings they face additional hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.
A Parliamentary answer from Home Office minister Chris Philp makes clear that the Government does not have figures on the number of people whose immigration status means they have ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’.
The status means migrants subject to immigration control by the Home Office are shut out of most most social security benefits, council tax help, state housing support and free school meals for their children, although they can access the NHS.
The rule can apply even where somebody pays tax, and charities say it is now routinely used for those granted leave to remain in the UK.
Campaigners have warned that the ban will make it harder for those who lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus crisis to access state help, and have pressed the Home Office to put a number on those subject to NRPF.
In a response to SNP MP Owen Thompson, Mr Philp said: “We do not have estimates of the number of migrants in the UK who are in the UK and subject to no recourse to public funds (NRPF) at any given time. All visitors to the UK are subject to NRPF as are all illegal migrants.”
And the Home Office minister added: “The Office for National Statistics publishes quarterly statistics for those who enter or extend their stay in the UK, the vast majority of whom will have the NRPF condition attached to their leave, but these statistics are unable to capture all of those in the UK subject to NRPF.”
Boris Johnson raised hopes of a review of the rule when he told the Commons Liaison Committee last month that people who “live and work here should have support” during the coronavirus crisis.
But Home Secretary Priti Patel this week ruled out scrapping the ban, pointing to extra money handed to councils to help them provide “a basic safety net” to those struggling, as well as the Government’s furlough scheme for workers who are at risk of losing their jobs.
“It is wrong to imply that safety nets are not in place,” the Cabinet minister said.
Councils had, she said, given "an extra £3.2bn to provide vital financial help" to those facing hardship.
Meanwhile, a Number 10 spokesperson, added: "We have been clear that families with leave under family and human right groups can apply free of charge and have those NRPF conditions lifted. And we encourage anyone eligible to submit and application.
"A couple of measures, such as rent protections also apply to those who fall into those categories and we have allocated more than £3.2bn to local authorities to support the most vulnerable."
But Mr Thompson, the SNP MP who asked the Commons question, said it was “absolutely astonishing that the UK government has no idea how many people are impacted – and at risk of being made destitute - during this pandemic” by the NRPF curbs.
And he added: “They are not even trying to put a figure on it.
"In a global health crisis, the first responsibility of government is to take measures to keep everyone safe - regardless of their immigration status. If the UK government isn’t even bothering to measure how many people are likely to be left behind, how can they take action to prevent it?”
The Midlothian MP said: "The only solution is to scrap the policy completely so the number of people it affects is zero.
"It would also relieve pressure on local governments and third sector organisations left to pick up the pieces of the UK government’s ‘hostile environment'.”
Minnie Rahman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which has also been campaigning for an end to the status, told PoliticsHome: “It's outrageous to hear that the Government don't have clarity on the number of people with NRPF conditions."
She added: "We know from prior research that at least 100,000 children are affected by these conditions, and it's likely that tens of thousands of families have been pushed into destitution due to this ban on accessing public funds.
"At a time when people have needed safety and protection more than ever, these rules have needlessly put countless people at grave risk. For the Government to not have a grasp of this policy’s hugely damaging effects is scandalous.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
The criticism came as the Local Government Association, the umbrella group for councils in England and Wales, joined those calling for the NRPF condition to be ditched.
The group says suspending the rule “would enable people to access welfare benefits, which could prevent them from becoming homeless”.
And they added: “Since the coronavirus outbreak, councils have been given emergency funding to meet a range of cost pressures arising, including supporting people with NRPF.
“However, this funding will not cover the costs of preventing people with NRPF who were sleeping rough from returning to the streets.
“Councils also do not receive any specific funding from central government to support people with NRPF.”