MPs Accuse Home Office Of “Shocking” Oversight On Migrant Poverty Statistics
A cross party group of MPs have accused the government of having “inadequate” data on how many people have a No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition on their immigration visas, arguing that many British children are growing up in significant hardship and poverty because of their parents’ immigration status.
In a new report, the Work and Pensions Select Committee detail how the Home Office is unable to provide parliament with an estimate of how many people it applies the controversial NRPF condition to when they issue them with a visa to stay, work and live in the UK. Those issued with an NRPF condition are unable to access state support, including housing and welfare, and many have children who were born in the UK.
Chair of the Committee, Stephen Timms told PoliticsHome that the numbers of NRPF poverty cases are likely to rise, with European Economic Area nationals now impacted as well as some asylum seekers set to be denied public funds via the Nationality and Borders Bill.
“It’s impossible to know the full extent of the problem, who it impacts most, and how severely, because the government is failing to collect or publish sufficient data. Without it, local authorities and charities are left in the dark, allocating desperately needed funds without the crucial information they need”, Timms told PoliticsHome.
The Migration Observatory estimates that around 1.4m people in the UK legally may have the NRPF condition, of which 175,634 are thought to be children – many of whom are entitled to British citizenship.
The Children’s Society stresses the hardship and poverty this condition often causes families.
“Through our research and direct work with families with no recourse to public funds we know how this condition leaves so many in desperate situations and often unable to provide a safe and warm home or feed and clothe their children,” Azmina Siddique, Policy and Impact Manager at The Children’s Society, told PoliticsHome.
The national children’s charity urges the government to accept the committee’s recommendation to extend Child Benefit to all British children, as well as ensuring better data is collected and local welfare and crisis support schemes are accessible for people with NRPF.
Many families will have NRPF for ten years, while they are on the “10-year route” to Indefinite Leave. This, the committee stressed, means that some British children face the majority of their childhood excluded from Child Benefit support and in significant hardship as a result.
“The government must halve to five years the maximum wait for access to public funds for parents on a route to settlement in the UK. Otherwise, many more young people living permanently in the UK will spend most of their childhood denied support which others take for granted, with all the negative impacts on development into adulthood that result,” Timms argues.
One family who spoke to PoliticsHome faced homelessness for them and their three young British children as a result of the Home Office imposing an NRPF condition when they submitted a visa extension. The family were eventually housed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 – which compels local authorities to safeguard the welfare of a child in need – but were placed in one room for 4 years and forced to rely on friends and foodbanks for help until the Home Office changed their status.
“It was unbearable, incredibly tough”, they told PoliticsHome.
Others who had lived experience of NRPF, told the committee how they were made to feel “like you were not a human being” and detailed cases where families and pregnant women were forced to sleep in churches, buses and mosques with children.
The report also found that many other parents with an NRPF condition struggled to maintain full time work, as they were excluded from accessing the 30 hours of free childcare entitlement.
The committee heard evidence from charities like Employers for Childcare, who made clear the government should review the financial support it offers to families with the cost of registered childcare to ensure it is available to families with NRPF. Without this, they warned, families were at severe risk of being pushed into poverty, with a significant proportion of their household income being spent on registered childcare.
As a result of the committee’s inquiry, the government has now confirmed they will consult “as soon as possible” on whether there are groups of children from NRPF families who could be eligible for the two-year-old childcare entitlement. The Home Office have also advised they are now working in collaboration with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to explore how migrant poverty could be tracked better.
While this has been welcomed by the committee, there remains concern that better data, or an extension of welfare support, will not prevent child poverty from growing unless the NRPF policy is scrapped entirely.
Project 17, a charity focussed on supporting migrant children, told PoliticsHome, the committee’s recommendations “do not go far enough”.
“While they may relieve some of the burden faced by families with NRPF, they do not address the causes of homelessness or severe poverty, they just tinker at the edges of destitution," a spokesperson said.
The Children’s Society agrees that the government should go beyond the committee’s recommendations.
“We still want the government to end the NRPF policy completely or at least not apply it to families with children under 18”, they stress.
A Government spokesperson said: “The provision of No Recourse to Public Funds has been upheld by successive governments and maintains that those coming to the UK should do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer. It applies to most temporary migrants who come to the UK from abroad, such as visitors.
“However, there are safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable migrants who are destitute and have other needs, such as supporting children, can receive help and can also apply to have the conditions lifted.”
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