Priti Patel rejects calls to ditch migrant welfare curbs during coronavirus after Boris Johnson review hint
Priti Patel insisted that there would be no changes to the migrant welfare ban (Parliamentlive.tv)
The Home Secretary has ruled out scrapping measures that curb access to a raft of state benefits during the coronavirus pandemic despite the Prime Minister hinting they could be reviewed.
Migrants given No Recourse To Public Funds (NRPF) status are unable to access most state benefits, including Universal Credit, employment support allowance, housing benefit, and help with council tax payments.
The rule, which was toughened up under the Coalition government, also denies access to means-tested free school meals for the children of those with the status.
And individuals can be subject to the ban even when they have Leave to Remain in the UK and are required to pay tax.
Appearing before the Liaison Committee in May, Boris Johnson said the issue of NRPF amid coronavirus was a “very important point”, adding that he would “see what we can do to help”.
But, when asked on Monday if the status would be suspended during the pandemic, Priti Patel pointed to separate measures to help furloughed workers as well as extra cash handed to councils to help vulnerable people during the crisis.
“The answer is no," she said.
“Local authorities have provided a basic safety net and that is through significant financial provisions introduced by the Government and a range of measures to support those people who have been working and [...] will support people with no recourse to public funds.
“That support is being given under the coronavirus retention scheme and also the self-employed income support scheme. So these funds are available."
She added: “It is wrong to imply that safety nets are not in place. Local authorities have… been resources to an extra £3.2bn to provide vital financial help.”
Ms Patel was also quizzed on the impact of NRPF on BAME communities, with SNP MP Joanna Cherry arguing that minority communities were “disproportionately” affected by both Covid-19 and the benefits ban.
It comes after a Public Health England report published last week found that people from black and Asian ethnic groups are twice as likely to die from the disease.
The Home Secretary said that the report’s findings were “indeed shocking” and that Government “should invest its time and resources” into finding a solution.
But she ruled out specifically reviewing the NRPF policy, saying: “This policy of no recourse to public funds is one of many policies and it is right that as a Government we look at all policies that affect all communities in the round, without singling any particular policy out.”
‘INACCURATE AND UNHELPFUL’
But Labour MP Neil Coyle hit back at the Home Secretary's response, telling PoliticsHome: “Her answer is inaccurate and unhelpful.
“Most funds are not open to people with NRPF conditions imposed on them by her department.
“Councils are prevented from housing people with NRPF conditions for example but were instructed to accommodate rough sleepers in this crisis."
He added: “The Home Secretary is breaking the Government’s promise to refund councils in refusing to look again at this terrible policy which affects people working in the UK and about 250,000 children.
“Ministers told councils to spend now and that the assistance councils provided during the crisis would be refunded. The Home Secretary must honour that commitment.”
And Minnie Rehman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which has been pushing for an end to the immigration condition, said: “The last three months have made it clear that the support available to people with NRPF is entirely insufficient.
"Furlough and self-employment schemes are only one small part of the picture when it comes to ensuring people are safe, supported and well.”
She told PoliticsHome: “Many migrant workers are in insecure employment or on zero hours contracts and therefore fall outside of these protections. Many have had their hours cut or lost their jobs entirely – despite government furlough schemes.
“Denying migrants access to welfare support has forced thousands into unsafe work, debt and destitution, as well at putting them at risk of harassment and eviction from landlords.”