Baroness Lister: Home Office must assess the negative impact 'no recourse to public funds' immigration rules are having on children
It is clear that the government are doing nothing to assess the impact of the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy on children, says Baroness Lister.
‘I was so hungry…it was like I got hit on my belly…when I don’t eat yeah it comes. I’m scared that it might come back. It was like I was stabbed with a knife and it’s still there’.
The above quotation is from children whose parents have been subjected to the ‘no recourse to public funds (NRPF)’ immigration rule but whose voices are rarely heard.
Migrants classified as ‘subject to immigration control’ cannot access most social security benefits (and hence free school meals) or social housing.
Since 2012 the Home Office has also imposed an NRPF restriction on parents granted leave to remain on the basis of family and private life on a 10-year route to settlement. Many of these families include a British child or a child who has lived in the UK for years. According to a Unity Project study, women (including during pregnancy and early maternity), low income families, disabled people and black and minority ethnic children are disproportionately affected.
Lack of access to social housing all too often means homelessness or sleeping on floors in unsuitable and unsafe accommodation such as derelict warehouses or churches. Even when they are housed, it tends to be in very poor conditions, without sufficient space or privacy, often distant from schools, friends and support networks.
Inadequate financial support can spell destitution and risk of exploitation as families are unable to afford basics including food. Exclusion from free school meals (beyond year 2 when the universal programme ceases) is a key issue for many of the children themselves who suffer hunger and social isolation as a result. The emotional impact of NRPF generally on many of the children is profound.
Safeguards to prevent destitution as a result of the rule do exist at both central and local government level but the evidence points to their ineffectiveness. The barriers to a successful application to the Home Office for help are too great. Local authorities’ duty under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children ‘in need’ is failing to shield families from destitution in many cases as local authorities struggle under the pressures of budget cuts. Even when help is provided, it is often far too low to cover basic needs.
In a recent Lords short debate on NRPF, the Bishop of Durham asked whether the Home Office knows how many children are affected and what assessment has been conducted of the policy’s impact on them. The Minister replied that local authorities hold data on the numbers they support, but that tells us nothing about those refused help. And it is clear that the government are doing nothing to assess the impact of the policy on children. Yet we are a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that ‘the best interests of children must be a primary concern in making decisions that affect them’. The criticism made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2015 of the Home Office’s prioritisation of immigration control over the best interests of the child still holds good. It is high time that the Home Office takes notice of the concerns raised, including by the newly formed All Party Parliamentary Group on NRPF, and reviews the application of NRPF to children.
Baroness Lister is a Labour member of the House of Lords.