Neil Coyle MP: Unequal citizenship for British kids must end
Co-chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness, Labour MP Neil Coyle writes about the unfair treatment of the British born children who are punished as their parents have the legal entitlement to live and work in the UK, but don’t currently qualify for any benefits or state support.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Ending Homelessness has launched a report which seeks to shine a light on a very shady area of Government policy: people with permission to be in the UK but with a strict condition of having 'No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF).
This restriction was expanded to cover people legally entitled to live and work here through changes made by Cameron and Clegg's Coalition in 2012 and means thousands of people are denied access to any benefits, housing costs or any other state support.
As a Member of Parliament for a central London constituency, I see this growing group of deliberately disadvantaged people and the utter destitution they face as a direct result of this element of the 'hostile environment' built by Theresa May as Home Secretary and now PM.
Sadly, my surgery and outreach work means I am all too aware of the impact of this extreme policy. Huge numbers of the people affected have been in the UK decades and built lives and families here. They are parents with children. Children born here and who have never lived - or often visited - anywhere else. They are British but are denied the rights their classmates enjoy. Surrey Square Primary School is in my constituency and have had 40 children from families affected. The school goes above and beyond responsibilities on education, offering free breakfasts, uniforms and support to find help with housing and other needs. They are truly outstanding but should not be put in this position by any Government.
We should be concerned with an approach that leaves some British children to live such dramatically different lives to their neighbours and school friends. Their parents are legally entitled to be here but are denied child benefit for UK citizen children. They are also even prevented from accessing housing benefit in an area with extremely high housing costs. This leaves some at risk of becoming homeless, even with children.
In the last three months I have dealt with two cases where mums sought refuge for the night in a local police station reception. The first had a five month old baby; the second was fleeing domestic violence with her ten year old twins.
Under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989, local authorities have a safeguarding duty which compels them from preventing children from becoming street homeless. However, my casework experience and the APPG inquiry reveals that many councils avoid responsibility. The Children’s Society recently reported that six in ten families who present under Section 17 were turned away by their local authority.
When a local authority does step in to offer emergency housing and support to the families affected, the costs are all borne by the council. No funding is available from central Government to cover the support they are legally obliged to offer, despite it being a direct result of Home Office policy.
This hostility towards British children is deeply immoral. It creates fundamentally unequal citizens. Children required to live in poverty, dependent on foodbanks even when their parents work and at greater risk of homelessness. Children whose life chances are being eroded at the stroke of Ministers' pens rather than being determined by their own abilities.
This state sponsored destitution is shameful. The APPG report recommends anyone with a dependent child, care leavers, victims of domestic abuse and modern slavery should be exempt from No Recourse to Public Funds conditions. This echoes the position of many charities and I hope the Government now proves the hostile environment is being dismantled and ends the horrendous situation of some British children growing up without equal citizenship rights.
Neil Coyle is the Member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and co chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness