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Boris Johnson must suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds policy during the coronavirus crisis

Boris Johnson must suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds policy during the coronavirus crisis

During this global pandemic, those with NRPF face particular hardship because so many jobs have disappeared. They are forced to disobey public health guidance to obtain an income, or to rely on foodbanks to survive, says Stephen Timms MP | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

More and more law-abiding, hard-working families, whose contributions we have all benefited from for years, are sinking into destitution.

Social security should be a safety net that protects people from destitution. But for hundreds of thousands of people in the current crisis, who work legally and pay tax and national insurance in the UK, and for their children, the system is offering no support at all.

Last Wednesday, at the Prime Minister’s first appearance at the newly-formed Liaison Committee, I told him about one family in my constituency. The husband’s employer didn’t put him on the Job Retention Scheme, so he has no income.  His wife is continuing to work, but her income does not cover their monthly rent. 

They have worked and paid taxes in the UK for seventeen years. Their two children were born here and are British nationals. Their leave to remain is subject to a condition of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF), so they are unable to access any benefits at all. They are barred from claiming Child Benefit for their children. They are being forced into destitution.

The Prime Minister appeared surprised that they can’t claim Universal Credit or another benefit.  He agreed that “people who’ve worked hard for this country who live and work here should have support of one kind or another”. 

He promised to find out how many people are in this situation – information the Home Office steadfastly refuses to provide – and what the Government can do to help. 

The Children’s Society has estimated that over a million people have Leave to Remain in the UK, but No Recourse to Public Funds, including families with over 100,000 children. 

During this global pandemic, those with NRPF face particular hardship because so many jobs have disappeared. 

Since 2012, NRPF has applied to almost all migrants granted the right to live and work in the UK, mainly from black and ethnic minorities. Growing numbers have been pushed into poverty, hunger and debt. 

Those with children can access local authority support under Section 17 of the Children’s Act, but only if they are completely destitute – and it is up to individual councils whether basic subsistence should be provided, and at what level.

At the beginning of April, the Home Office published an online form to allow people to apply for exemption from the condition. It is onerous, demands voluminous evidence which is difficult to provide, and requires expert help to complete. 

During this global pandemic, those with NRPF face particular hardship because so many jobs have disappeared. Those who have lost jobs, and are unable to access the Job Retention Scheme, have no welfare safety net. They are more likely to live in shared accommodation where self-isolation is impossible. They are forced to disobey public health guidance to obtain an income, or to rely on foodbanks to survive.  Large queues outside establishments offering free food have become a common sight in my local high street.  

Last month, in a challenge brought by an eight year old British boy and supported by The Unity Project, the High Court ruled that the policy is unlawful, and in breach of basic human rights. The decision was that the “No Recourse to Public Funds” condition should be lifted when a family is clearly heading for destitution, as well as when they are actually destitute.  We await the details of the Home Office’s response, though it appears it will not appeal.

Two months ago, the Home Secretary told me that her department was working with others “at pace” to consider how the No Recourse to Public Funds policy should be applied during the crisis. 

One month ago, Michael Gove told me it was “under review”.  But nothing has changed – and more and more law-abiding, hard-working families, whose contributions we have all benefited from for years, are sinking into destitution.

The Prime Minister is right that they should have “support of one kind or another”. I hope he will now act quickly to suspend No Recourse to Public Funds for the duration of the crisis.

Stephen Timms is Labour MP for East Ham and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee

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