No Recourse to Public Funds has created a two-tier system for young people, denying 175,000 children basic support
Children's access to essential support depends more on their parent’s immigration status than their needs, writes Osamor | Alamy
Thousands of children will continue to suffer until the home secretary agrees to suspend NRPF during the Covid crisis – and eventually scrap it altogether
To many, the idea of the “hostile environment” must seem like an abstract idea. Part of a political debate but not our everyday lives. But I see its consequences every single week in the emails and phone calls that come into me from my constituents in Edmonton. A nurse who wants to help in the fight against Covid but has been denied the right to work. A father who lost his job because of the pandemic but isn’t entitled to unemployment benefits. A mother being made homeless but who isn’t entitled to help from the council. The list goes on and so does the misery.
These are the practical effects of the hostile environment policy, and more specifically the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition which prevents hundreds of thousands of people in this country from benefiting from public assistance like Legal Aid, Universal Credit or housing. I’m never more shocked and angry than when I see the impact that this policy has on children.
Because, under the Hostile Environment, the access children have to essential support depends more on their parent’s immigration status than their needs. A Migration Observatory University of Oxford study in 2019 estimated that this impacts at least 175,000 children in the UK. Unsurprisingly The Children’s Society also reported that children who are subject to these restrictions report feeling socially isolated, distressed, shamed and unsafe.
Particularly worrying are the barriers to education faced by NRPF affected children. As well as blocks on accessing further education funding, many such children are subject to incredible disruption at home which places them at an immediate disadvantage to their peers. They are more likely to lack a secure and safe home, as their parents are prevented from accessing either housing benefit or help from the local council to find affordable accommodation. The result is that many NRPF children are forced to frequently move schools, causing further disruption while making it harder for schools to provide them with the support they need. Many families subjected to the NRPF condition are forced to use food banks, and although the ban on free school meals for children from NRPF families has been lifted, the government has emphasised that it is a temporary measure during the pandemic only.
Children who are subject to these restrictions report feeling socially isolated, distressed, shamed and unsafe
Children impacted by NRPF come from a variety of backgrounds, ages and circumstances. One may be a four-year-old, who only recently arrived in the UK having narrowly escaped war, and another a teenager, who has grown up in this country and known no other. But they are all connected by the government’s determination to relegate them to the status of second-class citizens.
The NRPF policy and its impact on children does not get the amount of coverage it should and I’m sure if it did it would generate as much outrage and disgust as the Windrush scandal and other injustices perpetrated by the Home Office. Unfortunately for 175,000 children and the millions of adults subjected to its conditions, the regime is often overlooked and misunderstood.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of people in this country would recoil at the thought of depriving certain children of essential help simply because of the immigration status of their parents. I’m sure that there is a widespread belief that all children, without exception, deserve a safe and secure home, not to go hungry and to have access to a proper education. But that belief will never be a reality as long as the government continues to enforce the Hostile Environment policy and NRPF conditions. That is why I’ve called on the home secretary to suspend NRPF and eventually look at scrapping it altogether – because until that happens, thousands of children will continue to suffer.
Kate Osamor is Labour Co-op MP for Edmonton and chair of the APPG on NRPF