No Recourse to Public Funds key element of austerity

No Recourse to Public Funds: Prime Minister ‘Unaware’ of Own Policy of Deprivation

No Recourse to Public Funds: Boris Johnson reveals ignorance to the plight of migrant families who have suffered for a decade

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has yet again shocked the nation to the depths of his ignorance to vulnerable and struggling families in the UK as he appears to never have heard of the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) rule up until this week.

On Wednesday during a committee meeting, Johnson was challenged by MPs to address the thousands of families in the UK who are juggling severe economic hardship, hit by a double whammy of COVID-19 income losses and a prohibition from accessing welfare support such as Universal Credit. Yet Johnson appeared to be caught completely off guard by the proposal.

Labour MP Stephen Timms pointed out that many families in the country are “being forced by the current arrangements into destitution” as a result of the No Recourse to Public Funds policy. 

NRPF Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson attended the committee meeting via video link where he was first questioned on the NRPF rule. [Image: Andrew Parsons/Downing Street Handout/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/The Mirror.]

A confused Johnson asked, “Why aren’t they eligible for Universal Credit, or ESA or any of the other benefits?” to which a stunned Timms had to define what No Recourse to Public Funds means. 

Hundreds of thousands of law-abiding migrants live in the margins of severe poverty due to the NRPF – far before COVID-19 exacerbated inequalities in the UK.

Hundreds of thousands of law-abiding migrants live in the margins of severe poverty due to the NRPF – far before COVID-19 exacerbated inequalities in the UK.

The benefits ban applies to all resident and undocumented migrants in the country, including those who work full-time, pay their taxes or are foreign partners of British citizens. The barricade extends but is not limited to carers allowance, child benefit, child tax credit, housing benefit, Universal Credit and jobseeker’s allowance. British children born to migrant parents are even excluded from free school meals.

Only migrants who pass a certain amount of continuous residency in the UK are able to switch onto the permanent immigration status, Indefinite Leave to Remain or British Citizenship, which then sees the NRPF ban lifted.

However, the route to settlement can take anywhere from five to ten years and infers tens of thousands pounds worth of fees. The cost is so extortionate that many opt to renew their visas instead, particularly in families where citizenship discounts for children were axed in 2014. Some mothers had even resorted to prostitution and other means to raise the funds to gain status for their children.

Southall Sisters protest No Recourse to Public Funds
Southall Black Sisters protesting against NRPF on behalf of migrant women in 2014. [Image: SBS/Open Democracy.]

Although NRPF predates Theresa May’s reign, the condition was revitalised and expanded under the Home Office’s futile Hostile Environment policy ten years ago. In the past decade, the Government has turned a blind eye to the impact the benefits ban has had on vulnerable communities with research overwhelmingly pointing to prove that single mothers, low-income families, rough sleepers, UK-born children to migrant parents and disabled people are disproportionately shoved into financial hardship.

Some mothers had even resorted to prostitution and other means to raise the funds to gain status for their children

The Children’s Society estimates NRPF applies to 1 million non-EU adults and 143,000 children – figures which will soar once EEA citizens become burdened by the policy in 2021. A combative study by Migration Observatory, the University of Oxford and the Institute of Public Policy Research further unveiled 100,00 people forbidden from public funds could soon face unemployment due to the Coronavirus effect with 74,000 and 50,000 migrants working in jobs most affected by closures or who are self-employed and engaged in insecure contacts respectively.

Only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ are some able to access financial aid, but provisions are severely limited and applicants often fall victim to the ‘postcode lottery’ as funds are distributed by local councils.

According to The Justice Gap, the process to gain access to Section 17 is “severely broken” due to austerity and local authority budget cuts. Project17 found as high as six in ten families are rejected from Section 17 aid and those who are successful can receive an insulting £1.70 per person a day. Other anecdotal evidence found local councils were outright refusing families and in some cases have even threatened to move children into care.

As high as six in ten families are rejected from Section 17 aid and those who are successful can receive an insulting £1.70 per person a day

Similarly, as a result of NRPF, domestic abuse victims remain trapped in volatile and dangerous relationships. Scottish Women’s Aid claim local councils have even advised women to remain in their abusive relationship since they were ineligible for help, presumably until they can pass the five-year mark for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

No Recourse to Public Funds protesters women's rights
Campaigners have argued for years that NRPF harms women, particularly women who have been subjected to violence and abuse who have no provisions to protect themselves. [Image: The Cusu Women’s Campaign.]

Since domestic abuse shelters fund bed spaces via public funds, migrant women are disproportionately turned away unless they can afford to pay for it themselves. As a result, the Nowhere to Turn Project (2017) found there is just one refuge space available for migrant victims of domestic abuse per every region of England as a consequence of the NRPF.

Timms, who is the Work and Pensions Select Committee chairman, claimed a couple with children in his East Ham constituency are being plunged into “destitution” as a result of the NRPF and COVID-19 impact. 

He informed Johnson: “The husband’s employer didn’t put him on the job retention scheme, so he has zero income. 

“His wife is still working but her income is less than their household rent. They have Leave to Remain in the UK but No Recourse to Public Funds, so they can’t get help at all.” 

The Nowhere to Turn Project (2017) found there is just one refuge space available for migrant victims of domestic abuse per every region of England as a consequence of the NRPF

The question was put to the PM as earlier this month a landmark case saw judges agree that the NRPF policy can breach Article 3 of the Human Rights Act – the legislation that prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. The court heard the story of a British eight-year-old boy who had been forced into street homelessness and extreme poverty his entire life due to the condition forcing his family to survive off the insecure wages of his mother, who is a carer.

A detailed order is set to be sent to the Home Office soon, which has the potential to revolutionise the lives of thousands across the UK.

Stephen Timms questioned NRPF rule
Stephen Timms, Labour MP, questioned the Prime Minister about the NRPF policy this week. [Image: Ken Mears/Newham Recorder.]

Once Johnson was made aware of the policy by Timmes, he replied: “I’m going to have to come back to you on that Stephen because clearly people who have worked hard for this country and who live and work here should have support of one kind or another. 

“You’ve raised a very important point – if the condition of their leave to remain is that they should have no recourse to public funds I will find out how many there are in that position and we will see what we can do to help.” 

It is a kick to the teeth for thousands of families who have inched nearer to deprivation and have been booted out into the cold that the very Head of Government appears unaware of his own party’s merciless and inhumane policy that is responsible for their degradation

However, Johnson’s remark is exemplary of the Conservative Party’s jaw-dropping indifference to the economic inequalities that exist in vulnerable communities across the UK. It is a kick to the teeth for thousands of families who have inched nearer to deprivation and have been booted out into the cold that the very Head of Government appears unaware of his own party’s merciless and inhumane policy that is responsible for their degradation.

Axing the policy can’t come soon enough. Suspending NRPF during COVID-19 is the very bare minimum the Government can do to protect vulnerable adults and children living under the UK’s wings, but even when the country returns to a degree of normality, shouldn’t hardworking people who contribute into the public purse have access to it when they too, like the rest of us, fall down on their luck and need help to their feet?

[Header image: Wandererwandering/Open Democracy.]

Written by
Olivia Bridge