As the UK government rushes to push through legislation to help citizens in the global health crisis, campaigners are applying pressure for the controversial ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) policy be dropped.
The stipulation means individuals without leave to remain in Britain or people granted ‘partial leave’ are unable to access lifesaving benefits, such access to NHS services or welfare support. Many deemed ineligible for these necessities are single mothers, left with no means to care for themselves or their children.
Campaigners and activists have been criticising NRPF for years which was due to be reviewed by the High Court on 24 March 2020. However, this has been postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Many deemed ineligible for these necessities are single mothers, left with no means to care for themselves or their children.
The Unity Project documented the life of those prevented from services by NRPF in their 2019 report. They found at estimated 85% of individuals applying to have the NRPF condition removed were women and they were nearly always single mothers. This led Unity Project to believe that NRPF “indirectly discriminates” against women based on their sex as it restricts their ability to access employment and free childcare services, meaning they are left in impossible circumstances where they can’t access state support nor the working labour market.
The report found vulnerable people, who are counted as high-risk individuals in the coronavirus pandemic, are particularly at risk from the NRPF condition. This includes disabled people, pregnant women and elderly people as they are unable to work yet often have higher outgoing costs.
The report also found “indirect sex-based discrimination resulting from the NRPF policy” on the grounds that migrant women experiencing domestic abuse have no financial support to escape and are often prohibited from DV services. Women who become new mothers are further subjected to severe destitution after giving birth.
Individuals interviewed as part of the report reported their experiences of “severely inadequate and overcrowded” accommodation. At a time when the government is stressing the importance of extremely limited interaction with others and practicing good hygiene, people cannot stay away from others or practice good hygiene if they are forced into overcrowded, unfit-for-purpose accommodation.
Despite the High Court delay, 98 cross-party MPs wrote an open letter to the government calling for the stipulation to be dissolved, at least temporarily. The letter argues that the NRPF condition means individuals affected by the rule are unable to follow governmental health advice, and are therefore are at high risk as well as at risk to others through no fault of their own as they are bound by the stipulation.
As things stand, today (Friday 3 April) will see the Division Court hear an application to hurry the government’s response.
Expecting the state to give basic support to single women and their children, who have been forced to escape extreme abuse or persecution, should not be a controversy
Elizabeth Booker, a doctoral researcher at Goldsmiths College, University of London said the condition “ensures that children grow up in extreme deprivation.”
The open letter states: “This crisis will not come to an end unless we are all protected in this challenging and unprecedented time.”
NRPF has long stood in the way of providing vulnerable individuals with life’s essentials. Expecting the state to give basic support to single women and their children, who have been forced to escape extreme abuse or persecution, should not be a controversy. Britain could alleviate women’s suffering if the government prioritised it – in the spirit of ‘we are in this together’, surely now is the right time to finally say goodbye to NRPF.