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The Lost Women and Children: How No Recourse to Public Funds Condemns Thousands

Written by
Alexandra Jarvis, Immigration Advice Service
Date of Publication:
16 July 2020

One of the cruellest clauses of the UK's hostile environment endeavour must be the No Resource to Public Funds (NRPF) condition. It was recently catapulted into the political spotlight as Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared not to know what NRPF was when confronted by Labour MP Stephen Timms. Timms raised the issue whilst detailing the desperate situation some of his low-paid migrant constituents find themselves in.

NRPF prevents people who are "subject to immigration control" accessing welfare and state support, as stated in the government's Immigration Rules paper. Those with the condition cannot access common welfare support such as child benefit, Universal Credit, or income support and more. It is estimated one million adults and over 100,000 children in Britain are subject to NRPF meaning they can live in the UK but cannot access benefits. As COVID-19 demolishes precarious livelihoods forcing people into relying on state support, low-income migrants – particularly single mothers – are left with nothing. Chief Executive of The Children's Society, Mark Russell, has addressed the fact that many of those with NRPF conditions are in "frontline roles during the CV-19 crisis" working as hospital cleaners, in the care industry or food preparation roles.

The Unity Project's research demonstrates how and why this policy disproportionately affects migrant women and their children. Their research shows women, low-income families, disabled people and black and minority ethnic (BAME) children are negatively impacted.

Single mothers in particular struggle while burdened with NRPF. While raising children, single parents are often restricted from full time employment, yet migrant single mothers are also ineligible for free childcare schemes such as child tax credits while their children are barred from free school meals. Considering children, pregnancy and maternity are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, there is no acknowledgement from the government how this policy discriminates based upon such characteristics.

Out of the 141 cases assessed by The Unity Project, 84% were single parents and 100% of these single parents were single mothers. The majority (77%) had children under the age of 10 and 47% had preschool aged children. 74% of those surveyed had experienced at least one day where they could not afford an adequate meal: 90% of these respondents were women with children.

To add insult to injury, migrant women are more vulnerable to domestic abuse yet are unable to access support services because of the benefits ban. Research by Women's Aid found that migrant women are more likely to be turned away from refuges since they cannot afford or publicly fund the bed space. And the only possible escape route is severely flawed: only migrant women with a visa in the partner category such as a Spouse Visa can seek emergency public funds for a period of three months, but they first must prove that they are victims of domestic abuse (via the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession). Women under alternative visa permissions, such as a Student Visa or Work Visa, have no such option whatsoever.

A recent case involving a British eight-year-old child and his mother has forced the Home Office to make some changes to the immigration rules. The mother, having arrived in the UK in 2009 to begin working as a carer, was plunged into street homelessness with her son while the boy endured extreme poverty his entire life as a consequence of his mother's NRPF immigration condition and low-income wage.

Although the new rules state the NRPF condition can be lifted if an application "is destitute or at risk of imminent destitution", there is not much hope that this minor tweak will be as life-changing as originally thought. Not only does the new rule apply to those in the UK under the 'parent category' of the immigration rules, but already local councils have a moral and legal obligation to protect the welfare of children in their jurisdiction, yet when families seek Section 17 support, over half (6 out of 10) are turned away. Lawyers speculate that councils are either ill-advised or have been ravaged by budget cuts and therefore lack the resources to offer real help. This is sadly all-too-familiar for Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking survivors as, without public funds, they are required to apply for support via the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) yet many fall through the cracks. All too often, when aid schemes fall into the hands of local authorities, vulnerable people fall victim to the UK's 'postcode lottery'.

The High Court confirmed what campaigners have been saying for years: the policy endangers those who need support the most. And in the current climate, it is impossible for policymakers to ignore the health risks it implies as it has the potential to force vulnerable people into overcrowded accommodation or homelessness.

To truly revolutionise the lives of thousands of migrants and their children in the UK, NRPF ought to be scrapped. There is no sound reasoning for this policy to continue when it represents the horror of the hostile environment and so clearly flouts the Equality Act 2010, and when migrants – who pay their taxes and contribute to the UK public purse – should be able to access public funding when they too fall short. Instead, migrants should be able to apply for Universal Credit and other welfare schemes in the same way Britons can. Mothers and children should not be damned to live in squalor, poverty and fear if the UK wishes to embrace basic human rights and dignity for all.