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Comprehensive new examination of migrant destitution in the UK by University of Oxford’s COMPAS


New report provides first UK-wide baseline indication of population significantly impacted by No Recourse to Public Funds policy

Date of Publication:

The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford yesterday published an important and very comprehensive new report on migrant destitution in the UK.

Report coverThe 105-page report can be downloaded here.

Drawing on data from 142 local authorities across all four nations of the UK, the report explores the effects and impact of No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and other immigration policies on migrant destitution in the UK.

Research for the report focused on people with NRPF who are facing or are at a significant risk of destitution and who may be owed a duty of care under social services legislation.

The report finds an increasing number of migrants in the UK are at risk of destitution, with the number of destitute migrant families accessing local authority support having increased by over 150% in less than a decade.

COMPAS stated: "In 2021/22, 10,640 destitute vulnerable migrant people were reported to be supported by 142 local authorities and health and social care trusts across the UK that provided data, at a reported cost of £55m. This includes 1,658 vulnerable adults, 3,108 families and 5,831 children. These numbers provide the first UK wide baseline indication of a population significantly impacted by the NRPF policy as well as the first national estimate of the number of vulnerable adults."

As the report explains, those numbers are likely to be a significant underestimate and COMPAS estimates that if all UK local authorities recorded and provided data, the total number of people supported may be closer to 18,000 people and at an estimated annual cost of £102m for local authorities.

Jacqueline Broadhead, Co-Director of COMPAS, added: "We know this is only the tip of the iceberg as many people remain locked out of all welfare safety nets, unable ever to access social care, refuges or places of safety."

COMPAS finds the number of people subject to the NRPF policy has significantly increased since 2020 and may continue to grow in the future with new groups being impacted as a consequence of policy change. This includes both European nationals arriving post-Brexit and people impacted by the Illegal Migration Act.

Migrants without access to the welfare safety net rely on what COMPAS says is a "dysfunctional parallel safety net" that struggles to provide the support necessary to avoid significant levels of migrant destitution.

Lucy Leon of COMPAS' Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity (GEM) said the services provided are inconsistent, don't meet people's needs, and are often wrongly refused by people in dire need.

Local government staff pointed to a lack of senior leadership on NRPF policy and provision, meaning that this "parallel welfare system" is organised and delivered by frontline practitioners at an operational level, with very limited policy and strategy perspective from senior leadership.

The report adds: "With migrant destitution being a cross-cutting issue, impacting housing, social care, health, equalities, local authority staff felt there was a vacuum in leadership as it was nobody's clear focus and remit to lead on developing local policy and practice."

COMPAS also highlights that there is a lack of accessible information for migrants in crisis about routes to regularise their immigration status and how to get help.

The report notes: "People hadn't been aware of the existence of the fee waiver scheme for people unable to afford their visa fees, as well as the possibility of applying for a change of conditions to have their NRPF condition lifted and wished more information was available, to help prevent people falling further into destitution and taking on debt. Local authority information was often limited and people received conflicting advice, depending on who they spoke to. They wished information was consistent, covered people's options and was also accessible and readily available, including for people who don't access to online materials."

In the wake of its findings, COMPAS calls for significant improvements to fix the patchy and dysfunctional local safety net for migrants facing destitution. Recommendations include providing funding to social care departments, developing local leadership to tackle migrant destitution, and emphasizing the importance of listening to and including migrant voices when designing services, building on the lessons learned from the Windrush Lessons Learned review.