Today I have written to the Prime Minister, calling on him to fulfil his pledge to a top committee of MPs by lifting the harsh visa condition of ‘no recourse to public funds’.
‘No recourse to public funds’(NRPF) means that all those on a visa who have not been granted ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ are barred from accessing most forms of state support. The Children’s Society has found that almost half of children with foreign-born parents live in poverty.
Johnson was questioned about NRPF at the Liaison Committee on 27th May, where he appeared never to have heard of the policy and said he would do what he could to help. He was understandably shocked to learn that people living and working legally in the UK cannot access support when they lose their jobs because of Covid.
When I subsequently questioned him at PMQs last week, asking for an update on his progress, the Prime Minister still didn’t seem to grasp exactly what the ‘no recourse to public’ funds condition really means, and appeared to step back from his commitment.
I have now written to him correcting some of his incorrect statements at PMQs and asking for him to set out “the further action you will take to fulfil your commitment to the Liaison Committee”.
Read the full text of my letter below:
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you regarding the PMQ I asked on 3rd June 2020 on ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) for migrants. I would like to follow up on the answer that you gave and gain some clarification on your progress on this matter.
As I mentioned in my question, during your appearance at the Liaison Committee on 27th May 2020, you committed to ensuring that those without recourse to public funds are given support, and that you would investigate this matter.
In your response during PMQs, you indicated that NRPF conditions apply only to so-called “temporary” migrants, but this is not the case. The condition applies to all those on a visa who have not been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain – this includes people who intend to stay in the UK permanently or have been in the UK for many years but are on restrictive and long routes to settlement, which are set by the Home Office.
You stated that the NRPF condition “does not mean that they are necessarily excluded from all public funds”. Whilst you are correct that migrants with NRPF are entitled to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the equivalent for self-employed workers, all migrants with NRPF are barred from accessing most forms of state support, including Universal Credit, Income-based Job Seekers Allowance, Income-based Employment & Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Free School Meals, Disability Living Allowance, PIP, Working Tax Credit, Income Support, Local Authority Homelessness Assistance and many others. The condition is not a “term of art”, as you suggested, but has real life, damaging and dangerous consequences.
Long before the pandemic, NRPF restrictions have been pushing working families into abject poverty, forcing them into unsustainable debt and into homelessness or unsafe, overcrowded, insecure housing. You might particularly note that women fleeing abusive partners are not entitled to access mainstream refuges and that children who are subject to NRPF conditions are cannot claim free school meals and go hungry. A recent report from the Children’s Society found that almost half of children with foreign-born parents live in poverty. This means over 100,000 children living in poverty, with parents reporting that they are unable to meet even their children’s most basic needs.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, this situation has considerably worsened, particularly for those in insecure employment or on zero hours contracts. Many people, including migrants, have had their hours cut or have lost their jobs completely, putting them in difficult financial circumstances. Without the social security net that we all rely on in such times, people are forced to work in unsafe conditions, cannot remove themselves from unsafe housing, and are unable to both effectively self-isolate and feed their families. Many of those in this situation are the essential workers on whom we all depend. Now, more than ever, it is vital that no one living in the UK is compelled to take on unnecessary, unsafe work at risk to their own or to the public’s health, and it is indefensible for essential workers to be left unsupported and unable to make ends meet.
You rightly noted during the daily briefing on 3rd June that it is “inevitable” that there “will be many, many job losses” still to come. It is clear that migrants with NRPF conditions attached to their visas will be pushed into destitution should they lose their jobs and have no access to the support network provided by public funds. The situation only stands to worsen.
The current policy, in theory, allows a limited number of people to apply, on an individual basis, to have their NRPF condition removed, but a recent court case highlighted that this is incredibly difficult in practice and does not prevent abject poverty. It is very difficult for families to make the application, and if they are successful in doing so, they are punished by being moved onto a 10- year route to settlement with thousands of pounds owed in additional visa fees along the way. NRPF is only lifted in exceptional circumstances, leaving most people with no such option. Hundreds of families without income are unable to make the application or have been waiting weeks or months for a decision.
Just last month the High Court found that the system is currently so difficult to escape that it constitutes a breach of Article 3 – the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment. The Court found that at present a migrant must prove that they are actually destitute before NRPF conditions may be lifted. It ordered that showing that they were about to become destitute ought to be enough to have NRPF conditions lifted. This is still far too high of a barrier, with individuals forced into abject poverty before they can even apply to receive mainstream support that is clearly so desperately needed.
At the Liaison Committee you were understandably shocked to learn that people living and working lawfully were placed in the position of having no recourse to public funds and promised that you would do all you could to help. The solution is in your hands and I would urge you to lift NRPF restrictions as the only way to ensure that people do not have to choose between the public health and being able to feed and house their families. Access to public funds is essential to ensure that people can weather this crisis. We are all in this together, but we are only as protected as the least protected amongst us and it is vital that urgent steps are taken to protect and support migrants and their families.
I look forward to hearing from you further on the action you will take to fulfil your commitment to the Liaison Committee.