After 6 weeks of lockdown, the government is preparing to set outs its plans to gradually ease curbs on movement but it’s clear that there is no quick exit from the restrictions or the threat of the virus.
Many families are likely to see long term negative effects from the crisis, especially when it comes to their financial health. Families already struggling to get by are likely to have been worse hit by the pandemic, with many in low paid work that has dried up, or gone completely. In addition, many are facing lower incomes because children are at home and parents are unable to work. These families, who already survived from one pay cheque to the next, are now facing serious financial strain and are turning to the government for help. The latest DWP figures showed that nearly two million people have applied for Universal Credit benefits since the lockdown started.
But what about those who cannot rely on the government safety net, however meagre, because they are living with no recourse to public funds? Those who, because of their immigration status, are banned from accessing Universal Credit, Child Benefit and housing support, even if they can’t work during the crisis.
It’s difficult to know just how many families are affected by the “NRPF” condition as the Home Office doesn’t publicly provide any data. However, using the only figures available, we estimated in 2016 there were over one million adults from outside the European Economic Area and almost 143,000 under-18s who have been granted leave to remain, and we know the NRPF condition is applied to the visas of most migrants in the UK.
A court case, brought by an 8 year old boy against the Home Office, concluded that the NRPF regime must be changed as it breaches human rights. It is unclear what will happen next, but this huge victory could transform the lives of some migrant families leaving them less at risk of destitution during the coronavirus crisis.
But what is NRPF? The government and Home Office state ‘this is a legitimate means of maintaining and protecting our economic resources”, yet the main result is that these punitive measures are leaving thousands of children in deep poverty throughout their childhood and into adulthood.
Earlier this week, The Children’s Society released the report ‘A Lifeline for All: Children and Families with No Recourse to Public Funds’ to shed light on this crucial issue. It examined a wide range of data, including the experiences of NRPF families that our charity have supported.
From our services we know many NRPF parents are working on zero-hours contracts, insecure or low-wage jobs. They are also doing roles like care workers, hospital cleaners and caterers, lab technicians and other NHS support staff. This not only means they face an increased risk of catching the virus, they are also the very workers we have all been relying on during this pandemic. However, with no recourse to public funds these families cannot turn to the state for help.
The families we work with are doing all they can to support their children – one father we helped worked 90-hour weeks. In normal circumstances, without the ability to apply for benefits or access vital childcare support, their income alone is often not enough to provide the basics. The corona virus is likely to have exacerbated these issues, trapping more migrant families in poverty, forcing them into debt, increasing their risks of homelessness or exposure to unsafe accommodation and jeopardising a generation of children’s futures.
While it is too early to say how the court case will change NRPF in the short term – the Home Office may well challenge the findings of the High Court – it is clear something must change in the long-term. That is why The Children’s Society is calling for NRPF to not be applied to families with children under 18 and where they have previously been lifted, they should not be re-applied in subsequent leave to remain applications. Let’s hope this ruling is the beginning of a brighter future and a better safety net for all, regardless of immigration status.
By Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at The Children’s Society