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Covid-19: No Recourse to Public Funds

Volume 677: debated on Monday 8 June 2020

If she will hold discussions with the Prime Minister on the suspension of the “no recourse to public funds” condition during the covid-19 outbreak. (903001)

The Government have made it our priority to protect the vulnerable throughout this national emergency, but we do not believe it is necessary to suspend the NRPF condition to do so. It is right that migrants coming to the UK are financially independent; however, practical support, such as rent protections and the coronavirus job retention scheme, apply to those NRPF conditions. We have allocated more than £3.2 billion to local authorities and £750 million to charities to support the most vulnerable.

The Home Secretary does not get it. People who have worked here and paid taxes here for years are being denied support and falling into destitution. People who have lost their jobs or seen their income slashed can be excluded from the very protections that the Home Secretary cites. Given that the rule disproportionately impacts people in our black and minority ethnic communities the hardest, will the Home Secretary suspend the “no recourse to public funds” rule for the duration of the pandemic?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and his comments. The answer is no. Local authorities have provided a basic safety net, and that is because of the significant financial provisions that the Government introduced and the range of measures to support those people who had been working. Because of coronavirus—because of the national health pandemic situation we find ourselves in—we will support people with “no recourse to public funds”, and that assistance is being given under the coronavirus retention scheme and also the self-employed income support scheme, so funds are available. It is wrong to imply that safety nets are not in place. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay tribute to local authorities, which, throughout this pandemic and this crisis, have been resourced with an extra £3.2 billion to provide vital financial help.

Further to the comments that the Home Secretary just made, Ministers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to all councils on 26 March asking them to utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with “no recourse to public funds”, so it seems that the Government have understood in principle that NRPF is counterproductive during the pandemic, but the lack of clarity from the Home Office means that in practice people are still facing destitution. With that in mind, will the Home Secretary look again at the spirit of the Prime Minister’s comments to the Liaison Committee and outline how the Government intend to support these families?

It is important to put on the record that this is not just about the Home Office; we work across government and MHCLG—the Department responsible for local government and communities—is obviously central to this issue. In terms of the resources that have been provided, practical support, such as rent protections and the coronavirus job retention scheme, apply to those under the “no recourse to public funds” conditions. The hon. Lady specifically mentioned MHCLG and local authorities; £3.2 billion has been provided. I have been working directly with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and I have also been part of discussions with the devolved Administrations, throughout the past 10 weeks, looking at the protective measures and the support that can be provided through the resources provided from central Government.

The Black Lives Matter movement and Public Health England’s review of the disparities in risks and outcomes in the covid-19 outbreak have highlighted the inequalities suffered by black and minority ethnic people in our society. Does the Home Secretary accept that the “no recourse to public funds” policy disproportionately affects people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities? If she does, why will she not push for it to be suspended, as a concrete step towards tackling the inequalities that so appal many of our constituents?

I have a number of points to make to the hon. and learned Lady. First, the Government published the report last week on the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The findings are indeed shocking and it is right that the Government invest their time and resources, particularly through the Minister for Equalities, to look at the measures that can be put in place. The “no recourse to public funds” policy is one of many policies, and it is right that as a Government we look at all policies that affect all communities in the round, without singling out one particular policy.

I am glad to hear that the Home Secretary is looking at the policy, but I urge her to read a report that came out this time last year by Agnes Woolley called, “The Cost of the No Recourse to Public Funds Policy”. It found that most families with “no recourse to public funds” in the United Kingdom have at least one child who is British by birth, and nearly all those families are black and minority ethnic. Accordingly, “no recourse to public funds” is inherently more likely to affect BAME British children than white British children. Therefore, given this evidence that “no recourse to public funds” is a policy with racially discriminatory impacts, why will she not accept that it needs to go?

If I may say, it is wrong to characterise the policy as racially discriminatory. It is a fact, however, that, for all communities and people of all backgrounds, there are many financial protections in place through the safety net of the welfare state. In addition, when it comes to children, funds have been made available through the Department for Education in the pupil premium. There are a plethora of support packages, which, combined collectively, are based on individual needs and individual circumstances. It is right that we treat people as individuals and not just categorise them. It is important to recognise that a plethora of issues affect people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, but we cannot assume that there is a one-size-fits-all approach, or a single-policy solution, to address those issues. It is right, as I have already indicated, that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities looks at the report that was published last week and that the Government provide a collective response to the many challenges facing the community.