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Immigration: Children

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 23 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on children of the no recourse to public funds immigration condition.

My Lords, the Government work with local authorities to support families with children who are subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. The condition applies to migrants with no leave to remain or those here on a temporary basis. They include skilled workers and their families where the minimum income threshold for a visa is normally £30,000. Those granted leave on the basis of family life may apply to have the condition lifted to avoid destitution.

My Lords, I think that the answer there was that no assessment has been made. “It’s just like living a life without being alive”, is how one girl described the impact of this immigration rule, which denies access to most benefits, free school meals and social housing. In view of the growing evidence of the hunger, homelessness and emotional pain that it is causing children, and the ineffectiveness of central and local authority safeguards, why are the Government not monitoring the rule’s impact and doing more to protect children according to their obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to give primary consideration to the best interests of children?

The noble Baroness will know that the no recourse to public funds condition has been set by successive Governments—it is not new. There are obviously exceptions for refugees relating to humanitarian protection and there are certainly discretionary leave cases. We also recognise the need for exceptions where the right to family or private life is involved under the Immigration Rules. We therefore allow applicants to seek leave on family life grounds or to request that the no recourse to public funds provision is lifted or not imposed at all. Local authorities have seen real-terms increases and will do so up to the spending review. They should be well placed in addition to the extra £410 million allocated to them in 2019-20 to invest in adult and children’s social care services.

My Lords, research by the Children’s Society shows that this particular group of children is more likely to experience absolute poverty, homelessness and greater levels of domestic violence. Despite the significant evidence about the damage that poverty, destitution and abuse can have on children’s outcomes, the Home Office has not yet made public how many children are subject to these NRPF conditions on their families’ leave to remain. Will the Minister commit to making these figures publicly available?

I am not in a position to make the figures publicly available. However, where children are involved, families may qualify for support from local authorities under Section 17 of the Children Act. It is very difficult to substantiate some of the claims made in the report without knowing the cases. I do not decry what the right reverend Prelate says: we have an absolute duty to children in our care and our communities.

My Lords, following the right reverend Prelate’s question, does the Minister agree that it is important to know how many children are affected? We cannot take policy decisions without underlying information. Does she recognise that there are probably tens of thousands of British-born children —or children eligible to apply for British citizenship—who do not have access to public funds? Is this the right way to treat fellow Britons? How does it affect integration and cohesion?

While I cannot give out the figures, I can say that 54 local authorities can access a database developed by local government with funding from the Home Office. It is called NRPF Connect and allows for online checks and information sharing, enabling the Home Office to identify local authority-supported cases and prioritise them for conclusion. There is communication between the Home Office and local authorities.

My Lords, some of these children will be rough sleepers. Will the Minister address the accusation that the Rough Sleepers’ Support Service is being used as a secret service?

I thank my noble friend for referring to that accusation. I have heard it before: it was raised in your Lordships’ House the other day. It is not a secret service. Officials are working with partners to ensure that effective referral processes are established and that rough sleepers will always be made aware of how information collected on them will be shared and used.

My Lords, have the Government not been asked twice about the number of children experiencing the consequences of having no recourse to public funds? I am not quite clear from the Government’s response whether they have that figure but are declining to reveal it or do not know the figure. If the Government do not have the figure, is it because they know they would be embarrassed by the figure’s magnitude if they had to give it out, or are they just not particularly interested?

It is not a question of not being particularly interested. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, there is information sharing between the Home Office and local authorities. I imagine that it is management information, as opposed to publishable figures, but I can confirm that to the noble Lord.

My Lords, in her response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the Minister said that several Governments have applied the same rules. She might be interested to know that a very distinguished noble friend and fellow Cross-Bencher sitting not a million miles away from me muttered in my direction, “One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same wrong thing again and again”.

I come back to the point of children being denied free school meals. In all conscience, how can any Home Office official or Minister say that that is the right thing to do? In what way does it promote integration? And what on earth have those children done wrong?

The point I made did not uphold the noble Lord’s point that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity but that successive Governments have accepted that, if you do not have right of residency, NRPF should apply. On free school meals, a pupil or their parent must be in receipt of any of the qualifying benefits, including asylum support, and must make a claim to the school for free school meals. It is not that a child would not have access, but that they must satisfy the criteria. Decisions over whether immigrants or refugees have recourse to public funds and/or receive asylum support are made by the Home Office.