Unequal impact? Coronavirus and BAME people Contents

6No recourse to public funds

Honestly, it is all just too crippling. I live in a refuge. I have no recourse to public funds. If I was not here, I would not have support. However, it is emotionally daunting. To say ‘Alone together’ […] might be fine, but to some of us, including me, I feel that society has forgotten us and that the Government have forgotten vulnerable women.290

123.No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is a visa condition, whereby non-European Economic Area residents subject to immigration control have no entitlement to a majority of welfare benefits until they have been granted indefinite leave to remain.291 The condition was designed to ensure that public funds were protected and that those seeking to establish a life in the UK did not place a ‘burden’ on the State or the taxpayer.292 Analysis conducted by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford found that at the end of 2019, up to 1.376 million people held valid UK visas that would usually have the NRPF condition attached to them.293

124.The NRPF conditionality affected BAME people before the pandemic emerged. The Law Society of England and Wales told us that “the NRPF policy significantly affects BAME communities as they are more likely to be migrants holding conditional visas”.294 In June 2019, the Unity Project, an organisation supporting individuals subjected to NRPF experiencing poverty and homelessness, published a report entitled, Access Denied: The cost of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy. They had studied 267 cases of people subjected to NRPF, and they found that 90% of these cases involved children of BME backgrounds.295

125.Many of the Government’s measures introduced to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic such as the moratorium on evictions and the Job Retention Scheme are not considered public funds so they are already available for those subject to the NRPF policy.296 On 18 April, the Government announced £3.2 billion for local authorities to help vulnerable people throughout the pandemic.297 On 23 September, the Government published updated guidance that stated that some families with NRPF are eligible for free school meals.298 However, these measures do not go far enough for those subject to the NRPF conditionality.

126.The impacts of the NRPF conditionality have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and there have been significant impacts reported for BAME individuals. Citizens Advice has seen a 110% increase in the number of people needing advice on issues related to the NRPF policy in the 12 months to 1 May 2020. Of these, 82% who sought advice about NRPF were people of colour: 32% of clients were Asian, 31% were Black and 19% were from another ethnic minority background.299

127.Stakeholders have informed us about the different impacts that the NRPF condition had on BAME people during the pandemic. For example, Migrant Voice outlined some of the economic impacts. It told us that “NRPF means no security or stability. NRPF migrants feel compelled to go to work regardless of vulnerabilities or being high risk as they would otherwise have no income”.300 It explained “it’s either go to work (often working in conditions that are not safe) or literally have no money to put food on the table”.301 In March 2020, the Institute for Public Policy Research, a thinktank, produced a briefing entitled, Migrant workers and coronavirus: risks and responses. It outlined that:

Many migrants in the UK have only a limited social safety net, given that visa conditions often include barriers to accessing public funds. This means that migrants face the unenviable choice of continuing to work in spite of the health risks or losing their livelihoods. This poses a significant danger to both individual workers and to efforts to minimise the transmission of the virus.302

128.The Law Society of England and Wales makes the case that “many BAME migrants with leave to remain will have held employment and paid taxes in the UK and may have suffered the same loss of income as UK citizens as a result of the pandemic. Despite this, they are not able to access equivalent state financial support due to the NRPF policy”.303 Citizens Advice conducted analysis on 75 evidence forms relating to NRPF during the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis found that:

Clients instructed to shield by the NHS—or living with someone instructed to shield—face having to go back to work because neither SSP nor furlough support is enough to live on without benefits.

Clients are struggling with accessing Statutory Sickness Pay, the furlough scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) due to being in precarious employment and on zero-hours contracts prior to the pandemic, leaving them with no government support at all.

Clients are going into significant levels of debt in order to avoid jeopardising their immigration status by attempting to claim benefits.

Clients with partners who have NRPF are struggling to meet their families’ needs due to being eligible for only half the benefits of families with nobody affected by NRPF. This is despite the fact that benefits applications take into account the income and capital of partners with NRPF.304

This demonstrates the significant economic challenges for individuals subject to the NRPF conditionality and that, in some cases, Government schemes are not addressing the loss of income. The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford explained that:

the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an economic crisis of unprecedented scale and has translated into a large increase in unemployment, which could get even worse. As recent research has shown, this crisis is expected to widen the existing economic inequalities and has put many migrants with NRPF, particularly those in precarious types of employment, in a vulnerable position.305

129.Another impact that has been reported for those subjected to the NRPF conditionality is a limited access to health care. Maria Wilby from Refugee Action—Colchester, told us that hospitals had charged migrants for care. She provided the example of a woman who had “been charged tens of thousands of pounds for her care […] and then over £10,000 for the care home she was sent to”.306 She said that this “forced the woman to move into inadequate housing while still recovering and shielding”.307 In the context of the pandemic, Rosie Lewis told us that some of those subjected to the NRPF condition “are not presenting” themselves to access health care; this may be for a number of reasons that range from paying for treatments or having little confidence in the system.308

130.The ‘immigration health surcharge’ is what non-EEA migrants pay as part of their visa and immigration requirements. It was introduced to ensure migrants were contributing to the NHS and so all the revenue from the surcharge goes directly to the NHS.309 The surcharge can be between £300 or £400 a year depending on the type of visa.310 This was set to be raised to £626 on 1 October 2020, however this was delayed by the Government.311 In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it was reported that migrants were being denied healthcare because of their immigration status.312 Therefore, special provisions have been made:

No charges would be made for the diagnosis or treatment of coronavirus, including testing, even if the result is negative, or any treatment provided if the result is positive or up to the point that it is negatively diagnosed

NHS trusts have been advised that no immigration checks are required for overseas visitors who are known to be only undergoing testing or treatment for coronavirus.313

131.We have also been informed about the impact that the NRPF policy was having on women, and especially BAME women. Her Centre, a women’s support service based in Greenwich, told us that “many women with no recourse to public funds are finding it much harder to access support from statutory services due to Covid”.314 This is supported by evidence from the Angelou Centre, who told us that:

The no recourse to funds rules means that for many black and minoritised and migrant women there is no safety net and no protection, there is an increase in destitution, no access to safe accommodation, no appeal for equitable justice (police, family, criminal and immigration courts) and no health care or medication.315

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a charity based in London, highlighted the impacts of coronavirus for BAME women with no recourse to public funds. It told us that it had:

seen an increase in our female clients with NRPF and with children seeking financial support and accommodation through local authorities since the start of the pandemic. With many temporary housing arrangements, previously offered by friends or community members, being withdrawn following the government’s advice to isolate in March, clients have been left with no other option but to present themselves and their children as homeless to their local authority. Almost all of our clients in this position are from ethnic minority communities.316

132.There has been an increasing number of calls to ease the restrictions of the NRPF condition for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the Chairs of the Home Affairs Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee wrote to the Home Secretary on 3 April.317 Many stakeholders have called for the permanent suspension of the NRPF policy, see for example, UNISON, End Violence Against Women Coalition, One Voice Network.318 Rosie Lewis said “we need to abolish [NRPF]. It is an inhumane ruling. It exacerbates vulnerabilities and exploitation and, by continuing to go ahead, it is in the name of the British people”.319 However, the Government remains firm in its position to not suspend the NRPF conditionality. JCWI told us that “suffice it to say that the refusal by the government to disapply such restrictions during the pandemic has driven people into destitution and homelessness, including families with young children”.320

133.Since the coronavirus pandemic is recent and emerging there is very limited in-depth evidence that provides an account of the impact of the no recourse to public funds policy. Much of the evidence that stakeholders have provided to us is anecdotal and substantive evidence is required. However, early evidence provides the consensus that there are severe impacts of the no recourse to public funds policy that need to be addressed. We recommend that the Government suspends the no recourse to public funds policy for the duration of the pandemic. We recommend that the Home Office conducts an inquiry into the impact of the no recourse to public funds policy on BAME people and publishes a report by the end of summer 2022.

290 Q26 [Rosie Lewis]

291 The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, Between a rock and a hard place: the COVID-19 crisis and migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), 26 June 2020

293 The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, Between a rock and a hard place: the COVID-19 crisis and migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), 26 June 2020

294 CVB0047, page 8

300 CVB0043, page 2

301 Ibid

302 The Institute for Public Policy Research, Migrant workers and coronavirus: risks and responses, 25 March 2020

303 CVB0047, page 8

305 The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, Between a rock and a hard place: the COVID-19 crisis and migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), 26 June 2020

306 CVB0004, page 1

307 CVB0004 [Refugee Action – Colchester]

309 Home Office Media, Media factsheet: Immigration Health Surcharge, 29 June 2020

314 CVB0010, page 1

315 CVB0053, page 2

316 CVB0058, page 8

320 CVB0058 [Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants]

Published: 15 December 2020 Site information    Accessibility statement