No Recourse to Public Funds: The Disproportional Impact on Women by Bethany Morris, Immigration Advice Service
Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of migrant families have found themselves struggling to make ends meet, thrusting the UK Government’s No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule into the spotlight. Although NRPF is failing to provide a safety net to families facing job and income losses caused by Coronavirus, the negative impacts of the policy have been well documented, even before the pandemics outbreak. However, as socio-economic disparities continue to widen the disproportional impacts of NRPF on migrant families, particularly women, are becoming glaringly more apparent.
The NRPF rule applies to most people in the UK who are not considered habitually resident; those who fall under this bracket include those in full-time employment, partners of those with British Citizenship, undocumented migrants and children born in the UK. The rule has a well-documented history of exacerbating economic and gender inequalities in the UK too and although the Home Office has never acknowledged how many people the NRPF benefit ban covers, The Children’s Society has estimated it could be as high as one million adults from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and 142,000 children.
A report conducted by the Unity Project in June 2019 discovered that “women, pregnant [women], disabled people and children are more likely to be impacted by the negative effects of the NRPF condition”. Single mothers also appear to fare the worst under NRPF; many are unable to take up full-time employment and without access to the benefits system, they are more likely to fall into destitution than almost any other demographic under NRPF. 77% of the cases taken by the Unity Project were single mothers with children under the age of ten, and just under half (47%) of cases were single mothers with children under five years old. The data sample used by the Unity Project demonstrated that parents with preschool aged children were less likely to be in employment (58%) and only one-third of those without preschool aged children were in employment.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak hit the UK in January 2020, the Welsh Government has invested £10 million pounds to support those at risk of homelessness and has become one of the first UK nations to scrap the NRPF rule during the crisis. Katie Dalton, Director of Cymorth Cymru has said that the extra funding will help secure “accommodation and support for people experiencing homelessness, violence and domestic abuse, including those with no recourse to public funds”.
In May, the UK Government also revised its guidance on NRPF, marginally lifting the ban on public funding for family members who are at increased risk of becoming destitute. The change to NRPF policy follows a recent High-Court decision which discovered that the Home Office had breached the rights of an eight-year old boy who was found living in extreme poverty due to the effects of the NRPF rule on his single mother’s income.
Although changes to the NRPF rule are welcome, the tweak is hardly the transformational change needed. Only those in the UK under a Family Visa may be able to access public funding – and even then, they still need to prove to their local council that they are at ‘imminent risk’ of destitution; which to some degree has already been in place. Struggling families are able to seek support from their local authorities via Section 17, but this ‘safety net’, according to Garden Court Chambers, ‘is severely broken’. 6 in 10 families who attempt to gain Section 17 aid are refused, suggesting those burdened with NRPF will be met with a similar fate.
Shockingly, when questioned by MPs at a committee hearing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that he was unaware of the NRPF rule, despite the possibility of 100,000 NRPF people legally living in the UK being faced with destitution during COVID-19. This is particularly concerning for those struggling due to NRPF who already feel neglected and ignored by the Government. It is also of significant concern to migrant women; not only do migrant women make up a significant portion of those in the NRPF bracket, but according to findings by the Unity Project, Southall Black Sisters and Women’s Aid Federation England, they are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence, suicide, and economic exploitation. Without access to financial aid, migrant domestic abuse survivors are disproportionately turned away from refuge spaces and support networks. So for these women who feel alone and vilified, the Prime Minister’s lack of awareness is astounding and helps reinforce the feelings of alienation enforced on those struggling under the policy.
When paired with the Covid-19 pandemic, NRPF is also generating concerns over visas and residency within the UK migrant community. Those who are under the NRPF rule and have lost their jobs during the pandemic have been told by the UK Government to ‘rely on savings’ to survive – which becomes increasingly difficult when there are no benefit supplements yet visa renewal fees to be met. This is of particular concern for migrants under a UK Spouse Visa as their British partner either needs to earn £18,600 per annum, or the couple needs to have a joint savings account with at least £16,000 stored away in order to remain in the country. The Coronavirus crisis clearly puts such applicants in grave jeopardy through no fault of their own, as failure to meet the financial requirement of their visa could result in voluntary removal from the country or forced removal – deportation. Using their savings to survive the crisis on rent, food and other essentials could well mean they eventually lose their residency in the UK.
As the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of stopping, it is important that Governments across the globe, but also here in the UK, take the appropriate measures to protect those who are most vulnerable. The UK Government’s NRPF rule is indisputably harmful to those who fall under its bracket, with women at particular risk of hardship under the policy. If we are to support migrant families adequately, the UK Government must consider following the example set by the Welsh Government and scrap the NRPF rule to ensure that those who are in desperate need of financial support can access the funds they need to support themselves and their families.
This article was written by Bethany Morris, a features writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK and Ireland immigration lawyers.