Project 17 Submission to the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment Call for Evidence

 

4th September 2019

 

Introduction

  1. Project 17 is a specialist organisation working to reduce destitution among migrant families with no access to mainstream benefits or social housing because of their immigration status (No Recourse to Public Funds or ‘NRPF’). Most of our work tries to improve the implementation of support from local authorities under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which gives local authorities powers to provide support for families with children in need within their area. To this end, we carry our direct advice and advocacy work across London, we provide training and support for other organisations assisting families with no recourse to public funds, and we call for the improved implementation of support.

 

  1. This submission to the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment is focused on migrant families with ‘no recourse to public funds’. ‘No recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) is an immigration condition imposed on people ‘subject to immigration control’.[1] It affects both undocumented migrants without leave to remain in the UK and individuals with time-limited leave subject to an NRPF restriction, as well as those who have leave as a result of a maintenance undertaking (e.g. a sponsor has agreed to cover their expenses and accommodation). A person with NRPF cannot access most welfare benefits or social housing, but they can access publicly funded services that are not listed as ‘public funds’ for immigration purposes.[2] Individuals without leave to remain in the UK are also not legally entitled to seek paid employment.

 

  1. Since Project 17 was established in 2013, we have supported approximately 991 families to explore their entitlements to local authority support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Section 17 enables local councils to provide accommodation and financial support to avoid children being taken into the care of the local authority. This duty exists even if the family has no right to work, no access to welfare benefits and social housing and no leave to remain in the UK. An estimated 5,900 children from families with NRPF across England and Wales received section 17 support in 2012-2013.[3]

 

  1. The families Project 17 works with are often under an immense amount of stress and many are or are at risk of being street homeless and/or are unable to meet other essential living needs. Without the safety net of social security, many individuals with NRPF end up living in extreme poverty and become totally reliant on support from food banks, charities, friends, and faith groups.[4] The driving factors behind destitution among families with NRPF include the fact that the parent/carer(s) do not have the right to work in the UK, have a low income, have experienced relationship breakdown, are in inadequate or precarious housing and cannot access free or legally aided immigration advice.

 

Food insecurity amongst families with ‘no recourse to public funds’

 

  1. One of the key causes of food insecurity in the UK is the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition. Research has found that women, disabled people, pregnant women, and children are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of the NRPF condition.[5] Our data supports this, with 81% of our clients being single parent families. Of those, 92% are women. All of our clients are living in poverty. The government does not hold data on the number of people with NRPF but research has estimated that there are 120,000 undocumented children in the UK, all of whom will be affected by this condition.[6] The overall number of children affected by NRPF is likely to be much higher as it would include children with permission to live in the UK and children with British citizenship whose parents have NRPF.

 

  1. Many families with NRPF are unable to afford or access adequate or nutritious food partly because of their exclusion from the welfare system. Last year we worked with 198 families (with a total of 380 children) with no recourse to public funds. We estimate that 90% of those families are living in food poverty. This issue can be further compounded by the fact that many of the families who are food insecure live in unsuitable accommodation, such as B&Bs, without access to adequate cooking facilities and storage.[7] Our report Not Seen, Not Heard: Children’s Experiences of the Hostile Environment (2019) found that families experienced a number of issues with accommodation provided under section 17, including living with rats, not having access to cooking facilities, cockroach infestations and not having basic furniture such as a table or chairs to eat off.[8] 64% of properties surveyed in a 2015 study of accommodation provided under section 17 were found to be inadequate and 74% of these inadequate properties were physically unsuitable.[9] One third of the families placed in inadequate accommodation had no access to one or more basic facilities for cooking, washing or heating.[10]

 

  1. A number of measures that currently exist to help mitigate food insecurity for pregnant women and children, such as Healthy Start Vouchers or Free School Meals, are not accessible to people with NRPF due to the fact that the eligibility criteria for many of these schemes is tied to ‘qualifying benefits’, which means they are ineligible.

 

  1. It would only cost the government just £437 per year to provide a child with a school meal during term time.[11] The United Nations Committee on Economic and Social Rights states that “all children within a State, including undocumented children, have a right to receive education and access to adequate food and affordable health care”. Yet children whose parents have NRPF are currently unable to automatically access free school meals beyond year 2, when universal free school meal entitlement ends.[12] Many families cannot afford to fund their children’s meals, and without provision from the school these children are faced with the choice of either skipping meals or being pushed into debt.

 

  1. The consequences of food insecurity in childhood can result in both short term and long term physical and mental health problems including poor growth, lower academic achievement, as well as an increased risk of serious diseases such as cancers or heart disease.[13]

 

  1. There are currently two safeguards in place to prevent destitution amongst families with NRPF. However, we argue that neither of these are working and that as a result, thousands of families are experiencing severe poverty. Below we set out the two safeguards and explain why they are failing.

 

a)      ‘Change of Conditions’ application

 

Some individuals with leave to remain subject to an NRPF condition can apply to the Home

Office to have the condition removed (otherwise known as a ‘Change of Conditions’ application), but those awaiting a Home Office decision on their application for leave to

remain are not able to do so. In 2016, The Children’s Society found that only a third of applications to lift the NRPF condition were successful.[14] A recent study by The Unity Project, which examined the process of applying to the Home Office to lift an NRPF condition, found that:

 

 

b)      Section 17

 

As outlined above, Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 places a duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children ‘in need’ in their area. Under section 17, families with NRPF may be able to access accommodation and limited financial support from a local authority. But the pressures of austerity and cuts to local authority budgets have left local authorities largely unwilling and unable to provide such support. Six in ten families who try to access section 17 support are refused and unlawful local authority ‘gatekeeping’ is widespread.[16] Our recent report, Not Seen, Not Heard found that 24% of children who participated in the research had been left street homeless by a local authority.[17]

 

There is no specific statutory guidance on the provision of section 17 support for destitute NRPF families, which means support varies considerably across local authorities. Financial support provided to families under section 17 is often well below Asylum Support rates under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act (£35.39 per person per week with small additional payments for pregnant women, babies under 1 year old, and children aged 1-3). This is the minimum the Home Office says is required to avoid a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, and case law suggests it is the minimum a local authority is required to pay under Section 17. Our recent report found that rates of financial support can be as low as £1.70 per person per day and that families in receipt of support are often unable to afford essential items such as school uniform, nutritious food and transport.[18] In many cases, families will require support for between 1-3 years. According to a report published by the No Recourse to Public Funds Network, the average number of days a household was financially supported by a local authority in 2018-19 was 820 days.[19]As detailed in point 6, accommodation provided to families is also frequently inadequate.

 

  1. For the reasons set out above, families with NRPF are often unable to access healthy, nutritious food. The case studies at the end of this submission illustrate these issues further.

 

Support from food banks

 

  1. The current policy of many emergency food aid providers is to only provide a limited number of vouchers per year to individuals who access their services. This short-term support is often inadequate for individuals with NRPF, who may live in extreme poverty for extended periods of time with little to no access to other forms of support. The Children’s Society has also reported that individuals with NRPF are sometimes unable to access food banks because their immigration status presents ‘an anomaly which food banks sometimes aren’t able to effectively process.’

 

  1. It is important to recognise that emergency food aid will not be able to tackle the underlying issues that are causing food insecurity. It is therefore crucial that the focus be put on efforts that tackle the overarching policies that cause destitution and hardship.

 

The role of local authorities in promoting healthy eating in their local populations

 

  1. Local authorities can play a much more active role in promoting healthy eating in their local populations, especially among children and young people, and those on lower incomes. Local authority initiatives by Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Islington to provide universal free school meals to all primary school children have benefitted families with NRPF. From September 2019, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham will also start to provide universal free breakfast to all primary school pupils and will be piloting a scheme to deliver free lunches in two secondary schools. We recommend that free school meals be made available to all children who need them, regardless of immigration status, and that central and local government should take steps to achieve this.

 

National policy

 

  1. To ensure efforts to improve food insecurity and poor diet, and its impact on public health and the environment, are effectively implemented, the government must recognise and take steps to address the relationship between immigration policies (including the NRPF condition) and food insecurity. As a recent study on household food poverty in low-income families found, welfare and immigration policies are ‘creating hunger among children and families’.[20] We recommend that the NRPF condition be abolished in order to safeguard migrant communities from destitution.
  2. Any monitoring of household food insecurity should take into account all vulnerable groups, including individuals with NRPF. We also recommend that universal free school meals be extended to all children so that no child goes hungry during the school day, and that a right to food framework that includes a legally binding universal right to food be developed alongside broader incorporation of socio-economic rights.


Case study A

A and her partner have 4 children under 10. A has an outstanding immigration application but is unable to work or access public funds because of her immigration status. A is unable to afford fresh fruit and vegetables and can only buy fruit and vegetables about once a month. A mainly cooks pasta for the family. A cannot afford breakfast so the children do not eat in the mornings, they simply drink milk. One of the children has developed a stomach problem because she does not have a sufficiently nutritious diet. A is forced to regularly skip meals and was unable to breastfeed her two youngest children as she was not eating enough to produce breastmilk. When A approached social services for support under section 17, she was wrongly refused because the family were not homeless. After advocacy support from Project 17, the family were able to access s17 support from the local authority but were provided with just £61.80 a week.

Case study B

B is unable to access public funds or work because of her immigration status. B has an outstanding immigration application with the Home Office and is awaiting the outcome. When B requested support under s17 from her local authority, she was refused. When we provided advocacy support to B and her children, the local authority began an assessment but refused to provide interim support. One of B’s children, C, developed Pica and was assessed by a CAMHS practitioner. C was regularly eating plasterboard, foam like materials from his pillow, stuffing from his coat and fibre from his socks and jumpers. C felt a lot of shame about this. The CAMHS practitioner concluded that it was difficult for C to be supported to reduce the amount of foam and plasterboard he was eating as he was extremely hungry. C told his mum the main reason he was eating the non-food items was because he was so hungry.

Case study D

D is unable to access public funds or work because of her immigration status. D has an outstanding immigration application with the Home Office and is awaiting the outcome. D has a young baby and ran out of money to feed her child. D and her child are extremely hungry. When D approached her local authority for support under section 17, she was refused. D was forced to beg on the streets in order to feed her child. Four months after we referred D to the local authority for urgent support, she was provided with financial support.

 

 


[1]Section 115 Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1999/33/contents

[2] Paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules contains a definitive list of ‘public funds’ that those subject to NRPF cannot access. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules

[3] Price, J. and Spencer, S. (2015). Safeguarding children from destitution: Local authority responses to families with ‘no recourse to public funds’. Oxford: Oxford University Press www.compas.ox.ac.uk/

[4] Dexter, Z. et al. (2015). Making Life Impossible: How the needs of destitute migrant children are going unmet. London: The Children’s Society https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/making-life-impossible.pdf; Jolly, A. (2018). “You Just Have to Work with What You’ve Got” Practitioner Research with Precarious Migrant Families. Social Work in Action, 30(2), 99-116 https://doi.org/10.1080/09503153.2017.1385756

[5]Woolley, A. (2019). Access Denied: The cost of the “no recourse to public funds” policy. London: The Unity Project https://static1.squarespace.com/static/590060b0893fc01f949b1c8a/t/5d0bb6100099f70001faad9c/1561048725178/Access+Denied+-+the+cost+of+the+No+Recourse+to+Public+Funds+policy.+The+Unity+Project.+June+2019.pdf

[6]Sigona, N. and Hughes, V. (2012). No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular Migrant Children and Families in the UK. Oxford: Oxford University Press https://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/2012/pr-2012-undocumented_migrant_children/

[7] Threipland, C. (2015) A Report into the Standard of Housing Provided to Children in Need in London. London: Hackney Migrant Centre and Hackney Community Law Centre. https://www.hackneymigrantcentre.org.uk/sites/hackneymigrantcentre.org.uk/files/A%20Place%20To%20Call%20Home%20-%20Embargoed%20Interactive%20Version_0.pdf

[8] Dickson, E. (2019). Not Seen, Not Heard: Children’s Experiences of the Hostile Environment. London: Project 17. https://www.project17.org.uk/media/70571/Not-seen-not-heard-1-.pdf

[9] Threipland (2015)

[10] Threipland (2015)

[11] Long, R. (2017). Briefing paper: School meals and nutritional standards (England). https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/30596/1/SN04195__Redacted.pdf

[12] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/universal-infant-free-school-meals-guide-for-schools-and-local-authorities

[13] O’Connell, R., Knight. A, and Brannen, J. (2018). Holiday hunger requires radical long term solutions. London: The BMJ. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2018/08/15/holiday-hunger-requires-radical-long-term-solutions/

[14] Dexter et al (2015)

[15] Woolley, A. (2019). Access Denied: The cost of the “no recourse to public funds” policy. London: The Unity Project https://static1.squarespace.com/static/590060b0893fc01f949b1c8a/t/5d0bb6100099f70001faad9c/1561048725178/Access+Denied+-+the+cost+of+the+No+Recourse+to+Public+Funds+policy.+The+Unity+Project.+June+2019.pdf

[16] Dexter et al (2015); Dickson (2019).

[17] Dickson (2019)

[18] Ibid.

[19] No Recourse to Public Funds Network, Annual report 2018-19: Local authority support for people with no recourse to public funds

http://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/Documents/NRPF-connect-annual-report-2018-19.pdf

[20]O’Connell, R., Knight. A, and Brannen, J. (2019). Living Hand to Mouth: Children and Food in Low-Income Families. London: Child Poverty Action Group