A Safety Net For All

On Wednesday 27th May the Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee in Parliament. He was asked a question by Stephen Timms MP about the destitution faced by migrants who have lost their income due to COVID and are prevented from accessing benefits by the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status. In response, the Prime Minister promised to look into this, saying “people who’ve worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvc326V6vMI for the full exchange.

I have therefore written the following letter to the PM welcoming this promise and encouraging him to suspend or scrap the NRPF status.

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to you following your appearance at the Liaison Committee this week, where you were asked about support for those living and working in the UK who are prevented from accessing welfare support because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition.

In response to a question posed by Stephen Timms MP about a family who are struggling during lockdown because of the NRPF condition, you rightly said that ‘people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another’. You committed to find out how many people are in this position and what your government can do to help. I would like to formally welcome this commitment and highlight the calls of city and local government leaders who have encouraged your Government to consider suspending, or scrapping, the No Recourse to Public Funds status.

Bristolians with NRPF contribute to the welfare system through taxes but are not able to access the support they need when they lose their income. Many have built lives in the UK over the course of many years, and a significant number have children who were born and raised here. However, when they need support, their children are not eligible for provisions like free school meals. Survivors of domestic abuse with NRPF also face additional barriers to fleeing and seeking support. As I’ve said publicly on many occasions[1], we see people who come to Bristol from abroad as significant assets to our city, and we need to do everything we can to provide them with the framework to make their contribution, including giving them access to the safety net we all rely on.

This is particularly urgent given the current context of global pandemic. Across local government, there has been a collective call to suspend NRPF to enable people to access the support they need and, crucially, to help stop the spread of COVID-19 among those who need to self-isolate safely without losing income. In Bristol we are currently housing approximately 280 people in emergency accommodation due to the COVID crisis, and more than 60 of these people have NRPF status. We know through our services across city and partners from the voluntary sector that there are many more families and people affected by NRPF status.

We have set up a special ‘One City’ taskforce to identify and support people on pathways from this emergency accommodation into more sustainable long-term housing. This is a unique opportunity to end rough sleeping in Bristol, but it is significantly hampered by the NRPF status which dramatically restricts the options for those people.

NRPF status will also be an unnecessary drag on our inclusive economic recovery. I have publicly set out my ambitions to help rebuild Bristol’s economy in a way that tackles inequality and exclusion, and to create a city where nobody is left behind. But for those with NRPF status who have lost or who will lose their jobs, the barriers to recovery will be that much higher without access to Universal Credit or in-work benefits that the rest of us take for granted.   

The response to the COVID emergency has shown that when we all pull together as one society we can achieve extraordinary things. Scrapping the NRPF status would be a powerful symbol that the Government is committed to ensuring that we really are ‘all in this together’ and that our recovery from COVID will be on the basis of fundamental equality, inclusion and fairness.

[1] https://www.corecities.com/publications/it-time-lifttheban

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