Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 3:40 pm, 18th June 2020

I agree with my hon. Friend Kim Johnson and congratulate my hon. Friend Dawn Butler on securing this debate on how she opened it.

I want to focus on one point. The Public Health England review says:

“People of BAME groups are also more likely than people of white British ethnicity to be born abroad, which means they may face additional barriers in accessing services”.

I want to highlight one barrier in particular, and that is the “no recourse to public funds” restrictions on leave to remain, which has already been touched on this debate. We are talking about families who have leave to remain in the UK, who are law-abiding and hard-working, often with children born in the UK and who may well be British nationals and have British passports. Typically, they are on a 10-year route to securing indefinite leave to remain, and in the meantime they have to apply four times, getting two and a half years to remain each time. Throughout that 10-year period, when they are working here, typically very hard, doing exactly the kinds of jobs we have been talking about, they have no recourse to public funds.

That is a formidable barrier that those people face. It is exactly the kind of barrier that the Public Health England report refers to. I asked the Prime Minister yesterday about this, and I asked him about it at the Liaison Committee three weeks ago. His answer then was that hard-working families in that position should have help of one kind or another. I absolutely agree. Unfortunately, he did not say that when I asked him about it yesterday, but it is what he said to me at the Liaison Committee, and he was right on that occasion. The problem is that those families are not getting that help.

It comes as a shock to a lot of people to learn that the parents of children who have been born in the UK and might well be British nationals cannot claim child benefit for them, because no recourse to public funds excludes that. The families cannot apply for universal credit either, or access the safety net that so many people have had to depend on during this crisis—2 million additional people have been claiming universal credit since the beginning of the crisis. That safety net is not there for people with no recourse to public funds. That has created a very serious problem of destitution, a huge increase in food bank demand in many parts of the country and, in my area, the return of something I never thought we would see again: soup kitchens, where people are handing out free cooked food just to keep others alive.