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 do agree, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

How many people are there in this situation? The Home Office does not know to how many people it has given the status and refuses to answer even the most basic questions on this subject.

Last month, I asked the Home Office a written parliamentary question: how many people were given leave to remain with no recourse to public funds in 2019? I received the reply on 20 May:

“The information you have requested is not assured to the standard required by ONS for publication and as it would be too costly to do so, we are unable to provide it”— in other words, “We’re not going to bother answering the question.” I have asked the UK Statistics Authority what it makes of that answer and the attempt to hide behind the Office for National Statistics. I am looking forward to receiving the chair’s reply, which will arrive, I believe, quite shortly. Fortunately, the Children’s Society has made an estimate, drawing on the work of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. Its estimate is that at least 1 million people in the UK have leave to remain, but no recourse to public funds, including over 100,000 children.

I think most people in this situation are overseas students who have leave to remain, leave to study, but no recourse to public funds. I must raise the question: is it really right that we want to completely abandon those who—in many cases, at great sacrifice to themselves and their families—have come to the UK to study? They have been supporting themselves through working and their work has stopped. They have absolutely nothing, and they are depending on the soup kitchens I have referred to.

There is a form on gov.uk, which appeared on 3 April, allowing people to apply to be exempted from no recourse to public funds. The Home Office refuses to answer questions about how many people have applied, how long it is taking it to answer those applications and what proportion of the applications are successful, but from the experience of my constituents, it seems to be taking between two months and two and a half months to respond to applications to be exempted from no recourse to public funds. If someone is destitute, they cannot be expected to wait for a couple of months until a struggling Government Department gets around to deciding whether they might be able to get some help. I have had one person in touch with me who has been waiting since the middle of February for an answer.

As we have already been reminded by my hon. Friends, some people have had to carry on working during this crisis who should not have done for their own sake and for the sake of wider public health, but they have had no alternative because it has been the only way they have been able to achieve any sort of income. What would any Member of this House have done in that circumstance, with no money at all?

Finally, I want to pay tribute to organisations in my constituency that have been helping, including the Bonny Downs Baptist church and the Bonny Downs Community Association, a long-standing food bank that has had a massive increase in demand; the Masjid Ibrahim mosque; the Malayalee Association of the UK, representing people from south India; the London Tamil Sangam; and my friend and colleague Councillor Lakmini Shah, who has been supporting—single-handedly, I think—several dozen families in this position. The no recourse to public funds restriction must be suspended for the duration of this crisis.