Amendment 24

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:02 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP):

Moved by Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)

24: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“Recourse to public funds(1) For the purpose of this section, a person (“P”) is defined as any person who, immediately before the commencement of Schedule 1, was—(a) residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 (S.I. 2016/1052);(b) residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with a right conferred by or under any of the other instruments repealed by Schedule 1; or(c) otherwise residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with any right derived from European Union law which continues, by virtue of section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, to be recognised and available in domestic law after exit day.(2) Regulations under section 4(1) may not be made until the Government has brought forward legislative measures to ensure that P can access social security benefits, where P is habitually resident, including repealing or amending the following provisions insofar as they relate to P—(a) section 3(1)(c)(ii) of the Immigration Act 1971;(b) section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;(c) any provision in subordinate legislation, which imposes a “no recourse to public funds” condition on grants of limited leave to enter or remain; and(d) any other enactment or power exercised under any other enactment, which makes immigration status a condition to access social security benefits.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause seeks to restrict measures prohibiting access to public funds.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, Amendment 24, which appears under my name, is one of a suite of amendments that I moved in Committee. I continue to stand by all of them, but in achieving a disappointing response from the Minister then, I have restricted myself to just one. I record now, as I did then, the role of Liberty in working on all of them. When I saw that no one else had brought forward a similar amendment, I felt that this issue had to be raised in any immigration Bill.

This amendment is about “no recourse to public funds”. It is something I find myself talking about so often that the phrase rolls off my tongue like poetry, but of course this is the stuff of nightmare, of personal desperation and great suffering. It is the situation of the victim of domestic violence facing the choice between homelessness and penury for herself and her children and the very real danger of being maimed or killed if she stays. It is the situation of the child going hungry, suffering the miserable, desperate pangs that prevent concentration or hope, when his peers get free school meals.

I assume there is no Member of your Lordships’ House who would deny the human right to life, but “no recourse to public funds” denies access to the most basic essentials. People are forced to rely on the fragile, overstretched resources of specialist charities, and people fall through the cracks of that hopelessly underresourced, fragile net of support.

I fear that in this Bill, the Minister and I are trapped on a merry-go-round. I believe I can foresee the response I am likely to receive: that this is discriminatory if applied only to people newly covered by immigration law, EU and EEA citizens, and not to everybody. At the risk of sounding like a recording, I want this to apply to everybody. The Government could and should end any application of the “no recourse to public funds” rule. In this amendment, I have tried to save as many as the rules of the Table Office will allow me. Saving some people from being penniless and homeless, from hunger and abuse, and perhaps from death, is better than saving none. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for tabling Amendment 24. In supporting it, I will not repeat the evidence I rehearsed in Committee showing the damaging impact of the “no recourse to public funds” condition on children denied free school meals, in particular—she mentioned that particular group. But I will draw attention to a national survey published since then by the Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active, which found that nine out of 10 parents agreed that eligibility for free school meals should apply regardless of immigration status.

I also want to return to some specific points I raised in Committee. First, I would like to thank the noble Baroness the Minister for responding to my question about data in her letter. I hope the department will follow this up with the Children’s Society, to see how it might improve the data so as to provide a better indicator of the levels of hardship created and the demographics of the groups worst affected.

In Committee, the noble Baroness the Minister referred to what I said about the temporary extension of eligibility for free school meals to support families with NRPF. But she did not acknowledge the point I made that this was a partial concession covering only some NRPF families, nor that the concession has now been withdrawn. I asked what possible justification there could be for this, and I quoted from a letter from 60 organisations to the Education Secretary, which among other things noted that these children will face having to make up half a year of lost learning on empty stomachs. Could the noble Lord the Minister who is speaking today respond to that point now and, at the very least, commit to taking it up with colleagues in the Department for Education?

According to a briefing from the Children’s Society and others, the Government have indicated that there will be a full review of the free school meals system and that that is needed before the extension to NRPF families can be made permanent. But why? Why does it need a full review? Hunger cannot wait for a review. What is the scope and timetable of this review? If the Minister cannot answer that now, please could it be covered in a subsequent letter?

The Minister did not respond either in Committee or in her letter to a specific question that I posed, echoing the Work and Pensions Select Committee. I asked for a definitive clarification as to whether local welfare assistance funds counted as public funds for these purposes. They act as a kind of safety net below the safety net—a rather ragged safety net below the safety net—but if even those are not available, it makes life that much harder for this group. Again, if the Minister does not have the answer, could it please be covered in a subsequent letter?

The comprehensive improvement plan, published last week in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, identified the NRPF as one of six primary streams in the compliant—aka hostile—environment. It is interesting that the Home Secretary, as far as I can see, did not refer to this rather important plan of the Home Office in her speech on Sunday at the Conservative Party conference. But in contrast to the plan’s emollient tone, while talking about compassion and so forth, we have learned in the media—and I know that the Minister will say that he cannot respond to leaks, but it did not seem like a leak; it seemed like it had been deliberately placed—that there is a push by Downing Street to

“radically beef up the hostile environment in 2021.”

If this is true, it makes a mockery of the review of the hostile/compliant environment detailed in the Home Office’s plan. Can the Minister provide a categorical denial that the intention is not to radically beef up the compliant/hostile environment, because that certainly was not what Wendy Williams was calling for?

I refer back to the exchange that I had in Committee with the Minister on the Windrush Lessons Learned Review—and I thank her for the offer of the meeting. It seems to me from the comprehensive improvement plan that the review of the hostile/compliant environment will not include questioning its legislative underpinnings. For instance, it will not question the right-to-rent legislation itself, but simply how it is being implemented. What if the review concludes that the legislation itself is not proportionate in meeting the Government’s stated aims, which is part of what Wendy Williams’s recommendations said it should be looking at? I would be very happy if the Minister responds to say that I have misinterpreted what the plan says, and that the terms of reference are that it is open to those reviewing the hostile/compliant environment to question the legislation, if that is where the evidence takes them. Surely—going back to my first point—the denial of free school meals to hungry children is not proportionate.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. The concept of no recourse to public funds is one that causes significant difficulties to a small number of people, but for those individuals it can be very significant. Quite how many people fall under this provision is perhaps a little bit unclear. I cite a paper on no recourse to public funds written by Professor Catherine Barnard, a colleague at Cambridge University—and I declare it as an interest that she is a colleague. She quotes Stephen Timms at the Liaison Committee in May raising with the Prime Minister the issue of destitution as a result of no recourse to public funds. The Prime Minister is reported to have said:

“You have raised a very, very important point if a condition of their leave to remain is that they should have no recourse to public funds. I will find out how many there are in that position and we will see what we can do to help.”

Does the Minister know whether the Prime Minister has yet been able to answer that question of how many people fall into this category? Will he tell us what plans the Prime Minister has to help individuals who have no recourse to public funds? I suspect that his briefing does not include answers to those questions, so I confine myself to reiterating the concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Lister of Burtersett. That is really to say that, while ideally the provision for no recourse to public funds should be looked at in its entirety, in the confines of this Bill we understand that it can only be the case for EU nationals. However, in the context of the Covid crisis, it has become clear that individuals can face very significant difficulties that are not covered by the normal provisions for seeking benefits precisely because they fall under this condition of no recourse to public funds. Will the Government think again on this issue? It relates not to people who are coming to seek benefits, who simply say that the United Kingdom is a country where they think they are going to be able to benefit from the system. It rather relates to individuals who are already here, exercising their rights as EU nationals. It is a finite number of people, and surely they deserve our help and a degree of generosity.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative 4:15 pm, 6th October 2020

My Lords, I rise to express concern about Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. She has highlighted some hard cases in the cause of her apparently wide-ranging proposed new law. That is an approach that I always discourage. I think legislation of this kind has to be carefully thought about, assessed for cost and consulted on.

In Committee, the main focus of amendments on this issue was to seek greater support from public funds during coronavirus. The Minister explained that some of the Government’s coronavirus measures—quite generously, one might say—applied to those with no recourse to public funds, who are the subject of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.

I believe that migrants coming into the UK should be able to maintain and support themselves and their families without posing a burden on our hard-pressed benefit system. I do not know much about the detail of the arrangements for prohibiting access to public funds, but I know that taxpayers already foot large bills for lawyers to prioritise immigrants’ needs and to block the deportation of those who do not have the right to remain.

We cannot introduce an immigration system, as posited here, that has the effect of attracting migrants—whether from the EU, which is today’s subject, or elsewhere—for welfare benefits and not for work. This will not win the support of UK citizens who are struggling to make ends meet and are facing job losses and fiscal deficits as a result of the coronavirus crisis. In short, those who are, in reality, economic migrants should be contributors to the public purse, as I think many are. I hope that the House will reject this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, in replying to this and the other amendment on no recourse to public funds in Committee, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, according to Hansard, that Home Office analysts were looking at the data to determine what figures could be “reduced”. I would like to think that that might have been about reducing the numbers of people with no recourse, but I suspect that it was a misprint for “produced”. The noble Baroness is nodding.

Almost all the speakers have lit on the issue of lack of data. It occurs to me that a lack of data indicates something of a shortfall in interest among the policy makers on the impact of the policy that they are making. Like much that relates to the immigration system, this amendment is about humanity and common sense: common sense because of the important public health argument about ensuring that people are not prone to disease that can be prevented and that children are fed well enough to be educated and to grow into good citizens, and humanity for obvious reasons.

Hard cases are not to be excluded when we think about policy; they have to be considered to bring attention to bad law. I do not think that the taxpayer is a single cohesive figure. Taxpayers have a wide range of views and there are quite a lot among us who would like to see our taxes spent differently and better. If that means more tax being raised, that is a price that we understand we have to pay.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would prevent regulations being made under Clause 4 until the Secretary of State had provided legislative measures to ensure that EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK are not subject to no recourse to public funds. This includes repealing or amending relevant no recourse to public funds provisions in the Immigration Act 1971 and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. I assume this means any regulations under Clause 4 and not just regulations relating to no recourse to public funds.

We had an amendment in Committee that would have had the effect of not applying the no recourse to public funds rules during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and then until such time as Parliament decides. To keep the amendment within the scope of the Bill it applied only to EEA and Swiss nationals. We have been calling since April for no recourse to public funds to be suspended for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. We asked the Government to lift no recourse to public funds as a condition on a person’s migration status to ensure that nobody was left behind in the public health effort undertaken in the fight against the coronavirus. In June, the Home Affairs and Work and Pensions Select Committees recommended that the Government should “immediately suspend NRPF” for the duration of the pandemic on public health grounds. The Work and Pensions Committee said:

“As a result of the no recourse to public funds condition, many hardworking and law-abiding people are being left without a social safety net and at risk of destitution and homelessness.”

Our amendment found no favour with the Government —as, indeed, may prove to be the case with every amendment on this Bill, with the exception of perhaps just one. As set out in Hansard, I asked—as did my noble friend Lady Lister—for some numbers in relation to no recourse to public funds. The Minister said they were not part of published statistics, but that Home Office analysts were looking at the data to determine what figures could be produced. As has been pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, it said “reduced” in Hansard, but it has now been confirmed that it should have said “produced”. Whatever the situation, it would be very helpful if the Minister could say exactly when the Home Office analysts expect to complete the exercise that they are undertaking in relation to figures, information and data available.

This amendment goes further than our amendment in Committee on no longer applying NRPF, in that it does not relate only to the period of the pandemic and does not leave it for Parliament to decide if and when its terms are no longer to apply. Like the noble Baroness, I await the Government’s response.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and all other noble Lords for their contribution to this debate. I completely understand the concern that they have expressed for the welfare of people with no recourse to public funds, especially during the current pandemic. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, says, it is a matter, first and foremost, of humanity, but the Government cannot accept this amendment.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Government’s general expectation is that people immigrating to the United Kingdom should be able to maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds. That reflects the importance of maintaining the confidence of the public in general that immigration overall brings benefits to our country, as it certainly does, rather than costs to the public purse. Those restrictions, which have been in place under Governments of all political hues for many years, are an important plank of immigration policy designed to assure people that public funds are being protected for those who are normally or habitually resident in the UK, reflecting the strength of their connection to the United Kingdom. This includes those with indefinite leave to remain, refugees, protected persons and people granted discretionary leave.

I acknowledge the level of concern that has been expressed today, and, indeed, in Committee, particularly regarding the deprivation of children. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, asked a number of questions about children. She generously suggested that I could write to her on the timetable for the review and other points, and I am very happy to commit to do that so she can have the fullest possible answer. I will certainly ensure that the point she raises about free school meals has been heard by the Department for Education. I am sure it has been but I will take that forward and make sure it is reinforced. On free school meals generally, they are not listed as public funds under immigration legislation; they are available to the most disadvantaged pupils, including asylum-seeking children whose parents or guardians receive support under Part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act. I hope that that gives her some reassurance in the meantime, but I will certainly take the point forward, as she asks.

The noble Baroness will not be surprised that I cannot comment on leaks, so I shall not, whatever their suspected provenance. I can point her to the words of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, both in her speech to the Conservative Party conference over this weekend—which I am glad the noble Baroness noted was marked by its compassion—and also in a number of Statements she has made in another place about the Wendy Williams review, committing herself and the Home Office to taking on board all the recommendations that Wendy Williams had made and shifting the culture of the Home Office. I would direct the noble Baroness to those words for the view of the Home Office.

Regarding children more generally, where a child is in need, local authorities are already required to provide support through Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Recognising the potential financial impact on local authorities at the moment, the Government have allocated more than £4.3 billion to those in England, and additional funding under the Barnett formula to the devolved Administrations, to help them respond to the pressures of Covid-19 across all the services they deliver, including services helping the most vulnerable people. The funding will mean that councils can continue to provide vital services, including adult social care and children’s services. To ensure that children who have been affected by the no recourse to public funds condition are protected from destitution, as we pointed out in Committee, people with leave under the family and human rights routes can apply to have this condition lifted through a change of conditions application. Change of condition decisions are being prioritised, at this difficult time, and dealt with compassionately. The change of conditions team in UK Visas and Immigration is working through applications as quickly as possible and is exercising flexibility when seeking additional evidence, which is often needed, to help reduce unnecessary delays. Additional staff have also been trained to work on these cases in response to the increased demand and urgency during the pandemic.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the statistics that would be produced—not “reduced”—on this. The Home Office chief statistician recently replied to a letter from the UK Statistics Authority on the subject. He made clear in that letter why it is not practical for the Home Office to produce an estimate of the total population subject to no recourse to public funds at any one time. However, the Home Office has acknowledged that there is a clear public interest in publishing the number of applications to have the restriction lifted by making a change of conditions application. I am pleased to say that these data have now been published, and will be released as part of the regular migration transparency data henceforth.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about the measures being put in place to help people during the pandemic, and whether no recourse to public funds should be looked at in light of that. As he will know, the Government have put in place a number of measures to help people at this difficult time. For instance, the assistance given under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-employment Income Support Scheme are not classed as public funds and are therefore available to all those who are legally working or self-employed, including those with no recourse to public funds status and those on zero-hours contracts. Similarly, statutory sick pay and some other work-related benefits, such as contributory employment and support allowance, are also not classed as public funds and so are also available to people with no recourse to public funds who are eligible for them.

The effect of this new clause would run counter to the purpose of delivering a unified immigration system, which we have referred to many times throughout the course of the Bill. The Government intend that in our new immigration system the same general eligibility rules will apply to both EEA and non-EEA citizens. We have made it clear that where EEA citizens and their family members have been living in the UK before our departure from the European Union, and where they obtain status under the EU settlement scheme, they will retain their current eligibility to access benefits.

In light of the support already available to protect vulnerable people, and given that intention to establish a unified immigration system which treats people from all nations fairly, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:30 pm, 6th October 2020

My Lords, I have had no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response, although I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the direction of his comments. I apologise for the misidentification of the respondent. I think other noble Lords will join me in being pleased that the Home Office will produce these figures, as raised by multiple noble Lords. We will all look forward to seeing and scrutinising those.

I must thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for her powerful and detailed analysis of the Government’s current position and their review plans, and I note her overview, “Hunger cannot wait for a review”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to, we are talking about destitution. Everything is in the context of Covid-19 now, and it seems that at the Tory party conference today the Prime Minister suggested that is going to be the case for the next year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, asked about the cost of this amendment. I would say, some things are priceless: ensuring that we do not see Victorian conditions of destitution in the UK in 2020 is something we should seek to deliver with every sinew, as human beings. She referred to the bills for immigration matters—for people exercising their legal rights, that means getting what the law entitles them to. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, cited figures showing that the British public overwhelmingly do not want children to go hungry. That is what we are talking about here; as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, this is about humanity.

I note the amendment in Committee that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to, which is something we could go back to in the context of Covid-19. Noble Lords will have had heard me refer in other cases to universal basic income as the best solution of all—we could then ensure that nobody was left stranded or left with nothing.

I understand that the restrictions on scope have not allowed me today to make this the amendment I would like it to be on no recourse to public funds. On this occasion I will not be pushing it to a Division, but I fully expect to take a different approach in future.

Amendment 24 withdrawn.

Amendments 25 and 26 not moved.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 27. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.