Recourse to public funds: EEA and Swiss nationals with children

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 5th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

‘(1) EEA and Swiss nationals with dependants under the age of 18 must be exempt from any no recourse to public funds condition that would otherwise be placed on them under Immigration Rules.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a public fund is defined as any of the following—

(a) attendance allowance;

(b) carer’s allowance;

(c) child benefit;

(d) child tax credit;

(e) council tax benefit;

(f) council tax reduction;

(g) disability living allowance;

(h) discretionary support payments by local authorities or the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland which replace the discretionary social fund;

(i) housing and homelessness assistance;

(j) housing benefit;

(k) income-based jobseeker’s allowance;

(l) income related employment and support allowance (ESA);

(m) income support;

(n) personal independence payment;

(o) severe disablement allowance;

(p) social fund payment;

(q) state pension credit;

(r) universal credit;

(s) working tax credit.’—

This new clause would prevent EEA and Swiss families with children under the age of 18 from being given the right to remain in the UK but not being allowed access to public funds.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause would prevent EEA and Swiss families with children under the age of 18 from being given the right to remain in the UK without being allowed to access public funds. I am grateful to the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium and, particularly, the Children’s Society for helping me to prepare for this debate.

In light of what the Minister has been saying in response to a number of recent new clauses, I am aware that she will probably argue that this would be discriminatory. However, I point out that there is a very strong moral imperative on us to ensure the wellbeing of every child in this country. In particular, we are talking about the children of EEA nationals, many of whom will themselves be entitled to British citizenship or on a ten-year path to settlement.

I do not believe that the “no recourse to public funds” provisions in the immigration system are fair or necessary. We already have a very robust social security system with tough, stringent tests of people’s need for benefits and entitlement to access them. I also think it is wrong to put people in a position where they may be working and contributing to this country, in many cases through tax and national insurance contributions, but none the less are unable to avail themselves of our benefits system, to support their families and, in particular, their children.

We can see that lack of access to support for these children is very damaging. It includes, for example, lack of access to free school meals, social security benefits, and free nursery places, which are offered to disadvantaged two-year-olds. Not only is that extremely damaging to each individual child’s wellbeing, it is damaging to the welfare of the whole country in the long term. We should bear in mind that the majority of these children are likely to stay here and continue to be part of our community.

When families have no recourse to public funds, but children are at risk of destitution, there is an immediate short-term cost, which falls on local authorities. Under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, local authorities are required to take action to prevent children from falling into destitution. The number of such children is increasing for a number of local authorities, and they simply do not have the resources to discharge their statutory obligations adequately. For example, my own borough of Trafford is already facing a substantial shortfall in its children’s services budget for the future.

The significant difficulties that the section 17 provisions place on local authorities are growing and are likely to grow further after Brexit. If the Minister is not minded to accept the exact wording of my new clause, I think it is incumbent on the Government, if they continue to rely on local authorities to pick up the tab, to ensure that the local authorities involved are adequately resourced to do so.

It is extremely difficult for families subject to a “no recourse to public funds” order to have that condition removed from their immigration status. It is very difficult for them to get advice on that matter. As we heard in earlier debates, they are unlikely to be able to access legal aid to make a case for that condition to be reconsidered.

I hope that the Minister will be able to say something strong to the Committee, which will assure us that the “no recourse to public funds” condition will not be applied to children in a way that will leave them destitute. I hope that she will be able to say specifically that those who do not get settled status by the application deadline, or who only attain pre-settled status, will still be able to access all mainstream benefits and will not be subject to “no recourse to public funds” provisions.

I hope she will also be able to say that she will take forward conversations with her colleagues in other Government Departments, particularly the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, so that we can ensure that we have a proper, comprehensive and adequate system of support for families with children, and that the “no recourse to public funds” condition will not be maintained in a way that puts those children at risk of destitution.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for proposing new clause 56 on recourse to public funds when granting leave to remain to EEA and Swiss nationals with children. I appreciate that the intention behind this new clause is clearly to protect the wellbeing of children. By way of background, EEA and Swiss nationals may currently access the benefits included in the new clause, broadly speaking only when they are exercising treaty rights through employment or self-employment, or where they have become permanent residents. The new clause would provide that EEA nationals here with a child, for whatever period, could qualify for benefits, thereby potentially creating new entitlements to benefits based solely on the EEA or Swiss nationality of the parent or legal guardian of the children. I am sure that that was not the intention.

As I have said before, the Government have been clear about their intention to protect the entitlements of EEA and Swiss nationals already resident here, as we leave the EU, and to introduce no new restrictions until the future skills-based immigration system is introduced. All leave issued under the EU settlement scheme does not and will not include a no recourse to public funds condition.

I should like to explain in a bit more detail. The new clause would under the future system provide a significant advantage to EEA and Swiss nationals over non-EEA nationals, who generally qualify for access to public funds only when they acquire indefinite leave to remain, subject to exceptions for refugees and other groups. We believe that that general qualifying threshold for access to benefits for migrants is the right one, as it reflects the strength of a migrant’s connection to the United Kingdom and the principle that migrants should come to the UK to contribute rather than to place pressures on taxpayer-funded services.

Non-EEA migrants coming to live in the UK are currently expected to provide for any children they have without recourse to public funds. There is no reasonable justification for adopting a different principle for EEA nationals arriving in the UK when the new system is introduced.

Further, EEA nationals entering the country under the future immigration system will still be eligible to qualify for contribution-based benefits once they have paid sufficient national insurance contributions. As with non-EEA nationals, full access to our benefits system would be available under the immigration rules after settled status was granted—usually after five years, on a route that leads to settlement.

As I have said, I share the hon. Lady’s concerns about the wellbeing of children. However, I reassure her and the other hon. Members who supported the new clause that the safeguards already in place for the vulnerable will be retained. For example, immigration legislation already provides that local authorities may intervene where required, regardless of the immigration status or nationality of the child or parent. However, it is only right that the future immigration system should also continue to play a part in ensuring that public funds are protected for the lawful residents of the UK, and in assuring the public that immigration continues to benefit the country as a whole.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

The Minister is right to highlight again the role of local authorities, where support is required, but will she undertake to have ongoing discussions with her colleagues in other Departments—particularly the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—about funding for local authorities? Those that have particularly high numbers of such families face significant cost pressures, which they struggle to meet.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Lady is right to point out the cost pressures on local authorities in relation to that role. I regularly meet not only Ministers, across Government, but the Local Government Association and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which are always keen to reinforce the issues for me.

I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that the Government’s approach is right, and I invite her to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

I am grateful for the Minister’s understanding of the challenge that local authorities face and the importance of protecting every child in the country from the risk of destitution. I beg to ask to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.