Recourse to public funds: EEA and Swiss nationals with children

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

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards 4:15 pm, 5th March 2019

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.