I would like to remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new call list system and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members should sanitise their microphones before they use them, and please respect the one-way system around the room as you leave. Members should speak only from the horseshoe, and they can speak only if they are on the call list. This applies even if debates are undersubscribed. Members cannot join the debate if they are not on the call list. Members are not expected to remain for the wind-ups. I remind hon. Members that there is less of an expectation that they stay for the next two speeches once they have spoken; this is to help manage attendance in the room. Members may wish to stay beyond their speech, but they should be aware that doing so might prevent Members in seats in the Public Gallery—there are none there today, so fret not on that front—from moving to a seat on the horseshoe.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered No Recourse to Public Funds.
I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating the debate in our first week back in Westminster Hall. It is great to be back, and it is very good to see you in the chair, Ms Nokes. I am very pleased to see the Members who have come to take part in the debate, and I am pleased to see the Minister in his place as well. I particularly want to thank the hon. Members for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) for their help in applying for the debate.
In a Liaison Committee hearing on
“Clearly people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another”.
In my view, the Prime Minister is absolutely right: they should have support of some kind. Unfortunately, however, the Prime Minister’s view is not the policy of the Government.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether that suggests to him that the Prime Minister has probably not an advice surgery in a very long time? Does my right hon. Friend think that any London MP would be unacquainted with the facts of no recourse to public funds?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any London MP who has done an advice surgery in the recent past would be very familiar with this issue. Under the “no recourse to public funds” policy, the family I spoke of and thousands of others were getting no help at all.
Last Friday I visited the Deptford warehouse of the remarkable charity FareShare, which gathers surplus food from farms and supermarkets and distributes it to food banks and other charities. Before the pandemic, they were sending 1 tonne of food to my borough, Newham, every week. Now, they are sending 20 tonnes every week. Around a third of that increase, from 1 tonne to 20, is about no recourse to public funds. A large number of hard-working, law-abiding families have no income, cannot afford to buy food and are therefore dependent on those charities.
I am full of admiration for all the organisations in our borough that have risen to the enormous challenge, including Bonny Downs Baptist church, Bonny Downs community association, City chapel, Ibrahim mosque in Plaistow, Mana Park Christian centre, Highway Vineyard church, Newham Community Project, the Magpie Project and Alternatives Trust East London—all of them supported extremely ably by Andy Gold and the Newham public health team.
Some people in Government have done the right thing. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government agreed at the start to accommodate street homeless people at public expense on public health grounds, although it is being reported now that they are starting to receive eviction notices. The Department for Education agreed that children in families with no recourse to public funds would be eligible for free school meals, contrary to previous policy. That has been a lifeline, especially since, thanks to Marcus Rashford, those families received meal vouchers for their children throughout the summer holiday. I commend that Department for doing the right thing.
The Home Office, however, has not done the right thing. The Home Affairs Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee, which I chair, both unanimously called for the no recourse to public funds restriction to be suspended for the duration of the pandemic, but the Home Office has not budged. It insists that families must be facing destitution before they can apply for an exemption from the restriction. Previously, families had to be actually destitute, rather than facing destitution. A Court of Appeal case about an eight-year-old boy who had been sleeping rough because of the “no recourse to public funds” policy forced the Home Office, greatly against its wishes, to make the policy less draconian than it previously was, although it remains pretty draconian. Those who apply for an exemption have to wait for a month on average for the Home Office to get around to granting it. I spoke to a family that the Home Office had kept waiting for four months. The whole set-up is a disgrace.
In May, the Prime Minister said to me:
“I will find out how many there are in that position”.
That was a helpful offer. Unfortunately, he has not been able to keep that promise because the Home Office will not tell him. There is extraordinary unwillingness on the part of the Home Office to answer straightforward parliamentary questions on no recourse to public funds. I always thought, perhaps naively, that Departments have an obligation to answer straightforward parliamentary questions. That is clearly not the Home Office view.
The Home Office says that it does not know how many people have leave to remain with no recourse to public funds. I understand that it does not know how many people have left the country after having that condition attached to their status. Hon. Members might think that the Home Office could produce an estimate, but it is not willing to do so. Fortunately, others have. Based on work by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, Citizens Advice recently estimated that 1.4 million people in the UK have leave to remain but no recourse to public funds, including families and 175,000 children.
Of course, the Home Office does know how many people it applies no recourse to public funds to each year. I asked a series of questions before summer about that, but the Minister refused to provide a substantive answer to any of them. His colleague, the Immigration Minister, answered a whole series of questions with a single meaningless answer. On
“how many people were given leave to remain in the UK subject to the no recourse to public funds condition in 2019.”
I asked for a number. On
“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 interested in answering your question.”
I complained about that answer to the UK Statistics Authority, and it upheld my complaint. The correspondence is on its website. The Home Office head of statistics responded on
I say this to the Minister: Ministers have constitutional responsibilities to Parliament. It is not good enough for a Minister of the Crown to sign off a completely hopeless answer like that simply because—I don’t know—somebody answering to Dominic Cummings has instructed him to do so. Ministers in the Home Office need to start fulfilling their responsibilities and providing answers to straightforward questions.
The letter from the Home Office head of statistics said they could not answer how many people were given leave to remain in the UK subject to NRPF in 2019, because
“Home Office administrative data only captures information on whether visas are subject to NRPF conditions for in-country extensions.”
I have since asked twice in how many in-country extensions in 2019 people were given leave to remain with no recourse to public funds. From the head of statistics who had the information, answer came there none.
In response to the Windrush scandal, the Home Office has just published its comprehensive improvement plan. Theme number four of five is openness to scrutiny— that will be the day. Can we at least dare to hope that Home Office Ministers might at least stop refusing to answer basic, straightforward parliamentary questions? On how many people were in such a situation, the Prime Minister eventually said that the Home Secretary would write to the Liaison Committee with an answer. She did so but provided no useful information. As such, I am grateful to the Chair of the Liaison Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin, for writing the Home Secretary a letter yesterday, also signed by myself as Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, who I am delighted to see in her place this afternoon. In it, we asked to meet the Home Secretary to discuss her failure to provide basic information that the Home Office head of statistics has confirmed the Department holds, but that for some completely unknown reason Ministers are unwilling to provide. Not having the data means not being able to evaluate the policy. That is, as the Windrush lessons learned review pointed out, a large part of the problem of why the Windrush scandal occurred. Now, we are heading down exactly the same tracks with this.
I will make two final points. Among 1.4 million or so people with leave to remain but no recourse to public funds is a large group of overseas students. Many among them were working to support themselves through their studies. The pandemic has ended their work, or their families back home have also been affected by the pandemic, so support from them has dried up. People from overseas studying in the UK do not expect to claim benefits. However, I do not believe it is in Britain’s long-term interests to force into utter destitution such a large number of those who have chosen Britain of all the countries they could have chosen in which to study, often investing their family life savings to do so. Certainly, we need the universities to be flexible and supportive to students struggling to pay fees in this academic year. We want those students to be friends of Britain for life in their own countries. The way we support or fail to support them now will be key. At the moment, we are giving them no support at all.
The Government line over the past six months has been that no recourse to public funds is okay because people could apply to the job retention scheme or the self-employed income support scheme. Of course, millions of UK citizens have been ineligible for those two schemes, which is why 3 million people have had to apply for universal credit in the past six months. People with no recourse to public funds are barred from doing that. There is no safety net for them at all. It is true, though, that some with no recourse to public funds have been supported by one of the Government pandemic schemes. In fact, the family I told the Prime Minister about in May was eventually able to benefit from the job retention scheme. However, those schemes finish at the end of this month. A whole new cohort of working people will have no job, and if no recourse to public funds is attached to their immigration status, there will be no safety net for those hard-working, law-abiding families. Banned from universal credit, foodbanks will be their only option to survive. If they do find work, they cannot claim the £500 track and trace support payment, so if they get covid they will be forced to carry on working and will be a risk to public health.
Now, more than ever, the Government need to deliver what the Prime Minister said. Those hard-working, law-abiding families who have been contributing to the UK should have support of one kind or another. Suspend no recourse to public funds.
I am not proposing a formal time limit, but you all have the beauty of a published call list, so you will know that a number of speakers want to speak. If Members could stick to about six minutes that would be appreciated.
It is a pleasure to serve under a chairman with such experience of this issue. I know, Ms Nokes, that you have done a great deal of work on asylum migration in the United Kingdom over the years.
It was my pleasure to support the bid for this debate today. My experience with no recourse to public funds starts with recognising that it is an extremely complex issue. I have no dispute with the estimates, made by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, of 1.4 million people and up to 175,000 children living in households where there are adults with no recourse to public funds. For many of those households, that is not necessarily an issue of destitution, because for some time NRPF status has been used as a kind of migration amnesty. People are told that while there may be some question mark over their eligibility, they are able to remain in the United Kingdom provided they are not a charge on the funds of the state.
I am a constituent of the Prime Minister. One of the members of the household next door is a lady from India, who is married to a British man of Indian heritage and who has two children who were born in the United Kingdom. She has NRPF status. If the Prime Minister is not aware of that, I am certainly happy to bring it to his attention. It is evidence that in many households this condition has been imposed as a consequence of the person’s presence in the United Kingdom, but for many people that is not something that will cause them a problem in their day-to-day life.
Although there is a valid debate to be had about the morality of saying to people, “You can be in the UK but you are excluded from the British safety net,” I will focus on some of the practical issues that NRPF status creates for those families who find themselves getting into difficulty. I agree with what has been said about the numbers. One of the challenges in this debate is that because those numbers are not widely available, they are not easily analysed. Understanding what proportion of the estimated 1.4 million people find themselves in difficulty and require intervention is a major challenge.
Starting in 2005, the Government introduced, through the Home Office, a programme of asylum dispersal. I had the pleasure of giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, alongside the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. Part way into his evidence he said, “I have just realised that I was the Minister who signed this into law, in the mid-2000s, when we introduced this policy of dispersing people through this mechanism around the country.” A lot of the issues we see arising in local authorities are iterations of that policy, which exists to this day. The simple principle behind it is that people should be placed in parts of the country where accommodation is inexpensive and where they can be housed in a way that does not introduce competition with other local families that may be in need. It is a policy that has worked in different forms, with varying degrees of success, over the years.
The challenge seems to arise when the result of those people’s journeys through the asylum dispersal system is a decision that they are not supposed to be in the United Kingdom and that they do not have a future here. At that point the NRPF status is imposed on them and they find themselves at risk of destitution. That is where there is a major challenge for Governments of all parties, which is that NRPF is something of a myth, as a status. It is a list of things that are paid for out of central Government funds, which cannot be accessed, at which point the duties of local authorities, dating back to the National Assistance Act 1948 and the Children Act 1989, then come into effect.
What we see, in fact, is a cost shunt from central Government to local government. Those who understandably wish to see a robust policy in respect of migration, and in respect of those who do not have a right to be in our country, have the comfort of thinking, “At least we are not paying for the subsistence costs of those families,” but in fact local council tax payers are picking up the bill for that. I know that the Public Accounts Committee has given the matter some consideration over the years. When we look at the information provided by a number of different sources—I pay particular tribute to the No Recourse to Public Funds Network—we see that they identify that that costs the authorities responsible about £44 million per annum of council tax payers’ money. Some 82% of the households that are supported under those arrangements are on what is termed the exit pathway, so they are people whom the Home Office does not view as having any long-term future in the United Kingdom, and they are on their way to deportation or leaving under their own steam but have not yet left.
It seems to me that it is not justifiable to say that we have a tough and robust policy around migration, and that people who should not be here are required to leave, when in fact the consequence of our policy is that they are staying at a cost to local council tax payers. The underlying assumption is that NRPF will result in people who do not have the long-term right to be in the United Kingdom leaving. The reality is that, in many cases, that is not what happens, and families who do not have a long-term future in the United Kingdom none the less become a cost to local council tax payers.
I therefore urge consideration of this issue, not just from the perspective of compassion—I think that that is very important, and it is very much the perspective that we have heard already—but because, if we wish to develop and build confidence in our communities that, in practice, we have the robust and rigorous asylum, refugee and migration policies that we say we do, we need to demonstrate that the ambitions that are set out in policy are being fulfilled at local level. In my view, NRPF simply does not meet that test at the moment.
I have been dealing with the consequences of this policy since I was elected as the MP for Leyton and Wanstead a decade ago, and during that time the situation has become much worse than I remember in my early days. Like my right hon. Friend’s constituency, Leyton and Wanstead is one of the most diverse constituencies in the country. That means that I have a very high proportion of migrant constituents. That means that I have a very high proportion of people with no recourse to public funds, and the situation will undoubtedly get worse because of the consequences of covid. I will say more about that in a minute.
Even before covid, almost half of all children with foreign-born parents living in Britain were living below the poverty line. That is 100,000 children. Again, a lot of that is because of no recourse to public funds. As David Simmonds mentioned, councils are clearly dealing with an awful lot of the consequences—for which they are ill prepared because of the financial cutbacks over the last decade—through social services, because of course social services are not designated as a public fund. The hon. Gentleman mentioned £44 million a year. The last figure that I saw, for 2018-19, was nearer £48 million. We do not have the figures for the period with the virus, but we can guess that, after covid, the figure will be much higher than £48 million. We can only guess at the moment how much it will be. As the previous speaker said, there is a cost shunt. That does not involve any saving to the taxpayer, because the taxpayer is still paying for the consequences of what is a pretty disreputable policy.
Legally, court cases are very difficult. Court cases are now slightly easier to bring than they were. At one point—my right hon. Friend mentioned this—someone had to be actually in destitution before they could bring a court case. Now, someone can bring a court case when they are facing destitution. However, it is still pretty desperate stuff when someone is facing destitution. Only then can someone bring a court case and try to overturn the decision, but overturning the decision is very rare and very complicated, and it is very difficult to find legal specialists who can take on those sorts of cases.
I will give just two brief examples from my constituency that illustrate the effects of no recourse. The first involves a woman separated from her husband and stuck in one-bedroom accommodation with three children, one of whom is autistic. Following the break-up of her relationship, she applied to the Home Office for a change of circumstance, but the form asked for details of her legal representative. She had no legal representative, so she could not complete the form and could not change her circumstance. The second is the case of a woman threatened with homelessness because of rent arrears and unable to approach the council for emergency accommodation. She was working in a betting shop in Leyton, but of course on minimum wage and therefore very low paid. She was unable to meet the rent and fell into arrears, and children’s services could not assist because she was not considered destitute. That brings me on to working conditions.
With covid, a very high proportion of migrants who face having no recourse to public funds will have been on, and in some cases still are on, zero-hours contracts, so their employers have no real incentive to furlough them. There is no real mechanism for furloughing them. From one day to the next, they go from being employed to not being employed—literally overnight. They are then in the position of having no recourse to public funds and rapidly facing destitution.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham. We live in the sixth biggest economy in the world, and the notion that we have tens of thousands of people facing destitution is disgraceful. What is also disgraceful is that the Prime Minister, apparently, is blissfully unaware of the situation out there, despite the fact that he is a London MP.
I want to make it clear that this matter is urgent for families in my constituency, and indeed across the country, as we are hearing today. It is urgent particularly for hard-working parents who are struggling to make ends meet and who, through no fault of their own, now face huge uncertainty over their homes and their futures, with their family and children being pushed into poverty.
No recourse to public funds impacts on most non-EEA national migrants with temporary permission to remain in the UK. As we have heard, the visa condition prevents them from accessing most state-funded benefits, tax credits and housing assistance. The Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank warns that the covid-19 pandemic could have particular financial and health consequences for such migrant households, with migrants more likely to be working in industries affected by the crisis, to be in temporary work or self-employed, and to be living in private rented and overcrowded accommodation.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has said that the NRPF restrictions have pushed working families into abject poverty, forcing them into unsustainable debt and into homelessness or overcrowded and insecure housing. Right now, it matters more than ever, because covid-19 has made the situation much worse, particularly for those in insecure employment or on zero-hours contracts, which are at a record high of 1.05 million in this country. Many others have had their hours cut or lost their jobs completely.
A significant number of migrants are from BAME communities. We know that members of BAME communities are more likely to be in insecure employment, and they are being hit harder on two fronts. First, they are more likely to have lost income or work, and secondly, they are at a higher health risk from the virus. There are serious concerns about whether our welfare state is fit for purpose, certainly for the circumstances that we find ourselves in.
Today we are looking at the facts relating to those with the status of NRPF, who are often in the toughest of conditions and who are now struggling to fend for themselves. That is why the Labour party, cross-party committees and charities have called on the Government to suspend the “no recourse to public funds” conditions in response to the pandemic. That is also why, back in March, I raised this matter in the House of Commons. I was told that the Government were looking at a range of measures to support this group, which may include the self-employed, business owners and those who work in our public services, as well as students and many others. Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, I then wrote to the Home Secretary to ask for advice that we could pass on to our constituents to reassure them that by staying at home in line with Government guidance, they would not be forced into extreme financial hardship. We received no reply to our letter.
Later, the Government did bring in some concessions, which have been referred to. They allowed local authorities to provide some basic safety net support. Food banks have taken up some of the challenges, and there was also the temporary extension of free school meals to families with no recourse to public funds. Quite clearly, it has not been enough.
There have been all too many occasions when all we could do was to refer people with no recourse to public funds to a local authority hub, to get the most basic of support. As family savings dry up and as people struggle to find work, the strain and stress is having an enormous impact on our fellow citizens and neighbours, who want to do nothing other than continue to support themselves, their families, their communities and, indeed, this country.
To illustrate what it has all meant, let me share just one heartbreaking story from my constituency. A constituent with three children, one of whom has special needs, has been receiving only £345 per month of income through furlough to survive on, and that is now uncertain. Her husband lost his job because of covid; they are unable to pay their rent or afford food and are now at risk of homelessness. Just think about the impact on those children. As well as having a disrupted year of education, they are worrying about where their food will come from and where their home might be in six months’ time.
Crisis has talked about marriages breaking up and the rise of rough sleeping. We cannot wait any longer. Winter is coming. Times are getting tougher, with rising cases of coronavirus and increased local lockdowns and restrictions. Casual or temporary work that has kept people going is drying up. Constituents are telling me that their other sources of income—family and friends who they may have been able to draw on in hard times—are themselves facing hard times, and that route is now not available to our constituents.
This is about fairness, compassion and humanity. It is about a Government’s responsibility. I urge the Government to suspend the “no recourse to public funds” conditions in response to the pandemic, so that families are not forced to choose between their health and food on the table, and so that they have the support they need to keep themselves and their communities safe at this incredibly difficult time.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. It is a privilege to listen to my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms. I thank him for the way in which he has conducted the debate. I almost feel sorry—no, in fact I do feel sorry for the Minister. He is caught between the Scylla of the Prime Minister and the Charybdis of the Home Secretary. In that passage, he has been absolutely smashed on to the rocks by my right hon. Friend.
I want to try to give an example that shows the inhumanity of what is happening. On
Her husband was a construction worker who died from covid. They came to this country in 2004. They obtained a visa with limited leave to remain and no recourse to public funds and were on the discretionary 10-year path. She has been working, but has nowhere near enough income to pay the rent for their home. As I say, on
That was the good outcome. I have another piece of correspondence, which relates to a gentleman who had lived here for many years with his European economic area spouse. He had always worked hard as her dependant in the UK. They have a daughter who was born here. His wife has abandoned the family and returned to her home in continental Europe and, as he is originally from Pakistan, he is now trying to establish his right to remain in the country, but he has no recourse to public funds. They first contacted me in January of this year. Without the help and support of Brent Council’s no recourse team, I do not know what would have happened to that man and his seven-year-old daughter.
It is incumbent on the Minister to answer a number of questions, some of which were asked by my right hon. Friend. The Minister needs to explain—not to us, but to the public—how he expects a single parent like my constituent to pay his rent and look after his daughter, alongside having to deal with covid, with no recourse to public funds. He needs explain how people who are now no longer in employment will be able to survive the five weeks for which, in a good situation, his Department comes back and provides.
The Minister needs to make the commitment that any change of condition to which the Home Office agrees—when we, as Members of Parliament, apply to the Home Office to change a condition, or when a council does—will be done within 48 hours. If someone is at risk of destitution, it is no good saying, “Oh, yes, it is at the bottom of a pile somewhere, and we will get to it in five weeks.” We are talking about children and vulnerable people, so speed is of the essence. I hope that the Minister will at least agree to review that so that those decisions can be taken expeditiously.
It seems to me that covid has brought into sharp focus the stark reality of the inhumane nature of no recourse to public funds. Not only has it exposed the suffering to which we are subjecting people and their children, but it carries with it an in-built additional health risk. It must be obvious that those with no other source of income will continue to try to work, even while they are unwell, inevitably exposing others to the virus because of their desperate need to make ends meet. That is not only hitting them, at one level, but creating another health risk.
As we have heard, the policy applies largely to those who have not been granted indefinite leave to remain, including victims of trafficking and torture, and women fleeing abusive partners. Until recently, as my right hon. Friend said, it also barred their children from receiving free school meals. This is placing an intolerable burden on local authorities. Birmingham, like many authorities, is battling with a huge increase in homelessness and buckling under the strain. As we know, local councils do not receive any specific funding from central Government to support these people. There may be some slight dispute about the total figure, but the latest data I have seen, for 2018-19, showed that 59 councils were spending £47.5 million a year on NRPF service provision—that is before coronavirus.
As we know, the High Court recently described the system as a breach of article 3, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment. As my hon. Friend John Cryer indicated, the court found it particularly problematic that a person must prove they are destitute before the conditions can be lifted; it ordered that their showing they were about to become destitute should be sufficient. I am not sure how either can be proved, to be perfectly honest, but I think most reasonable people could make that judgment quite quickly and without too much investigation.
I find myself in agreement with much of what David Simmonds said, particularly towards the end of his remarks. At its core, this is a Home Office problem; its inability to deal with outstanding immigration cases is causing much of the difficulty. To my mind, the best way to resolve the problem would be to allow those currently subject to the restriction to claim the equivalent of universal credit and charge the cost of that to the Home Office. Ministers and officials would soon be incentivised to produce a rather more efficient immigration system—one that actually sets out to resolve cases rather than leaving people in limbo for years on end.
There cannot be a Member in the Chamber who has not got a backlog of cases of people who have been trying for years to get their situation resolved. That is the problem. We are penalising these poor folk because of the Home Office’s inability to do its job. If we were to give them access to the equivalent of universal credit and charge that to the Home Office, we would at a stroke address our article 3 failings—perhaps enabling this country to lift its head a bit higher—and tackle the root cause of the problem at the same time.
I want to pursue the problem that what looks like a resolution—offering status on the basis of no recourse to public funds—has instead created an industry of people involved in trying to help families in those circumstances, and increased the workload of the Home Office when that is the very last thing it needs.
Every Friday at my advice surgery, in my pack of papers I bring applications to remove a “no recourse to public funds” restriction on a visa. The people I meet are principally women whose children have British citizenship or women whose children were born here and are now over the age of seven. In the main, those women work. They are the carers; they do the jobs that we do not want to do, mostly on zero-hours contracts. They can manage to get by as long as their relationships stay more or less stable, but once those relationships break down and the men go, they can no longer afford their housing and to support their children; they lose the support network that allows them to be able to work antisocial hours, evening and weekends, because there is nobody to look after their children.
It is interesting that most of the MPs present represent London constituencies that have really hard-pressed children’s services departments. We Members get in touch with children’s social services, and then they get involved and do the assessments. They pay for the housing, support and continuing care out of the money that they get to look after children who are in the gravest need in our country, whose safety, security and health are threatened. A local authority strapped for cash, such as mine, can spend half a million pounds a year, which is dwarfed into insignificance by comparison with a Hackney, a Haringey or an Islington, or any of the councils represented in the room. That money does not go to the children who are most in need because we are supporting families who have the “no recourse to public funds” restriction on their visas, which is something that the Home Office introduced. Then, we develop another industry of voluntary sector organisations that do their best to get the restriction removed. I thank Jenny Allison and her team from Commonside Community Development Trust, and Gillian Thicke and James Saville from Christian Care, who spend most of their time trying to get the restrictions removed.
The policy of no recourse to public funds is not cheap, because it simply shunts the spending to another public body that is unable or ill equipped to give help and support. We are also stimulating the industry that allows landlords to rent out individual rooms in houses to families, because these people cannot afford anything else. Once they are in those circumstances, it is impossible to get out of them. I can tell legions of stories about mums with three or four children living in tiny rooms. If we took a photograph of them and put them in the national papers, nobody would believe that people in our country are living in those circumstances. No matter how privileged we are—we are all privileged people—we know families who live in such circumstances. We must have all had this experience with people who work with us or do work experience with us: we show them the way that people live in our country, and they cannot believe it.
This policy is not a cheap option. I understand that there has been an increase of 600% in applications to the Home Office to have the restriction removed. It costs civil servants, it costs time and it costs crises. I would argue that we are not saving the taxpayer any money by doing this. We are humiliating people who work hard and putting their children in circumstances that we would not wish on anybody’s children. Desperate people and desperate women will do desperate things to support their families if they have no other means of doing so. We are fuelling some pretty terrible practices and some pretty terrible crimes, and we should stop doing it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. It is worth highlighting that we talk a lot about this issue, but quite a lot of people are affected, as others have highlighted. There are 285,000 people living in my borough of Hackney. Of that population, 31,000 are non-EEA citizens. Those are people who have never acquired British citizenship; it is not the total number of foreign-born people, which is just over 10% of the total population. A significant number of them are going through the immigration system, and of those a number will be under “no recourse to public funds” restrictions.
As my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms highlighted, however, the Home Office does not know how many people are under the restriction of no recourse to public funds, because it either does not collect the data or does not wish to publish the data. We know there are issues with the Home Office databases, and perhaps the Minister can provide some illumination. I will try to be brief in order to allow the Minister extra time to respond, and I hope our Front-Bench spokesperson will do so as well, because we need answers to why the figures are not available.
We cannot make policy without decent data. As I will touch on later and as my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh highlighted, there are big, cost-shunting issues. If we have the numbers and can work out the cost, we can make better and—dare I dangle this in front of the Minister at this difficult time for all Departments?—cheaper policy. As Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, I spend a lot of time looking at this question.
I have served as an MP for 15 years, and no recourse to public funds was not talked about much 15 years ago. I am sure colleagues in the Chamber recognise that. We know it has been extended in the past decade. When I was first elected, people would apply for discretionary leave to remain, they would get five years, and then they would get citizenship. Then it was split into two periods of three years, so they would have to apply twice to get their five years for citizenship. Now it is two years, so it is three applications, three fees, and often at some point in that process, if they did not start out with no recourse to public funds, that is added on.
My hon. Friend is making such an important point. These repeated fee requirements means that families that have three, four or five children find it impossible to earn enough money to pay their rent, feed their children and pay these stupid fees.
Absolutely, and I will touch on that at the end. That is a very significant issue. We have talked a lot about children today, and we are in danger of putting a whole generation on the wrong side of everything. They were often born here, or arrived here as young people, and all they want to do is contribute.
On the face of it, it does not sound wrong. People who come to this country should pay their way; we would expect that if we went to visit other countries—but life is not as simple as that. Many of my constituents are in very low-paid work. As my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra said, they are often in low-paid, zero-hours contract jobs. Actually, in my constituency, they are often in good, well-paid jobs. I have nurses, teachers and others who are in jobs that pay well but not enough to live in London. It is very difficult. In my constituency, and probably across the whole of the south-east of England—I do not have up-to-date figures—people cannot rent a three or four-bedroom property under the housing benefit cap. Those people are not necessarily claiming housing benefit, but the costs of renting are too high to pay for out of their wage packet.
What happens is that people live with family and friends, and I have many constituents who do that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden said, if these pictures were shown in the media, people would not believe it. People are living in one room with another family member living in the other room, because they just cannot afford the housing costs. They have no recourse to public funds, and they cannot get a penny of housing benefit to help towards that. Let us not forget that most housing benefit goes to people in work. That is another issue, but it is a systemic sign that the whole housing system is bust. That is a debate for another day—possibly the same Members might wish to contribute.
Overcrowding is a big health risk at the best of times, and we are not in the best of times. A concern of mine during the covid pandemic is that those double households are trapped. I had a very distressed grandmother come to see me at a surgery. I had been to visit the family, and they had been to see me before. She loves her daughter and granddaughter, but they cannot move out of their one-bedroom flat because they have no recourse to public funds, and mum is a nurse. The grandmother came to see me and said, “When will we get housing? How will we get housing?” She came to see me privately because she did not want to tell her daughter how hard it was for her to share her small home with her beloved family. These are small flats, and they are often very overcrowded.
As others have highlighted, councils are spending a lot of money on this. In 2018-19, 59 councils were spending £47.5 million a year on service provision to people with no recourse to public funds. That was before coronavirus, and some of those people are being affected now. I want to highlight an individual case—we all have so many. One of my constituents has two children, and her late father was British. She is working, but because she has no recourse to public funds, she cannot claim tax credits, child benefit or housing benefit. That has had a very big effect on her, and is having an impact on her children. She is not sure, and nor am I, how much longer she will be able to cope.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden highlighted the issue of cost-shunting, which the Public Accounts Committee talks about all the time. There are costs to society, the taxpayer and, of course, individuals. I want to highlight the taxpayer costs to the Minister, because that should bite if nothing else does. So much of the system is having to pay for people who cannot pay their own way because they have no recourse to public funds. They are working people for the most part. They want to work, and they might just have hit a rocky time.
My hon. Friend made a point in passing that I want to highlight. I do not know whether it is well known, but we are talking about a large number of British-born children whose parents cannot claim child benefit for them. I do not think most people know that is the case, but it is.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, for that intervention, because that is correct. People assume that there is a safety net there—we all assume a lot of things about other people’s lives in a general way, because people do not always live that path themselves—but many of our constituents do not have a penny coming in, even though their children are British. It is the main householder who affected. There is a really big cost and those children are growing up in increased poverty as a result.
If we want to invest in the future of our country, we must consider these young people with their driven parents—parents who came here, who are working, who want to work and want to contribute, and anyone would say that they have the right work ethic to ensure that their children will also achieve—because they are living in much more difficult circumstances than they need to. The cost of any public funding will not suddenly fund their lifestyles; it is just going to help them to keep afloat, to keep their housing and to keep playing their active role as working members of society.
I will touch on the point that my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner made about people who cannot afford the fees; we talked a bit about that. I pay tribute to my constituent, Chrisann Jarrett, and to We Belong, which is a group of young people who are taking the long route for citizenship; some are from families with no recourse to public funds, but there is a wider point that I raise here, too. These people are young, gifted and talented, and they came here as young children. They want to contribute to this society; they are not going to live anywhere else. The countries that their parents were born in are of interest to them, but usually they cannot visit them because they do not have citizenship. However, they have to pay these repeated fees. Often, they never got citizenship early on because their parents simply could not afford even to start them on that process. Then they find that they cannot go to university and they are left sitting around, kicking their heels.
In July, the Home Secretary said—very genuinely, I feel, and I say that to the Minister—when she made her latest statement on Windrush that she wanted to root out any unequal treatment in her Department, and that she wanted to see a root-and-branch review of how it treated people. I took her at her word on that; she stood there, said that, and I believed that she meant it. If she really means it, this group that I have talked about—We Belong, which I believe she has met or is about to meet—are really good advocates for this. Surely, however, if she really believes what she said, she needs to look at no recourse to public funds, because if we look at the profile of the people who are affected by that, we see that it does not meet the equality standards that she professes to support.
In summary, I hope that the Minister will answer the detailed questions on the Home Office statistics. Does he have the statistics? If they are available, why can we not see them? If he does not have those statistics, can he tell us how he will get hold of them, so that he can make sure that he and the Home Office are making policy decisions based on proper evidence and data?
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. Obviously, with this debate being a home affairs-style debate, you must have your own reflections on it. I certainly reflect that all too often in the last Parliament, it was your good self who had to defend the indefensible in terms of Home Office actions. We will see whether the Minister who is here today reaches the same standard.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and I pay particular tribute to my good friend Stephen Timms, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, which I sit on. He is chairing it with distinction. During his contribution to this debate, I remembered what was for me one of the political television moments of the year: the right hon. Gentleman having to explain to the Prime Minister what “no recourse to public funds” actually means. It was an almost “Playschool”-like exchange, as he had to explain to the Prime Minister what those words mean.
In his speech, the right hon. Gentleman also explained his extraordinary exchanges while putting parliamentary questions to the Home Office. I have to say that was very familiar. I think that it is something that we have all experienced with some of the parliamentary answers that we get back, particularly the one that says that “due to disproportionate cost”, an answer cannot be provided. I have often thought that I should perhaps table a question asking just how many answers are couched in those words: “The answer cannot be provided due to disproportionate cost”. I wonder whether the answer will indeed be that they will not be able to provide the answer, because of disproportionate cost.
[Ian Paisley in the Chair-]
Mr Paisley, I want to give the clear view of the Scottish National party, which is that the coronavirus does not respect borders or immigration status, and that everyone in these islands, including those with no recourse to public funds, deserves help to get through the crisis without facing destitution. The SNP, like other political parties, has been clear that the policy must be suspended, so that we can support people through this unprecedented public health crisis. Both the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Select Committee on Work and Pensions have called for it to be lifted temporarily, as has been alluded to. It was incredible to see the most recent updates from the Home Office, stating that it had no plans to change they approach. The economic impacts of the pandemic are pushing thousands of people further into poverty and harming their employment opportunities.
In April we saw what can be possible when the political will is there, as thousands of vulnerable people in the UK were given support and shelter during the first wave of the pandemic. As the charity St Mungo’s said at the time,
“People say it’s not possible to end rough sleeping, but we’ve always maintained that it is, with the right attitude and money.”
Yet six months on, homelessness is again on the rise, with a 33% increase in the number rough sleeping on London streets between April and June this year.
Our other concern is that no recourse to public funds is a racially discriminatory policy, and we believe it should be scrapped without delay. It is more likely to affect black and minority ethnic British children than white British children. It only contributes to the ongoing hostile environment that we believe the Government are intent on creating. Scrapping the policy would be a concrete step towards tackling inequality in these islands, particularly in the light of the findings of Public Health England and Scotland’s independent expert reference group about the disproportionate impact that the covid pandemic has had on BAME communities. We come from the view that everyone in these islands should have the right to get access to support, which is particularly vital during the pandemic, regardless of their status. However, owing to the policy, many people have been left behind because of the lack of support, which has led them to being pushed further into hardship through no fault of their own.
We certainly come from the view that the UK Government’s refusal to do the right thing and immediately lift the restrictions on those with no recourse to public funds for the duration of the public crisis is appalling. The unreasonable and heartless restriction also affects women and children fleeing domestic abuse who have had to leave their little resources and belongings, and non-EEA nationals who lost their incomes and found themselves far from their families and homes as a result of the pandemic. We received an excellent briefing from the Unity Project, based in London, and I received a similar one from the Unity centre based in Govan, in Glasgow. Who is affected? The impact is severe. The briefing tells us that 52% did not have a bed to sleep in; a third share their bedroom with their children, and 6% of single women have experienced street homelessness with their children.
Can the condition be removed, as we have heard in the debate? First, it can take too long. People suffer every day they have to wait. Organisations provide support to people to try to get restrictions lifted but they have had to wait four months for a decision. Many people do not know that they are eligible to apply for the restrictions to be lifted in the first place. It is a 20-page form and often requires hundreds of pages of evidence, which can be utility bills, evidence that has to be got from an informal landlord, or a letter from an exploitative employer, so there are real problems. The other problem, of course, is the whole system. Applicants can be unlawfully refused. In many cases support organisations have successfully challenged the decisions of the Home Office through judicial review and the national success rate for applications was 62% before the pandemic. There are real concerns about the policy under which people try to secure the lifting of a restriction.
The effects on women, children, people with disabilities, Commonwealth citizens and those who are subjected to domestic abuse are a real concern, but so is the fact that the policy has been ruled unlawful in the past. The whole operation of the policy has been brought into disrepute in court cases in 2014 and 2019 and during lockdown in 2020. In the most recent hearing, the High Court ruled that the policy was unlawful, because it did not prevent destitution and left the claimant, an eight-year-old boy, street homeless with his mother. The policy has since been adjusted, but continues to be subject to legal challenge. That is a real concern.
I have a couple of questions. Will the Minister explain specifically how single parents affected by no recourse to public funds are expected to pay rent and feed their family in scenarios in which they test positive for covid and have to self-isolate, are laid off and unable to find employment, or have health conditions that put them at particular risk from the virus?
Will the Minister also tell us if he will launch an inquiry into the impact of the “no recourse to public funds” policy? According to the Government’s 2012 policy statement, the policy was introduced to
“reduce burdens on the taxpayer, promote integration and tackle abuse”,
within an immigration system that is
“transparent, clear, consistent and fair.”
I can only say to the Minister that, since I arrived in this place in 2015, I have not regarded the immigration system to be transparent, clear, consistent or fair. What concrete evidence will the Minister provide to show that the policy is meeting those stated objectives?
We have heard some real life examples. My fellow Glaswegian, Barry Gardiner, gave some horrific examples of the policy, and many more have been covered. I will close on the Prime Minister’s response to the right hon. Member for East Ham on television. People affected by the “no recourse to public funds” policy often pay income tax, national insurance and council tax, but they face those exorbitant immigration charges that have been referred to. If they are taxpayers in need, they should be entitled to public funds. I support those who believe that the policy should be scrapped.
It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair for this important debate, Mr Paisley.
I start, as so many others have done, by congratulating my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, on not just securing this important debate and making a powerful opening contribution, but his leadership on no recourse to public funds throughout the coronavirus crisis. As he made clear, his Committee and the Home Affairs Committee, on a cross-party basis, unanimously called for the suspension of the “no recourse to public funds” restrictions for the duration of the pandemic. His questioning of the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee gave us what we later learned to be false hope that the Prime Minister himself was in agreement that they should be lifted.
My right hon. Friend spoke of his extensive efforts—as did my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee—and the difficulty of ascertaining exactly the information that we need about just how many people are affected by having no recourse to public funds. The latest figures produced by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, which others used during the debate, estimate that by the end of 2019, at least 175,000 children under the age of 18 in families were expected to have no recourse to public funds, and more than 1.4 million adults.
The Labour party has consistently asked the Government to lift NRPF as a condition on a person’s migration status to ensure that no one is left behind in the public health effort against the coronavirus. Writing to the Government on
The Minister will say that those with no recourse to public funds were eligible for furlough but, as we all know, not all types of work or employment conditions were eligible for the furlough scheme, which comes to an end on
Labour has pressed this issue throughout the passage of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, both in Committee and on Report. The tight framing of the law changes in that Bill did not allow us to table amendments that would have lifted NRPF with immediate effect, but we did make the case again for why lifting the condition for the duration of the pandemic would be the appropriate and responsible thing to do in the circumstances. The Minister might remember that we pushed that to a vote on Report, as we felt so strongly about it.
As others have commented, it has been frustrating that the Home Office has dug in on the issue. Other Departments have simply circumvented Home Office obstinance. On
“utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds who require shelter and other forms of support due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It seems that the Government have understood in principle that NRPF is counterproductive during the pandemic.
My hon. Friend rightly highlights the cost shunting. The principle was recognised, as she said, and yet the cost was shunted to local government, with a very small pot of money to cover loads of issues in a local area. She is right to raise that issue.
My hon. Friend makes a similar point to the one made by David Simmonds in his detailed and articulate speech. The point about cost shunting is exactly right. We have asked local councils to use “alternative powers” to do something, but they are essentially being asked to fudge it.
A lack of clarity from the Home Office means that, in practice, people now face a postcode lottery, at the discretion of their local authority, in the absence of a clear steer from the Home Office. The Local Government Association has called for NRPF to be suspended on behalf of councils, giving them the best chance of delivering on their responsibilities to protect those vulnerable people. As we are sadly now well into a second wave of infections, I urge the Government to once again consider lifting NRPF. If the Minister cannot make that commitment this afternoon, I ask him to seriously reflect on some mitigations for this cohort of people.
As the Minister knows, people are now required by law to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, and they will be offered a test and trace support payment of £500 if they are on lower incomes, cannot work from home or have lost income as a result. As the Government guidance states, just under 4 million people who are in receipt of benefits in England will be eligible for this payment. It is not clear if those with no recourse to public funds will be eligible for that payment, but I suspect, in some cases, they would be those people most in need of it. I hope the Minister will clarify the situation and confirm that they will be eligible for that payment, should it be necessary.
As we have discussed, it is possible for individuals and families to apply for NRPF conditions to be lifted if their circumstances change and they face destitution. That can be a complicated and lengthy process, with families fearing that their application will be unsuccessful unless they turn to paid immigration advice. My hon. Friend Barry Gardiner shared powerful stories from his constituency about the barriers to having those restrictions lifted.
In the first quarter of 2020, 843 applications were made to the Home Office but in the second quarter, 5,565 were made. The Government’s own figures show that thousands of people’s circumstances have changed and that they are facing destitution. I hope the Minister will give us a clearer answer to the question of how many people have no recourse to public funds. If he does, can he give an indication of what percentage of that group these applicants represent?
The latest data published by the Home Office covers quarters 1 and 2 of this year. Can the Minister give us an early indication of what the data says for the third quarter of the year, in terms of both the numbers who are applying to have their condition lifted and the time taken to process the applications? In the latest publication, there are early signs that the time taken to arrive at a decision is starting to slide, so I hope he will give us an indication of the average time and the longest time taken to determine those applications. Others this afternoon have talked about everything from five weeks to four months.
We know that children can be denied access to public funds because of their parents’ immigration status. However, an audit of families with NRPF undertaken between 2015 and 2018 found that 68% had a child or multiple children born here in the UK. These children have only ever known the UK, but they are not protected by the safeguards we put in place to ensure children do not face the types of poverty we are seeing.
The Child Poverty Action Group published a report last April that predates the pressures of covid-19, but it has shone a harrowing light on what life is like for low-income families when there is just no safety net due to NRPF. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham told us about the eight-year-old boy who was sleeping rough due to having no recourse to public funds. The study also found that some children, who came from the most severely deprived families with NRPF simply did not eat at all during the school day. One child interviewed as part of the study said:
“Sometimes you don’t have enough energy, you cannot cope in the classroom so you have to like try and rest a bit. You just put your head on the table and you end up falling asleep in the classroom”.
Children in families with NRPF are not routinely entitled to free school meals. While the Department for Education has extended eligibility for free school meals temporarily to include some groups with NRPF, when it is compounded with the existing pressures on those families brought about by the virus, the consequences of not extending the safety net to those children is surely not something we are prepared to tolerate.
It is worth reminding ourselves, as Chris Stephens did, that those with NRPF pay the same taxes as every other in-work person in the UK—income tax, national insurance and council tax—in addition to ongoing immigration charges and the immigration health surcharge. Like everybody who has spoken in the debate, I have some brilliant organisations, such as St Augustine’s Centre in Halifax, WomenCentre and Halifax Opportunities Trust, which dedicate so much time to working with people in desperate positions due to having no recourse to public funds. I wish to put on the record how grateful I am for their service.
I appreciate that it was the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster, who led on the passing of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. In Committee, our amendment asked the Government to produce an analysis of the impact of no recourse to public funds, with a particular focus on those with children, those with pre-settled status and victims of domestic abuse. Further to the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West, it would be enormously beneficial to everybody if we had that analysis. It would allow us to shape better policy and give us the information we need to ensure we are not leaving anyone behind in our efforts to protect people over the course of this crisis and beyond.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I only narrowly avoided serving under the chairmanship of Ms Nokes, one of my predecessors in this role, as several Members have mentioned this afternoon.
I congratulate Stephen Timms, my hon. Friend David Simmonds and, of course, Chris Stephens on securing this afternoon’s important debate. Everybody who has spoken has contributed with great sincerity and passion, and I have been listening carefully to everything Members have said. Where I have, occasionally, been on the phone, I have been texting officials asking various questions in follow up on points that have been raised.
I will start by laying out some of the historical context to the “no recourse to public funds” policy. It has existed since the Immigration Act 1971, and the principle that underpins it is that it would not be reasonable for people who have arrived here very recently or on a temporary basis to be able to access the full range of benefits available to somebody who is settled here or a citizen. If we look at the categories of people to whom the NRPF condition applies, it is people such as visitors, those who are here on a holiday visa, students, people who come here to study, and workers who are here for a short time or, in some cases, a longer time. There would be an inherent unfairness if, having literally just arrived, people were able to fully access public funds.
I was going to come to that point. It is a very reasonable question to raise. Let me just finish my point, and I will come on to address the point that the hon. Lady has raised, entirely understandably and rightly.
It is worth mentioning that, of course, refugees are not subject to the NRPF condition. A couple of hon. Members, including Steve McCabe, talked about the time it takes to make decisions. I am not sure if he was referring to asylum decisions or another kind of decision, but I make it clear that anyone claiming asylum or anyone granted asylum is not subject to the NRPF condition, and neither are people who are granted indefinite leave to remain.
The hon. Gentleman has made it very clear. I am grateful for that clarification. As he has just alluded to, people who have indefinite leave to remain—people who are here permanently—do not have the NRPF condition applied to them. The path to getting to ILR can take five years for many people, if they are on a relevant qualifying route. Even if they are not on a relevant qualifying route, 10 years’ continuous residency gets people ILR. The majority get it after five years.
That brings us to the question that Siobhain McDonagh raised. I was going to address that point later, but since she raised it in an intervention, I shall turn to it now. It is the question of families. Almost every case raised this afternoon has involved children. No one can listen to stories involving children experiencing hardship without feeling extremely moved, but of course the NRPF condition, as many Members have mentioned, can be lifted where the parent is on a family route. Where there are children who are British citizens, that will typically be the case—it certainly should be the case. Barry Gardiner gave an example where an application was made to have the condition lifted and the application was granted. In cases where there are British citizen children whose parents have the NRPF condition, people can apply and do apply to have that li-fted.
Let me finish the point and I will give way in a moment. The success rate for those applications is very high. The most recent figures, which I think Holly Lynch has seen, show a success rate of 89% for those applications. That has increased in the last year. It was 79% and it is now 89%, and the time taken to make those decisions on average is 30 days—not quite five weeks, but 30 days.
The hon. Member for Brent North said, “Well, these are often quite pressing circumstances. What can be done to make that decision, which is successful in 89% of cases, faster?”. That is an entirely reasonable question. One of the actions I will take away from this afternoon’s session is to probe a little further on the question of speed. Someone mentioned 48 hours. Clearly, we have to make sure that people qualify for the condition to be lifted, and I would suspect 48 hours would not afford time to do that, but I will certainly see if anything can be done to expedite it, for the reasons the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
On the topic of children, the shadow Minister talked about free school meals, and I entirely sympathise with her point. I know that the Department for Education is conducting a review into the interaction of NRPF and free school meals. I hope it will report back on the result of that review as quickly as possible, because I understand entirely the hon. Lady’s point.
I am conscious of time, so perhaps I ought to say a quick word about data. I should congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham on his terrier-like tenacity on the question of data. In relation to the total number of people who are subject to the NRPF condition, we do not hold that data, as has been explained previously. There are a couple of issues. First, in relation to visa applications made out of country, the data is not recorded.
Secondly, there is obviously a continual coming and going of people—it includes people who are here on holiday visas and so on, who come and go the whole time. Some come and go via the common travel area, or via Ireland, so we do not have an exit check. That number is a moving feast. It includes people who come here on holiday for two weeks and then go. The right hon. Gentleman said that in relation to people who had made an in-country visa application, he had received a reply saying that that data was collected and held, but he had not received any further information.
“Home Office administrative data only captures information on whether visas are subject to NRPF conditions for in-country extensions.”
I have asked how many there are, but received no answer.
I was about to come to that point. I heard the right hon. Gentleman make that point in his speech. He had seen evidence saying that the data was held, but it had not been provided. That is another action for me to take away from this afternoon’s proceedings. I will go and ask that question about the data relating to in-country visa applications. According to the letter that he referred to, the data is held, so I will endeavour to ferret it out. It might sit in the portfolio of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, but I will certainly make inquiries in that part of the Home Office. If I am able to ferret out the information, I will certainly get back to the right hon. Gentleman. I will take that away as an action from this afternoon as well.
Finally, quite a few comments were made about coronavirus and our response to it. Clearly, everybody has access to the health service for coronavirus-related treatment. The shadow Minister asked whether the NRPF cohort are eligible for the payment if they have to self-isolate. I believe it is £500?
I do not know the answer to that question, but I will go away and find out because it is a very reasonable question to ask. More generally, people who are subject to NRPF are eligible for things such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employed income support scheme, and the support given to people on zero-hours contracts, based on their previous income. Those funds are not classed as public funds. Those are available to everybody, including the cohort mentioned today.
Local authority funding has been referred to a great deal. It has been denigrated as “cost shunting” and as being a small amount, but it is £4.3 billion, which, even by the standards of public spending, is a pretty significant amount of money. It covers more than just NRPF cases—I understand that—but it is none the less a very large amount of money, much of which has found its way to supporting NRPF cases. A case mentioned by one Opposition Member ended up being helped in that way. We can debate whether it is cost shunting or whether that is the best way of administering it, but local authorities often have the best knowledge about how to help people in their local areas. We might debate the nature of that safety net, but what cannot be gainsaid is that that safety net—that £4.3 billion to local authorities—does exist. It is there and it does help people. For those with children, which applies in all of the cases we have heard about this afternoon, there is a route to lifting—
I must finish to allow time for the right hon. Member for East Ham to wind up.
There is a clear route to having the conditions lifted for people with children, quite rightly. It can be done without a lawyer. Somebody suggested earlier that a lawyer is needed, but that is not the case. Somebody said people need to produce hundreds of pages of evidence, but they do not. They simply need to provide basic evidence of the risk of destitution, and I believe the service is now available online as well.
I hope I have explained the principles of NRPF, but also the safety nets and exceptions that have been set up. There are at least three points that I will take away from this afternoon’s proceedings, and I will get back to the three Members concerned. I hope that I have provided an adequate response to this afternoon’s queries.
We have had an excellent debate. I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to it and to the Minister for listening and for the offers that he has made.
The big expansion of no recourse to public funds came in 2012. It was an integral part of the hostile environment, or the “compliant environment” as it is now called, and the families we are talking about are, as others have said, largely on a 10-year route to indefinite leave. Frequently, they have been here for years beforehand. Nobody is suggesting that they are ever going to leave. The children have British citizenship. The people are working and pay taxes, yet they have no recourse to public funds throughout those 10 years.
I am grateful to the Minister for his offer to answer my question. I tabled it this morning for the fourth time, so now he has the perfect opportunity to go away, do the job he is expected to do, fulfil his responsibilities and answer the question.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered No Recourse to Public Funds.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members and the entry of those participating in the next item of business, I will suspend the sitting for two minutes.