It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend Meg Hillier for securing this hugely important debate today.
The current system of nationality application fees is deeply unjust. The 10-year route to leave to remain costs £12,771 per person and requires five separate applications over that time. The cost of leave to remain fees over the past six years has increased by 331%. It is a shame that our NHS staff pay rises are not set on that ratio by the Home Office.
As is clear from the Library’s briefing and We Belong’s report, the administrative cost to the Home Office of processing each application is a fraction of what it charges in fees. As much as 86% in profit is made by the Minister’s Department from every single application, from a process that, as many in this debate today have described, has a devastating impact on the wellbeing and livelihoods of those faced with the costs, and which also creates barriers to work, healthcare, renting a home, opening a bank account or going to university.
As Members have mentioned in their speeches, those affected include young people who have also been disproportionately hit in the pandemic. Youth unemployment has risen by more than 100% in my constituency of Liverpool, West Derby, so these fees are becoming even more devastating. Added to that is the Department’s complex waiver system, which rejects a high proportion of applications and leaves some individuals needing to pay for legal representation. With the shutting down of many law centres and advice centres in our communities, the ability to access justice in some areas is near impossible. As We Belong highlights, many young people will undoubtedly be driven into poverty or will lose their lawful status as a result of those high costs.
As my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy set out in her question to the Prime Minister last month, hundreds of thousands of children who were born or raised in the UK are priced out by the fees. A recent report from the Children’s Society found that almost half of the children with foreign-born parents live in poverty, with parents reporting that they are unable to meet even their children’s most basic needs.
The impact of the costs concurs with the evidence that I have heard from across the country as I have collected evidence for the Right to Food campaign that I am spearheading in Parliament. I, and many across our communities, see the system of fees as morally bankrupt. It plunges many into abject misery, as outlined today.
In response to a petition to Parliament on this subject, the Government acknowledged that they are overcharging. Their response stated:
“The principle of charging at above cost has been in place for over a decade”.
Will the Minister commit today to at the very least ending that shameful practice?