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Scrap ‘no recourse to public funds’ or make coronavirus spread worse, Priti Patel warned

Priti Patel - Image credit: Home Office

Scrap ‘no recourse to public funds’ or make coronavirus spread worse, Priti Patel warned

The Home Office should immediately scrap a ban on some migrants accessing benefits and housing assistance or risk making the spread of coronavirus worse, Priti Patel has been told.

The SNP’s migration spokesperson Stuart McDonald has written to the Home Secretary calling on her to axe the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) immigration status, which is applied to thousands of migrants across the country.

People with NRPF status are shut out of a string of state benefits, including Universal Credit, housing benefit, council tax support and access to means-tested free school meals for their children, even if they have been granted leave to remain in the UK.

The status does not curb access to NHS treatment or state schools, and councils have an obligation to help those deemed to be in destitution.

“Saving lives must be a priority,” he said.

But McDonald told Holyrood’s sister site, PoliticsHome, that the ban’s continued enforcement meant councils were being “left to try and navigate a minefield” as they help migrants facing homelessness and unemployment while staying on the right side of the Home Office rules during the lockdown.

Warning of “a patchwork of different responses in different parts of the country”, the SNP MP, who sits on the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said: “In some places folk are turned away altogether from accommodation because they have No Recourse to Public Funds on their visa.

“There are other places where accommodation seems to be found but they’re not given any financial support, and there are other places where there seem to have been some successful schemes to help people get the support they need.”

But he added: “Local authorities and other organisations have been left to try and navigate a minefield of what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do.

“And to make things simple the Home Office should scrap or suspend these rules and let folk get the support they need to help them get through this and to help us all get through this.”

Charities and MPs from across parties have been calling for the UK Government to suspend NRPF since last month and McDonald’s letter comes after a coalition of charities said it would consider bringing legal action against the Home Office over its continued enforcement of NRPF status.

They argue that the ban is incompatible with emergency laws curbing people’s movement during the lockdown.

The group said of the lockdown: “We consider that the NRPF system strongly disincentives many of those subject to it from complying with the above guidance, giving rise to serious health risk for them, the people with whom they live and the general public.”

In their letter to Patel, sent over the Easter weekend, the charities added: “For many [migrants], their NRPF condition may mean that they are compelled to continue to work (and risk exposure to / transmission of COVID-19) because they cannot fall back on public funds in the UK. Put simply, such migrants cannot afford to socially distance or self-isolate.”

McDonald said: “If we are to support rather than undermine the public health approach to COVID-19, the UK government must make the asylum support system genuinely accessible and safe, and implement urgent and clear policy for funding to support those who are homeless with NRPF and suspension of rules on NRPF.

“Such a change could make an immediate and significant impact on the ground.
 
“While there have been some localised success stories where help is getting to where it is needed, these are the exceptions rather than the rule and it is public services that are picking up the pieces and paying for this much needed support.

“Without a clear policy that is directly funded by the UK government, a significant group of vulnerable people are unable to access mainstream homelessness services and continuing to be left to sleep rough and move between multiple locations. Local areas want to help but need help to do so.
 
“Exceptional times require exceptional measures, as Portugal has demonstrated.

“Saving lives must be the priority – it is as simple as that.”

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