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Rule that forces migrant workers to choose between ‘financial ruin’ or risking their lives to work during pandemic must be scrapped, say MPs

NRPF policy forcing thousands of people to make 'invidious' choices during crisis, says cross-party group

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 22 June 2020 15:18 BST
The Home Office has come under mounting pressure to suspend the NRPF policy in recent weeks
The Home Office has come under mounting pressure to suspend the NRPF policy in recent weeks (AFP/Getty)

The government must suspend an immigration rule that forces migrant workers to choose between “financial ruin” or risking their lives to work during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of cross-party MPs has said.

The Work and Pensions Committee said the Home Office's no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy – which prevents tens of thousands of migrants who live and work in the UK legally from claiming benefits and accessing financial support – was forcing people to make "invidious” choices, and leaving many at risk of destitution and homelessness.

The Home Office has come under mounting pressure to suspend the policy in recent weeks, including from local councils and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, both of whom say it is hindering their efforts to help thousands of rough sleepers off the streets during the pubic health crisis.

The committee’s report argues that during a pandemic it cannot be in the public interest to expect people – some of whom are key workers and frontline medical staff – to comply fully with restrictive public health guidance while simultaneously denying them full access to the welfare safety net.

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “People whose immigration status leaves them with no recourse to public funds have been left with no support from the benefits system at all – and at risk of destitution and homelessness.

“Some have had to face the invidious choice between staying at home and facing financial ruin, for themselves and their children, or going to work and risking spreading the disease. The government must suspend these rules for the duration of the pandemic.”

The committee also called on the government to boost legacy benefit rates by an equivalent amount to the recent rise in universal credit, warning that many people who have not yet moved across to the new benefit system were missing out on additional support during the pandemic through no fault of their own.

The government has raised the rates of standard universal credit and basic working tax credits by £20 a week for 12 months in response to the Covid-19 crisis, but people on benefits yet to be replaced by universal credit, including Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Child Tax Credits, have not been similarly helped, with the DWP blaming “operational difficulties” for the disparity.

Ms Timms said that while the impact of the pandemic could have been “much worse” without the hard work of the DWP’s frontline staff, the pandemic had highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which he said was at times “too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis” – and urged ministers to “get on top of this now”.

He added: “The focus has mostly been on the unprecedented numbers of new claims for universal credit. But in the background, people on legacy benefits – including disabled people, carers and people with young families – have slipped down the list of priorities.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We rolled out measures that could be quickly and effectively put into place and that benefited those facing the most financial disruption.

“There have been more than 2.4 million new claims for universal credit since 16 March and the system has stood up to the test in a way which the paper-based legacy benefit system could not have, ensuring around 90 per cent of people are paid in full and on time.

“We have made a number of changes to legacy and other working age benefits, such as increasing certain entitlements such as Local Housing Allowance, and introduced a range of additional measures to provide financial protection for those affected by Covid-19, including those with no recourse to public funds.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have taken extensive action to support those with no recourse to public funds – the government’s measures, including rent protections also apply to those with these conditions, and we have allocated more than £3.2bn to local authorities and £750m to charities to reach out and support the most vulnerable.

“Families with leave under family and human rights routes can apply, free of charge, to have no recourse to public funds conditions lifted and we encourage anyone eligible to submit an application.”

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