Boris Johnson appears surprised to discover that many migrants can’t get coronavirus help

No recourse to public funds set to leave tens of thousands of families destitute

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 27 May 2020 17:38 BST

Boris Johnson has said he will look at ways to help families at risk of destitution because they are not eligible for coronavirus help due to their immigration status.

Over 100,000 families living legally in the UK are thought to be subject to a “no recourse to public funds” requirement – under which they can live in the UK but not access most benefits.

The status, which has been blamed for causing poverty at the best of times, has created significant problems during the coronavirus pandemic because it has excluded many people from public assistance.

The prime minister appeared unaware of the status when questioned by MPs at a committee hearing on Wednesday and said he would look into the issue.

Labour MP Stephen Timms said many families were “being forced by the current arrangements into destitution” due to the “no recourse to public funds” rule.

Mr Johnson appeared confused and asked: “Why aren’t they eligible for Universal Credit, or ESA or any of the other benefits?” Mr Timms explained that “no recourse to public funds” was “a condition that’s attached to their leave of remain”.

After he was brought up to speed, the prime minister replied: “I’m going to have to come back to you on that Stephen because clearly people who have worked hard for this country and who live and work here should have support of one kind or another.

“You’ve raised a very important point – if the condition of their leave to remain is that they should have no recourse to public funds I will find out how many there are in that position and we will see what we can do to help.”

Commenting on proceedings, Labour MP Jess Phillips described Mr Johnson’s apparent ignorance of the issue as “quite phenomenal”. Angela Eagle said the revelation was “unbelievable but true”.

The Home Office says the policy has been “long established as being in the public interest” and adds: “Those seeking to establish their family life in the UK must do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the State and the UK taxpayer. It is right that those who benefit from the State contribute towards it.

“No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is a standard condition applied to those staying here with a temporary immigration status to protect public funds. Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) is set as the general threshold for permitting migrants to access public funds. Migrants who are here without leave are also subject to no recourse to public funds. Therefore, most migrants do not have access to public funds as a matter of course.”

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