Boris Johnson’s pledge to explore extra help for thousands of people left destitute by ultra-strict benefit rules has been dumped after just one week.
The prime minister had agreed to look again at the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) rule – barring many migrants from making claims, even during the coronavirus pandemic – even as he appeared not to know about it.
But, asked to provide more detail, Mr Johnson switched tack, arguing the condition did not mean the people affected were “excluded from all public funds”.
“They may be eligible for coronavirus job retention scheme funds or self-employed income support scheme funds,” he told MPs.
“Indeed, if they have paid into the benefit system, they may be eligible also for certain benefits.”
Later, the prime minister’s spokesman, asked if the comments meant it was “case closed” – with no review to follow – indicated they did, adding: “That is his answer, as far as I know.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said Mr Johnson’s latest comments suggested he still did not understand the implications of the harsh policy.
Anyone who did “manage to jump through the hoops” and use the support he mentioned – by proving “actual destitution” – were then forced to wait a further 10 years to win permanent settlement, it said.
And Paul Blomfield, the Labour MP who put Mr Johnson on the spot, told The Independent: “Unfortunately, he still doesn’t seem to grasp the issue. He must keep his promise to review no recourse to public funds.”
Pressure has grown for a rethink as the impact of Covid-19 bites hard, although The Independent has long documented the misery caused by the policy, which affects migrants living and working lawfully in the UK.
The cases covered include:
* A grieving family whose working father died from the virus faced with leaving the UK after 15 years, because they cannot claim benefits.
* Children going hungry as they study for exams, having lost the support networks their family relied on before the pandemic.
* A care worker and single mum having to self-isolate due to pregnancy receiving no pay or welfare support
* An NHS nursing assistant who feels “abandoned” as she relies on food banks to feed her British daughters while tackling the pandemic on the frontline.
Last week, Mr Johnson told MPs: “Clearly, the people who have worked hard for this country to live and work here should have support of one kind or another.
“You’ve raised a very, very important point if a 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.”
Zoe Gardner, the JCWI’s policy adviser, said “It is very disappointing to see that, having discovered with horror the NRPF conditions last week, the PM still does not seem to be across the impact of his government’s policy.
“Untold numbers of migrants and their families are forced into extreme poverty and destitution because they are denied access to the vital state safety net we all need in a crisis – and all the more so during this pandemic.”
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