Migrant families facing welfare restrictions

Yaa is an Enfield resident with no recourse to public funds NRPF)
Yaa is an Enfield resident with no recourse to public funds NRPF)

Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy is affecting 156 Enfield families, reports Alastair Ball

New figures show scores of migrant families with vulnerable children in Enfield sought support from social services in 2018 because they have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF).

Many people with NRPF have the right to stay in the UK but are not entitled to any welfare benefits or social housing. The only support they can get is from social services through Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989 – which applies if they become destitute or homeless.

Yaa (not her real name), a local single mother with NRPF, told the Dispatch: “I didn’t have anything. Sometimes, on the bus, if somebody was eating or drinking, my daughter started crying. I was stressed, always stressed.

“I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent. If my daughter saw somebody shouting at the door, she cried. In her sleep, she shouted out; ‘don’t hurt my mummy, don’t hurt my mummy’.

“Sometimes I went to the bus stop to beg.”

NRPF is part of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, which attempts to discourage migration to the UK by making it difficult for those who arrive. A Freedom of Information request made by Project 17, a charity which works to end destitution among migrant children, has revealed there are 156 families affected by NRPF in Enfield.

Amy Murtagh, Project 17’s interim director, said: “Many children in families with NRPF grow up in exceptional poverty, and are at high risk of homelessness, exploitation and abuse. Support provided under Section 17 of the Children’s Act has become an essential safety net.”

Rachel Benchekroun, a NRPF researcher, said: “Mothers with no recourse to public funds have no safety net. If they are in a relationship which breaks down, they and their children may become homeless and destitute.”

She added that mothers with NRPF rely on informal support networks, such as friends or churches. Rachel said: “When friends aren’t able to accommodate them, and they have nowhere else to go, their situation can become desperate.”

Other organisations that can help these families include Haringey Migrants Support Centre, which works with affected people across London. Among the people they have helped escape from NRPF restrictions are Yaa, the single mother from Enfield quoted above.

It is not known how many people in total are affected by NRPF. Eve Dickson, of Project 17, said: “Neither local authorities nor central government collect data on how many people are in the UK with NRPF. The only data we do have is the numbers of families supported under Section 17 by local authorities, but this will only be a small proportion of the total population.”

Amy Murtagh added: “We want the government to end the practice of restricting access to mainstream welfare, and provide enough funding to local authorities who urgently need more funding to meet their statutory obligations towards all children in their area.”

Enfield Council was approached for comment.