The problem of NRPF

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a group of people who have been unable to access any real help at all. These are the people who have come to the UK legally, are working in jobs but come with NRPF with their immigration status. NRPF means No Recourse to Public Funds.

Stephen Timms – MP for East Ham – raised this issue with the Prime Minister at the back end of May. Here is the Prime Minister’s response:

It is absolutely staggering that the Prime Minister appeared to have no knowledge of this very common clause. We have had to deal with a number of people who have had no recourse to public funds, which can cause issues day to day. But the logic of the clause is straightforward enough – it is intended to bar those who would simply come to our country on false premises of work who arrive and then claim benefits on a ruse. Whilst that logic may be understandable under normal circumstances, when folks are unable to work and may have been laid off – they have no means of supporting themselves or their families. Even with the government job retention scheme that allows companies to put people on furlough, not all organisations have been able to do this and those with no recourse to public funds have absolutely no way of feeding their families or paying the rent in the midst of this crisis under such circumstances.

Stephen Timms continues to helpfully raise this issue. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, he raised the issue again with the Prime Minister (who now appears to have a perfect grasp of the issues he previously knew nothing about):

Many argue that our existing support on Universal Credit is not adequate for daily living for those who are not in work. Asylum Seekers – who have come to this country fleeing serious persecution and threats to their life and liberty – are typically considered to be able to live on half of what we used to give on Job Seekers Allowance to UK citizens. This is a travesty of its own. But NRPF is a step on from this again. A policy that works fine whilst people have no need of public funds; utterly draconian when working families – who have established roots in this country – are unable to access even so much as Free School Meals, let alone financial help to pay the household bills.

It is all very well for the Prime Minister to wave this matter away by claiming that those with NRPF can access the furlough scheme because those in need are, typically, those whose employers are have not kept them on notwithstanding the schemes available to them. What is more, even if that were not the case (and it is!), it merely kicks the can down the road. The elephant in the room with the furlough scheme is that the government are funding a large number of people whose jobs have already gone. Whilst they may be supported for now, during the Covid-19 lockdown, once those restrictions disappear they will find – along with existing government help – so have their jobs. What are those with NRPF supposed to do then? They will have children in UK schools, homes and support networks setup in this country, and yet no job and no access to as much as a penny of public support.

Stephen Timms is absolutely right, minimally, NRPF restrictions should be lifted for the duration of the Covid-19 lockdown. Otherwise, it would seem, some workers are deemed more valuable than others. It cannot be right that those we have called here to work should not be able to access any support when that work suddenly, and without warning, no longer exists.