A record number of people who are unable to access state support are turning to charity Citizens Advice, the organisation has said, with one vulnerable person receiving assistance every 11 minutes since the pandemic began.
Nearly 1.4 million migrants, including asylum seekers, have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) as a result of the UK Government’s “hostile environment” policy, meaning they cannot claim most welfare benefits, tax credits or housing assistance paid by the state.
Citizens Advice has expressed concern some migrant workers could be at risk of being deported following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on employment and changes to immigration rules.
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As the pandemic leads to heavy job losses, those who cannot get assistance from the welfare system risk being pushed into rent arrears, facing eviction and becoming homeless. New immigration rules — which came into effect on December 1 — mean rough sleeping is now grounds for refusal or cancellation of permission to stay in the UK.
Plans to deport rough sleepers were initially ruled unlawful by the high court in 2017 but reintroduced earlier this year.
Councils say they won't comply with “cruel” plans to deport migrants who are forced to sleep rough – warning the new policy will “play into the hands” of human traffickers https://t.co/lPu7NjWnmT
— The Big Issue (@BigIssue) December 3, 2020
Josh Jones, a Citizens Advice advisor, said: “Many of the people we’re helping who are subject to NRPF have lost work in the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic. They’re now facing the prospect of losing the roof over their heads and potentially their right to stay in the country.
“Advising people with NRPF is one of the hardest parts of my job, because people are facing desperate situations. I wish there was more I could do to get them financial assistance and support them.”
Citizens Advice said migrant workers are disproportionately likely to be employed in sectors worst affected by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, including hospitality, admin and support services, and transportation and storage.
In the nine months since the pandemic began, the charity has seen a 91 per cent year-on-year increase in the levels of advice given to those without Government support. Some of the problems faced by those unable to claim support included the cost of self-isolating, debt and redundancy.
Before her death, Mercy had been relying on her church and local charities as she was subject to the policy giving asylum seekers no recourse to public funds.
Her body was found in her home in the Govan area of Glasgow, near her crying one-year-old son.https://t.co/eR0Ykx0LVc
— The Big Issue (@BigIssue) December 14, 2020
The new figures were released on a “day of action” by street homelessness groups and faith leaders calling on the Government to increase support for rough sleepers and extend it to those who don’t have access to public money.
Citizens UK will lead charities calling on the housing secretary to build on the Everyone In policy, which brought 15,000 rough sleepers off the streets in March, as a “moral and public health priority”.
A small delegation will deliver a Christmas card and candle to the Housing Secretary, containing messages from across the country asking the Government to ensure homeless people have access to support until the end of the pandemic.
Labour’s campaign is urging the Government to step in this winter to ensure that everyone has a place to stay regardless of nationality, including people who have no recourse to public funds and have no access to benefits due to their immigration status.https://t.co/5ErSjumebF
— The Big Issue (@BigIssue) December 7, 2020
Amanda Dubarry, chief executive at Caritas Anchor House, one of the charities joining the day of action, said rough sleeping couldn’t be tackled without help for people with no recourse to public funds.
She said: “We cannot end rough sleeping without having a solution which enables people with no recourse to public funds to access housing. It’s vital that rough sleepers do not return to the streets during a global pandemic.
“Access to housing should be a basic human right and if we want to live in a civilised and a humane society this must become our shared vision.”
Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, added: “Many people with NRPF have been hit hard by the economic consequences of coronavirus. Despite working in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, most people subject to these rules still have had no access to the benefits safety net.
“Despite measures put in place to support people affected by NRPF, we’re continuing to see significant increases in the numbers seeking our help. No one should be left without access to support and no one should face the prospect of losing their leave to remain in this country as a result.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The government has acted decisively to ensure that everyone is supported through this crisis, including those who have no recourse to public funds.
“We have introduced a range of measures to ensure people can stay safe and many of these are available for those with a no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition.
“The Government has provided councils with £6.4 billion to support their communities through this pandemic, which includes their work to support rough sleepers. Those seeking to establish their family life in the UK must do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration.”