Nowhere to turn: How the UK is Failing Destitute and Vulnerable Migrant Children. By Alexandra Jarvis

Migrant families with No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) are at the mercy of underfunded public services, leaving children trying to cope in the worst of situations. What are the challenges faced and what changes can be made in order to prevent children experiencing destitution?

The children of migrants in the UK are finding themselves in the most unfair and unjust situations, purely due to the immigration status of their parents. Poverty, from homelessness to food poverty, is causing destitution amongst this incredibly vulnerable group of young people. Despite many children being subjected to such brutal conditions, the issues facing migrant families go largely unreported in mainstream media.

It is challenging to pinpoint the exact moments that migrant families fall into such destitution. Individual cases vary to a considerable extent, and therefore children’s situations vary from case to case. However, the absence of any safety net is what leads to the most extreme of situations. The issue is the ‘No Resource to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition, a clause attached to the status of all ‘Persons Subject to Immigration Control’ (PSIC), excluding them from accessing mainstream welfare support. NPRF clients can be from many different groups; some have the condition on their visa status despite having leave to enter or remain in the UK. Visa overstayers and illegal entrants are also subject to the NRPF condition. Those with NRPF do not have British Citizenship. The only avenue available for migrant families to access support is through Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act, which gives local authorities the responsibility of providing subsistence and housing to all destitute children in their area.

Whilst Section 17 should be a viable option for all vulnerable migrant families, unjust gatekeeping methods mean that many are blocked from accessing vital help. Statistics from Project 17, a charitable organisation that works with migrants possessing the NRPF condition, found that 60% of those they were assisting were wrongly refused help when they initially sought it from their local authority. The process is made deliberately difficult, with misinformation, aggressive tactics and incorrect dismissals of a migrant’s case as false used to limit the availability of assistance. There is reluctance from officials to carry out essential Child in Need assessments. This stems from concerns around the cost of such assessments, with local authority budgets facing severe cuts over recent years.

Even if a migrant family can access Section 17, the support levels are often inadequate. As touched upon, years of austerity policies have had a hugely negative impact on the ability of local authorities to provide support for vulnerable groups. Therefore, whilst the policy transfers the duty of care to local authorities, such organisations are seriously limited in their ability to provide essential support to destitute migrants. The Children’s Society discovered the shameful financial hardship that migrant families are in, with some receiving less than the asylum support rate of £36.50 per person per week, a direct violation of human rights law. It is particularly distressing that 89% of families receiving NRPF support under Section 17 are single parent parents, and the most common reason for relationship breakdown is domestic violence. This further demonstrates the vulnerability of those seeking help. The housing provided to families under Section 17 is often unsafe and of poor quality. Project 17 and The Children’s Society both discuss issues surrounding the provision of housing. Living with vermin in the property, no access to cooking or washing facilities and anti-social behaviour from fellow residents are all frequently mentioned by clients. All of these issues can lead to health risks, both physical and mental.

Urgent intervention is needed immediately in light of the miserable conditions that children find themselves in. Hostile practices mean that children are suffering immense levels of misery and destitution. It is vital not only that their voices are heard, but that the needs of children take precedence in all future decision-making. The Children’s Society’s investigation into migrant families who rely on Section 17 support shows that children feel isolated, ashamed, terrified, angry and unsafe as a result of the situation they are in.

Moving forward, child welfare must be the overriding factor in all decision-making processes. It is imperative that the housing provided to migrant families is looked at critically; unfit living conditions increase risks of severe ill health or disability by 25% during childhood and early adulthood. It is unacceptable that there is no reliable system in place to provide for this immensely vulnerable section of society.

Section 17 can be a safety net if local authorities are sufficiently funded. Not only this, but officials must ensure that support is properly administered and that assessments are carried out in a fair and consistent manner. As the number of individuals accessing Section 17 continues to grow, with a 19% increase between 2012 and 2013, these concerns need to be at the very core of all future policy. Statutory guidance must be in place so that housing and subsistence is of an acceptable level for all children to move forward and experience health, happiness and a chance to thrive.

Alexandra Jarvis is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors which provides legal support to undocumented migrants looking to regulate their immigration status.


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