There are around 1.376 million people with time-limited ‘leave to remain’ who are subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition in the UK (Fernandez-Reino, 2020), while a further 674,000 undocumented people have NRPF by default (Jolly et al., 2020). Single-parent families, mainly headed by mothers, have been shown to be most negatively impacted by the policy (Price and Spencer, 2015). In theory, destitute families with NRPF should be able to access local authority support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This is a broad umbrella provision that places a general duty on local authorities to ‘safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need’. What ‘in need’ means here is rather vague, qualified only by the following:
For the purposes of this Part a child shall be taken to be in need if—
(a)he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him of services by a local authority under this Part;
(b)his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for him of such services; or
(c)he is disabled,
Whether a child is ‘in need’ or not, then, becomes a key question when families seek support from local authorities. Without clear statutory guidance on this question, the courts have played a significant role in interpreting this legislation, with case law often coming to define how assessments should be conducted and when and what kind of support should be provided. This is not least because of how hard families with NRPF have found it to access housing and financial support under section 17. Widespread ‘gatekeeping’ has been consistently reported by families and their advocates, and local authorities have often been reluctant to support those with NRPF, citing the ways in which immigration controls result in ‘cost shunting’ as well as pressures on their increasingly impossible budgets.
Section 17 support in London
Data from the NRPF Network shows that at least 1650 families (comprising 2903 dependants) were supported by 72 local authorities across the UK as of 31 March 2022 (NRPF Network, 2022). Of these, 61% (1000 families, 1711 dependants) were supported by London local authorities. However, the overall number of destitute families with NRPF is likely to be much higher. As well as legal restrictions in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 excluding some families from section 17 support, frontline workers’ conceptions of ‘deservingness’ are a key determinant of who is able to access support (Jolly, 2018). Many families who try to access local authority support are turned away and those who do manage to access support are often provided with exceptionally low levels (Dexter et al., 2016).
In our Solidarities briefing ‘Section 17 support for families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) in London’, Rachel Rosen and I examine some of these tensions, drawing on our ethnographic research from case study 4 (‘The politics of need: Inclusive and exclusive solidarities with children in families with “no recourse to public funds”’). We focus particularly on issues around the adequacy of support provided to families, such as poor housing and very low levels of financial support. For example, living on such meagre support meant families were often forced to forgo a range of essential needs, including clothing, haircuts, toys, school supplies and trips, and activities such as going to the cinema or meeting up with friends. In many cases, parents were skipping meals because of lack of funds.
The long durée of an ‘emergency’ provision
Our research findings show that while families with NRPF may seek section 17 support to alleviate extreme destitution, the minimal support they are often provided with produces new difficulties and hardships that place great strain on them. And while support is often framed as ‘temporary’ or ‘short-term’, it’s clear that in practice families may be in receipt of local authority support for long periods of time while they regularise their immigration status. According to the NRPF Network, the average time a family spent in receipt of section 17 support was 598 days (1.6 years) (NRPF Network, 2022). Further, most families who access local authority support will have spent significant periods of time living in destitution prior to approaching the local authority – in some cases, the entirety of children’s lives. It is therefore particularly pressing that families are provided with adequate support to sustain themselves and live dignified lives.
You can read the full briefing and our recommendations here.
Dexter, Z., Capron, L., and Gregg, L. (2016) Making Life Impossible: How the needs of destitute migrant children are going unmet. London: The Children’s Society
Fernandez-Reino, M. (2020) Briefing: Children of migrants in the UK. Oxford: Compas
Jolly, A., Thomas, S. and Stanyer, J. (2020) London’s children and young people who are not British citizens: A profile. London: Greater London Authority
Jolly, A. (2018) No Recourse to Social Work? Statutory Neglect, Social Exclusion and Undocumented Migrant Families in the UK. Social Inclusion, 6 (3).
NRPF Network, (2022) NRPF Connect data report 2021-2022. London: NRPF Network. Accessed at: https://www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/nrpf-connect/nrpf-connect-data [Accessed 11 January 2023]
Price, J. and Spencer, S. (2015) Safeguarding children from destitution: Local authority responses to families with ‘no recourse to public funds’. Oxford: Compas