UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has sparked fury over his failure to understand his own government’s No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) UK immigration policy. Johnson faced a backlash after wrongly suggesting that all migrants blocked from state support are ‘in the UK unlawfully’.
In May 2020, Johnson was also caught up in NRPF controversy when he was quizzed by Labour MP Stephen Timms during a Commons Liaison Committee meeting, seemingly unaware that the NRPF UK immigration policy even existed, before saying that ‘people who live and work in the UK should have support during the coronavirus crisis.’
The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised for failing to suspend the NRPF policy throughout the pandemic, justifying his decision by saying that the rule ‘applies to people who are in Britain illegally.’
Temporary UK status
In fact, NRPF applies to people who legally live and work in the UK under a temporary immigration status, but are denied access to state benefits in order to ‘protect public funds’. The policy is also applicable to people in the UK without legal status.
Under the NRPF UK immigration policy, almost 1.4 million foreign nationals are unable to access public funds. The majority of migrants denied tend to be among the black, Asian or other ethnic minority (BAME) communities, according to research.
Those opposed to the rule, who have campaigned for it to be suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, have warned that the policy is forcing migrant workers to choose between risking their lives to work during a public health crisis or suffer financial ruin.
Johnson once again faced off with Stephen Timms recently during an evidence session with the Liaison Committee. Timms said: “In my area it’s one of the factors in the spread of the pandemic. People can’t stop working because they can’t claim social security so they have to carry on working.”
Addressing the Prime Minister directly, he asked: “Shouldn’t this NRPF condition at least be suspended for the duration of the pandemic?”
Johnson responded by saying: “I totally understand the logic of your argument, but the problem is it’s a very longstanding provision in this country that NRPF conditions should apply to those for instance who are here illegally or unlawfully. I think it would be not the right way forward to change that.”
Johnson’s comments ‘outrageous and wrong’
Johnson’s remarks drew a stern retort from Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, who branded the Prime Minister’s comments as ‘outrageous and wrong.’ Carmichael said: “He should know that it’s a standard condition imposed on most people who come to live and work here on a UK visa.”
“NRPF is particularly damaging during the COVID crisis, preventing many families who have lost their livelihoods overnight from accessing the universal credit safety net. It’s long past time for the government to make this vital change [to lift the NRPF condition] to help keep people safe,” Carmichael added.
Public affairs and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Minnie Rahman, accused Johnson of either ‘wilfully lying or obscuring the truth.’
Rahman said: “He has had these issues raised directly with him by parliamentarians and civil society countless times in the last year. As the PM should know, these rules apply to 1.4 million people – both those with visas and those without.
“They exclude thousands of families from our social safety net and have pushed people into destitution, homelessness and dangerous working conditions. The Prime Minister’s inaction on this issue is putting migrants lives at risk and jeopardising public health too. He needs to end his political game-playing, and ensure everyone has the safety net they need right now.”
Government under pressure
The government has faced increasing pressure from local councils and London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to suspend the NRPF rule. Local authorities and Mr Khan say that the policy has scuppered efforts to help get thousands of homeless people off the streets during the coronavirus crisis.
In June 2020, a report published by the Work and Pensions Committee stated that: “During a pandemic it could not be in the public interest to expect people – some of whom are key workers and frontline medical staff – to comply fully with restrictive public health guidance while simultaneously denying them full access to the welfare safety net.”
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