Some people have a simple phrase attached to their status in the UK – “no recourse to public funds”. The meaning is apparently very clear. While you may have the right to be in the country, you do not have the right to access any services paid by the public purse, nor are you able to work to support yourself and your family. As with everything in the area of immigration, what sounds simple can be complex and what sounds reasonable can create hardship and injustice.
“No recourse to public funds” can refer to someone who came as a spouse of a British Citizen or as a student, or an asylum seeker who has had their initial application rejected. Some may have visas which have expired or may have a work visa but their employer can no longer employ them.
This can create a number of problems. Some will find themselves in difficult circumstances in which they are unable to survive without support. This is especially acute where there are children involved. Whilst they may still be able to access some primary health care, they will need to pay for secondary care services. There will be no benefits and no access to statutory homelessness services.
It is not surprising therefore that a growing number of the UK’s homeless population are those who are unable to access services provided by public funds. Many homelessness agencies provide accommodation through a charge to the homeless person’s entitlements within the benefit system. The consequence of the homelessness sector’s preferred business model is to exclude many very vulnerable people from the provision for the excluded. It is an anomaly within the systems of protection within the UK state. It is creating a dangerous precedent. Destitution has entered the lexicon of social welfare.
Civil society has a responsibility to address failings within social policy. It is our duty to ensure that lives are not put at risk and each human being within our shores is able to claim their rights and, in our new circumstance, to have the right to have rights. In reality, we are confronting the realities facing people who have been trafficked into the UK. We are concerned for victims of domestic violence and their children, who are trapped into abusive relationships and people who are pregnant or desperately sick. Many people cannot return to the countries they came from. They fear for their lives, facing intolerant and repressive regimes. They dare not return to the places where they have been violently attacked, tortured or raped.
It is the primary task of community and voluntary organisations to challenge the social policy which creates these problems for vulnerable people. It is equally important to create a new infrastructure within civil society to care for those who need support to extract themselves from the traps of no recourse to public funds.
This infrastructure begins with resolving the legal issues and also determining what entitlements do apply, albeit frustrated by changes in legal aid provision. For example those families with children, fall under the provisions of the Children’s Act. This takes time and holding temporary accommodation which is not funded by the state is vital. A new model for sustainable provision is required and Praxis is very excited to be working with Commonweal in creating innovative solutions to this taxing problem.
Vaughan Jones, Chief Executive, Praxis