No recourse to public funds: systemic nonsense causing social injustice
The High Court has recently ruled that the UK Government’s policy of allowing ‘no recourse to public funds’ for certain individuals and households caught up in the immigration and asylum systems was unlawful. Under the policy people were blocked from receiving the same state support that helps other low-earning parents and individuals to survive, including child and housing benefits, or tax credits; along with being denied the opportunity to work to earn to support themselves. In short, a policy of enforced destitution.
When this issue was first brought to our attention six years ago by colleagues at Praxis Community Projects – a leading migrant and refugee support organisation in east London – we saw immediately that this was a social injustice where access to suitable and available housing was key. Together, we set out not to solve the issue, but to create a project that could mitigate the worst excesses of the policy: enforced destitution and homelessness.
NRPF appeared to us to be classic “systemic nonsense”. The asylum and immigration system rightly and correctly allows within it the opportunity to people to appeal decisions – what different people may call natural justice or human rights or even British fair play. However, the NRPF policy meant that whilst you had the clear opportunity (and right) to lodge an appeal or if appropriate launch a new claim where you have new evidence – whilst you did this you couldn’t house yourself, feed yourself (or your children) or support yourself. Nonsense!
Campaigning on the rights or wrongs of the asylum and immigration system as a whole or the view of the elected Government of the day is not a role that Commonweal takes on. We raise our voice to highlight injustices, inequities or inconsistencies in national or local government policy that cause disproportionate harm to those caught up in them, and where a housing model may alleviate that harm. This systemic nonsense causing social injustice exists across a whole host of policy areas, and so do our housing solutions.
Commonweal Housing have been proud to support Praxis over recent years, giving them the space and opportunity to develop and test a model of providing housing and support to those caught within the grip of the NRPF policy. The NRPF Project supports families and individuals by providing them housing, meeting an immediate humanitarian need. This gives them a stable base from which to consider what advice and information or options they might have to properly pursue the avenues the ‘system’ allows without the constant pressure of thinking ‘where I am going to sleep tonight?’
The independent evaluation of the project found that families and single women were given decent secure homes where children felt safe, and the immigration advice allowed them to ‘take stock’ of their immigration case and change its trajectory and outlook for the better.
Commonweal applauds those specialist charities and organisations that have challenged the NRPF policy through the courts. I have no doubt this is not necessarily the end to this policy but hopefully it helps, as Praxis has done for many years, to highlight again the inequities and injustice at the heart of the current system.
Whether the injustice was inadvertent or deliberate others can decide. Commonweal Housing, along with all our project partners working across a wide range of social policy areas will continue to hunt out and shine a light those examples of systemic nonsense, designed destitution or inadvertent injustice. We continue our work to identify, develop, test and share new housing solutions to social injustice.