The Prime Minister appeared to reveal this afternoon that he does not know about the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy backed by Conservative governments – and suggested that he might scrap it.
The immigration condition applies to almost all migrants granted limited leave to remain in the UK – especially those on student or spousal visas and those with limited leave granted under family or private life rules.
Being subject to immigration control means not being eligible to access to benefits such as income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit or personal independence payment.
In the liaison committee session this afternoon, Labour MP Stephen Timms described a couple in his constituency who both work and have two children but are affected by NRPF.
Timms said the husband now had zero income, the wife’s income was less than their household rent, and they “can’t get any help at all” because they have limited leave to remain with NRPF.
He asked the Prime Minister: “Isn’t it wrong that a hard-working, law-abiding family like that is being forced by the current arrangements into destitution?”
“Hang on, Stephen,” Johnson replied. “Why aren’t they eligible for Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance or any of the other…? Forgive me…”
When Timms explained again that they were subject to the NRPF condition, the Prime Minister said: “Ah.” He asked: “Where are they actually from?” Timms said “Pakistan” but added that their situation applied to many others in the UK.
Johnson said: “Oh, OK. And they can’t get furloughed, obviously not… Well, look, I’m going to have to get back to you on that one, Stephen.
“Because clearly people who work hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another. But you’ve raised a very, very important point.
“If people’s condition for their leave to remain is that they should have no recourse to public funds, I will find out how many there are in that position and we will see what we can do to help.”
Timms pointed out that according to the Children’s Society at least 100,000 children are affected by the NRPF condition and estimated the figure of over one million people living in the country.
Although the Home Office usually refuses to reveal how many are subject to the NRPF restriction in the UK, the Prime Minister appeared to commit to establish the official figure and “look into it”.
Almost 100 MPs wrote to the Prime Minister in March urging the government to temporarily remove the NRPF status held by some migrants for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds commented: “That the Prime Minister apparently had no idea what “No Recourse to Public Funds” was and meant for people is extraordinarily worrying.
“We’ve called for its suspension in this public health emergency and, with the Prime Minister promising to look at it, let’s hope that he can persuade the Home Secretary to think again.”
This is HUGE!!
WELCOME, Prime Minister, to the movement to scrap #NoRecourseToPublicFunds NRPF rules that force thousands of people – including over 100,000 children – into poverty & make them unable to access state support in this time of crisis! We’ll be following up 😊 pic.twitter.com/96OAwCAFAc
— JCWI (@JCWI_UK) May 27, 2020
The Prime Minister used the committee to announce that the testing and contact tracing programme would be launched tonight by Matt Hancock and would go live on Thursday.
But asked by former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt when a 24-hour target would be introduced, he replied: “I’ve been forbidden from announcing any more targets and deadlines.”
Johnson was repeatedly asked about Dominic Cummings but mostly refused to give answers on the matter, claiming that the British public “want to move on” from “a political ding dong about what one advisor may or may not have done”.
Asked by Yvette Cooper what parents without local childcare should do in case they contract Covid-19, the Prime Minister did not want to give specifics and eventually said: “I think you’d have to look at each individual case.”
On the visibility of women involved in the coronavirus response, an issue raised by Tory MP Caroline Nokes, Johnson said: “We will do our best, Caroline and… erm… what can I say?”
Asked whether he thought having women in the room could make a difference to the response, he replied: “I think it can make a huge difference. That may sound like a vaguely sexist thing to say.”
How many would be “enough women”, the Prime Minister was asked. “Oh boy…” he replied, before laughing. “That’s a question on which I’m not competent to pronounce.”