Posted: 04 October 2013

What is our obligation to vulnerable children and families?

Birmingham City Council is looking into the council’s obligations to children and families who cannot access public funds such as benefits or social housing. We are working with the council to make sure that the voices that are too often lost – those of the families and children themselves – are heard.

Today, Andy Jolly from our West Midlands Young Refugee Project is sharing information with the council about our work with these families who have what is known as ‘no recourse to public funds’. We also submitted written evidence to support the enquiry.

This is an important issue and is right and proper that this issue is investigated, and good to see councils such as Birmingham taking a lead in this area. Every child deserves a decent start to life and should not be left to live in poverty, no matter where they have come from or who their parents are. 

Nowhere to turn 

We have been raising concerns for many years about the plight of families with no recourse to public funds, many of whom are made homeless or destitute.  From our work we know that children live in the shadows of our communities, left hungry and homeless without recourse to sufficient support. 

We have put forward a number of recommendations to Birmingham City Council in our evidence, including:

  • Supporting destitute families in their local area to access passported benefits such as free school meals and free nursery places 
  • Classifying destitution as a safeguarding concern to ensure children and young people are protected from the extremes of poverty 
  • Supporting families to resolve their immigration status fairly 

While the number of families affected is unclear, the University of Oxford estimated last year that there are 120,000 undocumented migrant children across the country who are at risk of destitution, exploitation and social exclusion. 

Barriers families face

These families face significant barriers to finding support. Recent cuts to legal aid mean that many of these families have no way of resolving the legal limbo that they find themselves in. As a result they are likely to remain hidden from view and pushed to the margins, in many cases lacking the basic essentials they need to survive such as food, housing, clothing and nappies.

Complex and ever-changing legislation, confusion over who is responsible for supporting destitute families as well as an a lack of understanding of the realities facing these children, mean that destitute families often fall through the gaps and do not get the support they need – even when they are entitled to it. 

What’s more, support to families with no recourse to public funds varies enormously by local authority. 

Giving children the support they deserve 

The investigation by Birmingham City Council is looking into the support provided by local authorities. Yet, local authorities are only one piece of the puzzle. This issue needs proper investigation and guidance and this needs to be recognised at a national, as well a local level.  The Home Office should work with local areas to address this issue which has until now been pushed under the carpet.  

The Children’s Society welcomes local authorities investigating this issue and will continue to work with local areas to ensure that adequate support is available for children in need.  It is crucial that these families and their children get a lasting solution to their immigration issues, that the safety and security of children is put above all other concerns and that they can be lifted out of poverty and despair.   

We want to see that children’s best interests – not immigration control – are the central issue in decisions made about their lives.

By Lucy Dacey - Programme staff

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