28 Apr 2016

Thousands of the most vulnerable children in the UK could be left facing homelessness and at risk of exploitation and abuse as a result of changes in the Immigration Bill unless the Government acts to guarantee levels of emergency support for migrant families, a new report from The Children’s Society warns.

The bill is set to overhaul the system of support for migrant families who are blocked from claiming benefits - a hidden and marginalised group which includes thousands of families who have legal leave to remain in the UK, as well as some British children impacted by their parents’ immigration status. At present, families on the brink of destitution can apply to their local council for help to meet their children’s essential needs.

Some 6,000 families across the UK in desperate need are currently receiving a limited level of accommodation or financial support from their local authority, but the Government has yet to clarify how the new regime will work. With the Bill suggesting that this already meagre support could be cut back even further - and that more families could be left without support altogether - it has offered no guarantees about the level of support that will be provided or who will be able to claim it.

The Children’s Society’s report, Making Life Impossible, reveals that the current system is already failing vulnerable children, and the charity is warning that any moves to further restrict support to migrant families could leave children homeless and put them at risk of exploitation and abuse.

Four in ten of those making claims for destitution support are already being rejected for help, but even when claims are successful, many families still experience extreme poverty on a daily basis.

Rates of support vary widely across the UK and often fall well below the poverty line, with some families struggling to survive on less than £2 per day per person.

The report also sheds light on the desperate situations that drive families to need emergency help, such as experiencing the death of the family breadwinner or escaping domestic violence. Shockingly, British children can also end up in need of this critical support because their parents’ immigration status means they cannot claim benefits such as child benefit or tax credits.

The Children’s Society is calling on the Government to put the welfare of children first, basing the new system the level of support these very vulnerable children need, and not their or their parents’ immigration status. The charity is demanding that the Government commits to a minimum level of support for the new system that is at least equal to that given through the benefits system, which would currently be equivalent to around £110 per week for a single mother with one child.[i] It is also calling for an end to the punishing practice of stopping families with children under 18 who have legal leave to remain in the UK from claiming benefits.

Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at The Children’s Society, said: “Far too many migrant families in desperate need are already at crisis point, forced to get by on impossibly low levels of support or denied help altogether. Further restricting this support would have a devastating impact, making the lives of incredibly vulnerable children even more precarious.

“The Government must make sure that the new system focusses on the needs of the child - and not their parents’ immigration status - giving families the level of support they need to keep their children healthy and safe. No child should be left facing homelessness and destitution.”

Media enquiries
For more information please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to Editors
• Families who are destitute and unable to claim benefits or other types of support (known as having ‘no recourse to public funds’) can currently claim support under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989, which provides a general duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of all ‘children in need’ in their local area.
• This includes children in families whose immigration status is unresolved, making them undocumented, and children in families with the legal right to remain in this country, but with a ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition attached to their leave to remain. In the past two years over 50,000 individuals with dependents were given a condition of ‘no recourse to public funds’ on their limited leave to remain.
• The Immigration Bill 2015/2016 currently going through Parliament actively prevents support being provided under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1981 to families in these circumstances. A new type of support known as 10A will enable local authorities to provide for accommodation and subsistence needs of destitute families without immigration status in certain circumstances.
• Example of asylum support rate based on a destitute single mother with one child with housing provided, was inclusive of services including gas, electric and water for which they would otherwise have paid a total of £47 per week. They would receive a total of £110 per week – this is equivalent to their mainstream benefit entitlement with a deduction of £47 for fuel and water.
• The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. We also campaign for changes to laws affecting children and young people, to stop the mistakes of the past being repeated in the future. Our supporters around the country fund our services and join our campaigns to show children and young people they are on their side.

[1] Based on a destitute single mother with one child with housing provided, inclusive of services including gas, electric and water for which they would otherwise have paid a total of £47 per week. £110 per week – is equivalent to their mainstream benefit entitlement with a deduction of £47 for fuel and water.