The following is a letter letter from Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, to the Home Secretary and Minister for Future Borders and Immigration regarding the crisis facing migrant families with children in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak.
I am writing with regards to the unprecedented crisis facing migrant families with children in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak.
I wrote to the Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions this week about vulnerable individuals and families who are facing increasing pressure as a result of this emergency. I asked for additional financial assistance to be made available to the most vulnerable through the hardship fund. I remain deeply concerned, however about those families who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and feel further support is necessary to ensure the safety of children of migrant parents.
I welcome the Government’s announced package of support to protect incomes, support
businesses and maintain schools as a lifeline service for the most vulnerable, though it is unclear whether the substantial employment protection schemes are available to families with NRPF. I would welcome clarification on this point. Additionally, if parents in this group lose their jobs as a result of the virus they will be unable to claim benefits, nor will they have the option of leaving the country.
This provides a clear threat, not only to the livelihoods of those families, but to the public health efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Many families with no recourse to public funds who become sick will face the difficult decision of continuing to work to support their families but potentially transmitting the virus or placing themselves in financially precarious positions. Temporarily suspending NRPF conditions is vital to ensure both the welfare of children in these families, but also to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.
Migrant families are more likely to work in industries affected by the crisis, including accommodation and food services. Migrants are also more likely to be in temporary work, which increases the risk that they will lose their livelihoods as a result of the crisis. Finally, migrant families are more likely to be in private rented accommodation, which means they are at greater risk of financial insecurity due to rent arrears as a result of Covid-19 if they are unable to work. I am particularly concerned that children in these groups may be facing serious deprivation, hunger and even homelessness. I would like to see the most at-risk cohort of this group of children included in the vulnerable group eligible for a school place so that they retain some stability in their lives at this time, and so that their welfare can be better safeguarded.
The Government is clearly making significant efforts to ensure that someone’s immigration status does not prevent them from accessing healthcare in this time of emergency, notably by introducing a fee exemption for Covid-19 diagnostic tests and treatment. I believe, however, that it is necessary to go further to achieve this goal. We have been told that many migrants do not access healthcare services for fear of patient data being shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes. Others say they worry that they may be charged for other treatments i.e. if they tested negative for Covid-19 but had to access treatment for other illness. A further measure to protect children in these families would be to suspend NHS charging and data-sharing between the NHS and immigration enforcement.
I know that Government is working very hard to keep vulnerable children safe. I hope that you will consider further the serious, imminent risks to the safety and welfare of children of parents who have no recourse to public funds in the face of the current crisis.
I would be grateful if you would provide me with an update at your earliest possible convenience.