Locked out of a livelihood: The case for reforming ‘no recourse to public funds’
Many people in the UK immigration system are subject to the 'no recourse to public funds' (NRPF) condition, which means that they are unable to access mainstream welfare benefits. This includes most benefits, tax credits and housing assistance provided by the government. As a result, several cohorts within the UK population are at a serious risk of becoming destitute.
This includes people on short-term visas, those without legal permission to be in the UK, as well as those who have been in the UK for extended periods but are on long routes to settlement.
The NRPF condition has become a subject of considerable controversy in recent years. The widespread job losses since the onset of the pandemic – combined with strict social distancing rules and travel restrictions – meant that many people subject to NRPF lost their income and yet were shut out of key government support measures. The limited nature of this social safety net meant that others were left with little option but to continue working to protect their livelihoods, in spite of the risks to their health. As a result, calls to suspend or abolish the policy have intensified in the wake of the pandemic. The government now plans to extend the NRPF condition to further cohorts of people in the immigration system.
At the time of writing, the nationality and borders bill has been introduced in parliament and has completed its second reading. The bill will implement many of the measures outlined in the government's ‘new plan for immigration’. This plan intends to apply the NRPF condition to refugees who do not come to the UK directly, as part of efforts to deter individuals from arriving through unauthorised routes (Home Office 2021a).
This briefing will provide an overview of the NRPF policy and how it impacts the everyday lives of people who are subject to immigration control. It will also explore the potential impacts of the proposed extension of the NRPF condition in the nationality and borders bill. Based on this analysis, the briefing paper will put forward a set of reforms to the current system to address some of the most adverse impacts of the current system. Our findings and recommendations are informed by secondary research, data analysis, and a policy workshop held in April 2021, which invited experts across the migrants’ rights sector and local government to discuss the impacts of NRPF and the options for reforming the policy.