Stephen Timms – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Timms, the Labour for East Ham, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

Representing, as I do, the borough with the highest age-adjusted covid-19 mortality rate in the country, I will focus on just one point, which is families with leave to remain in the UK but no recourse to public funds. They are law-abiding, hard-working families. They are carers, cooks, cleaners and cab drivers in modestly paid but important roles. They have permission to work and are complying with the rules, but for many of them, as for others, their work stopped when the crisis began.

Many are not eligible for the job retention or self-employment schemes. Others in that position can claim universal credit, but those with no recourse to public funds are not allowed to obtain an income in that way. Many have children who were born in the UK. Some have children who are UK nationals. Being unable to claim any benefits may be manageable when work is available, but in the current circumstances, it is not.

The Home Office, inexplicably, will not say how many people we are talking about, but last week, drawing on the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, the Children’s Society reported that there are more than 1 million people with leave to remain but no recourse to public funds, including at least 100,000 children. It has been suggested that the £500 million emergency fund for local authorities can help those families, but not according to the ministerial guidance for the fund. The guidance states that the fund is to increase council tax support, which families with no recourse to public funds cannot apply for, and that any left over can go towards local welfare assistance schemes that some councils run. A written answer from the Home Office last week confirmed that people with no recourse to public funds are ineligible for help from local welfare assistance schemes. Families with children can apply for help under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 from their council, but it is hard to find and can be very modest indeed. The Children’s Society report quotes one council that pays £3.10 per person per day. In households without children, even that is not available. Some who should self-isolate because they have symptoms have no choice but to work and endanger others, because they cannot otherwise get any income at all.​

It cannot be right to deny any possibility of an income to people who have broken no rules and whose contribution we have all benefited from for years. I plead with Ministers to suspend the no recourse to public funds condition for families for the duration of this crisis. The High Court, as it happens, struck it down in an important case last week. Those arguments will continue, but for the duration of this crisis, on moral and on public health grounds, no recourse to public funds must be suspended.