Coronavirus: PM given explanation of how some migrants can't access government funds

May 27, 2020

Boris Johnson has promised to "see what we can do to help" after appearing to be surprised that some migrants in the UK are not able to access government support during the coronavirus crisis.

The prime minister stressed that those "who live and work here should have support of one kind or another" during the COVID-19 lockdown, after being told the immigration status of some people means they are not eligible for assistance.

Appearing before the House of Commons liaison committee of senior MPs, Mr Johnson was challenged about the case of one couple, from Pakistan, who have permission to remain in the UK but are not able to access state support.

Labour MP Stephen Timms, the chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, explained how the couple - from his East Ham constituency in London - "can't get any help at all" because they have no recourse to public funds as a condition attached to their right to stay in the UK.

He told the prime minister: "They both work, they have two children. The husband's employer did not put him on the job retention scheme, so he has zero income.

"His wife is still working but her income is less than their household rent.

"They have leave to remain in the UK but no recourse to public funds, so they can't get any help at all.

"Isn't it wrong that a hard-working, law-abiding family like that is being forced by the current arrangements into destitution?"

Mr Johnson appeared surprised that the couple could not access welfare payments, asking: "Why aren't they eligible for Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance?"

In response, Mr Timms explained that, for a ten-year period, they have no recourse to public funds and so "at the moment they can get no help at all".

The prime minister vowed to look into the issue.

"Clearly people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another," he said.

"You've raised a very, very important point - if people's condition of their leave to remain means they should have no recourse to public funds.

"I will find out how many are in that position and we will see what we can do to help."

Last month, the Children's Society warned there were thousands of children in the UK facing extreme poverty and hunger because immigration rules prevent their families from accessing support.

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Labour's shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said it was "extraordinarily worrying" that the prime minister "apparently had no idea what 'no recourse to public funds' was and meant for people".

"We've called for its suspension in this public health emergency and, with the prime minister promising to look at it, let's hope that he can persuade the home secretary to think again," he added.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald, the party's immigration spokesperson, said it was "absolutely jaw-dropping" that the prime minister "appears totally unaware" of the issue.

In response to recent media reports about the government's policy on no recourse to public funds, a Home Office "fact sheet" published at the beginning of this month states: "Those seeking to establish their family life in the UK must do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the state and the UK taxpayer.

"It is right that those who benefit from the state contribute towards it."

The Home Office said protections for renters and mortgage holidays - introduced during the coronavirus crisis - are "available to migrants with no recourse to public funds".

It added local councils "may provide basic safety net support regardless of immigration status" in some cases.

Next week from Monday to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World -- a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.

We'll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too. If you'd like to be in our virtual audience - from your own home - and put questions to the experts, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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