DAME Emma Thompson and Sir Tom Stoppard have petitioned the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to allow migrant families who have not yet qualified for permanent residency in the UK to access benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dame Emma and Sir Tom signed an open letter to Ms Patel on Thursday, which was also signed by the actors Miriam Margolyes and Thandie Newton. The letter expressed support for the Children’s Society’s campaign to suspend no recourse to public funds (NRPF) during the Covid-19 pandemic.
NRPF prevents migrants who have not yet been granted permanent residency in the UK from receiving benefits such as Universal Credit, tax credits, and child and housing benefits.
The letter says: “The families and children affected by NRPF come in all shapes and sizes. Some will have heart-breaking stories; they may have been trafficked here, or may be victims of criminal, sexual and domestic exploitation. Some will be single parents. Most will be juggling various low paid jobs or working on zero-hours contracts — the very roles most likely to have disappeared as a result of coronavirus. Some are the NHS heroes battling on the front line — nurses, nursing home staff and care workers — on whom we are counting. Yet if something goes wrong for them, who can they count on?
It continues: “Whatever the reason they have NRPF, during this worldwide crisis their immigration status should not prevent the government from giving them support. That is why we are supporting The Children’s Society campaign to suspend NRPF. Without recourse to public funds thousands of children face extreme poverty. In one of the richest countries in the world, that is a disgrace. . .
“Please ensure all children and families can turn to the government at this time of national emergency. We cannot leave them to fend for themselves.”
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said: “We are all in this situation together, but we have to make sure no-one is left behind. Without urgent action from the government, many of these families, already vulnerable to financial shocks, will face crippling poverty. The Government must step in and provide an urgent lifeline for all, regardless of their immigration status.”
The Children’s Society was part of a coalition of charities which this month called for the Government to provide more financial support, via the benefits system, to families that are living in poverty during the coronavirus pandemic (News, 9 April).
On Saturday, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, published data which showed the areas of the country in which children are at most risk from abuse and neglect, lack of access to food, and living in cramped conditions, among other things.
The director of policy and research at the Children’s Society, Sam Royston, said in response: “It’s hugely worrying that so many vulnerable children are invisible right now to the professionals who would normally spot risks and help keep them safe. The drop in referrals to social care and small proportion of vulnerable children attending school, which can offer much needed routine and supervision, are a big concern. It’s also more important than ever that anyone who encounters children in their daily lives looks out for warning signs that something may be wrong and reports any concerns.”
The Child Poverty Action Group has said that child poverty is likely to continue to rise during the pandemic, and that the Government should respond urgently. The most recent Government figures show that 30 per cent of children in the UK are living below the poverty line: 4.2 million in 2018-19, compared to 3.2 million in 2010.
A range of celebrities have been contributing to efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19. They include the actors Angelina Jolie and George Clooney, and the members of the rock band U2, who have donated money to foodbanks and worked with companies to send protective equipment to frontline health workers.
On Thursday evening, the BBC broadcast The Big Night In, an entertainment programme organised by Comic Relief and Children in Need to raise funds for charities that are supporting those affected by Covid-19. The BBC has said that the programme raised £27.4 million.