The UK’s statistics watchdog has recently criticised the Home Office for not giving any information on how many immigrants are unable to access any kind of benefits.
The home secretary has been asked, in a parliamentary question, how many people were given immigration status subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition, which prevents migrants from accessing any state support, in 2019.
Blamed for causing poverty before the current pandemic, this status has created significant problems during the coronavirus crisis because it has excluded many people who are struggling during the lockdown from accessing public assistance.
In response to the question asked, the reply was given as ‘unable to provide’ the figures because the data was ‘not assured to the standard required by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for publication, and also it would be too costly to do so’.
The Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Mr Timms, who asked the original question, proceeded to write to the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, to ask him whether he regarded this as an ‘acceptable reason’ for declining to answer what was considered to be a straightforward question. Sir David replied saying that he “agreed that the response was confusing and unclear about why the data could not be provided”. He continued to say: “The application of the NRPF condition to those staying in the UK has been a significant focus of attention in past months, yet data and statistics to inform the discussion are lacking”.
Sir David said: “The regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority have contacted the Home Office’s head of profession for statistics, who is investigating how good quality statistics can be developed.
“In the meantime, the Home Office should be urged to look to publish estimates, while recognising that these will have larger margins of error. This would be acceptable under the code of practice for statistics provided the uncertainties were described appropriately”.
A report by the Work and Pensions Committee urged ministers to suspend the rule during the crisis, warning that it forced migrant workers to make the ‘invidious’ choice between ‘financial ruin’ or risking their lives as they continue to work.
When questioned by MPs at a committee hearing, Boris Johnson appeared unaware of the status, but said he would look into the issue.
Mr Timms stated that ‘during the coronavirus pandemic, many of those who had no recourse to public funds faced destitution, and the issue has attracted significant public attention. It is therefore, vital that good data in this area – or at the very least, good estimates, are made available.
The Prime Minister said at the liaison committee that he would find out how may people are in this position. “I am optimistic that the information will now be provided”.
The Home Office has faced mounting pressure to suspend the NRPF policy in recent weeks, including from local councils and the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, both of whom say it is hindering their efforts to help thousands of rough sleepers off the streets during the current public health crisis.
“The Home Office does not collect or publish data on those with no recourse to public funds routinely, bit is now considering how best to produce statistics in this area”.