Scotland urged to ‘do things differently’

The Ethnic Minority National Resilience Network (EMNRN) is asking the Scottish Government to ‘show that it can do things differently’ by extending its £500. self isolation support grant to all those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) because of their immigration status.

People who are on low incomes in Scotland are now eligible to receive a £500 grant if told to self-isolate.  This is administered by local authorities.  The EMNRN said that it would be ‘unconscionable’ to restrict provision after it was told the new grant would only be available to people with NRPF who are working.

In a letter to the Scottish equalities minister Christina McKelvie, the NRPF is described as ‘the flagship policy of the hostile environment’ and that this approach would disproportionately impact some of Scotland’s most vulnerable black and Asian people, as those subject to NRPF who are allowed to work are predominately white eastern European and European Economic Area citizens.

The EMNRN, a network of grassroots organisations, campaigners and professionals, set up to support minority communities through the pandemic, has been pushing the Scottish government to use its devolved powers to mitigate the policy, which has left many facing destitution.

Jenni Keenan, of Perth and Kinross Minority Communities Hub, worked with EU nationals who were self isolating during the 2 Sisters Chicken Factory outbreak in Coupar Angus, who became NRPF by default when they were not able to apply for necessary documents during lockdown.

“We’ve seen many individuals struggling during the pandemic, and higher numbers of ethnic minorities are in insecure work.  We talk about this in abstract terms but really it is about family who can’t feed themselves” said Keenan.

“We know that the Scottish government can’t change immigration law, bit it is really important that they take the action that they can to mitigate it.  The Scottish government have been vocal about the moral argument against NRPF but as far as we understand it, they could introduce a new payment to support those people.

Danny Boyle, the EMNRN coordinator said that the extension of the self-isolation grant should set a precedent.  “If we have established that a discretionary payment can be progressed under section 4 of the Public Health (Scotland) Act 2008, then the next logical step is to utilise this method to support everyone subjected to the flagship policy of the hostile environment”.

“If we are truly committed to a human-rights based approach in Scotland, then now is the time to show that we can do things differently.  The progression of longer term payment would provide clarity, security and safety to people who are in extremely difficult positions”.

“On countless occasions we have asked the UK government to lift the restriction of no recourse to public funds for the duration of the Coronavirus pandemic on public health grounds. As we have seen both before and during the pandemic, we are left in a position where the task of supporting people with NRPF has been shifted to the Scottish government and local authorities, using the limited powers we have to protect individual and public health”, said a Scottish government spokesperson.

The Scottish government is providing funding to third sector organisations supporting people with NRPF in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We have also agreed with local authorities that a discretionary payment, equivalent to the Scottish Welfare Fund, is provided to people with NRPF. Guidance is being provided to help local authorities assess applications.