Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Excerpts
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 42. I will speak also on Amendments 50 and 71. These amendments deal with the so-called hostile environment measures. That phrase is used by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in her Amendment 71, which extends to the Data Protection Act; that is the subject of the next group. I am aware the term used now by the Government is “compliant environment”, but I am concerned with the substance not the terminology.

We have turned citizens, our public services and the police into border guards. We have dumped on them the enforcement of immigration control. The policies encourage us to be suspicious of each other and undermine trust in our public services. People are deterred from seeking medical treatment for fear of a large bill or being reported, detained or deported. An answer to this would be that emergency treatment would not be withheld. A condition not an emergency today may still need treatment and it may become life-changing or life-threatening.

To what end is the hostile or compliant environment? I understand that the Home Office acknowledges that the “vast majority”—I quote that term—most of whom are people who came here legally but subsequently lost status, have done nothing wrong. Landlords are required to check the immigration status of potential tenants and face huge fines or imprisonment if they fail to check or get it wrong. Can it be any surprise that many landlords take the easy course and look for tenants who are British passport holders? They must regard this as being simply practical, not discriminatory. It is—though without any real sanction.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, whose action against the Home Office continues, says on its website:

“It takes BME people and migrants up to twice as long to find a home to rent as a white British person.”

Recently, the organisation the3million commissioned a poll of employers in connection with its campaign for physical documentary proof of EU settled status; we will come to that shortly. The poll seems relevant to this issue. It was a poll of professionals with authority over hiring decisions. It said that it was worth noting that the picture is bad when considering all employers in the UK; the fact that the poll was online means that there will be a certain amount of oversampling of employers who are more comfortable with digital technology. This affects EEA and Swiss citizens in the immediate short term, but the Government aim to roll out the digital-only status to an ever-expanding group of immigrants.

The poll’s findings included the fact that employers are very concerned about the consequences of getting it wrong. This creates an incentive to play it safe and avoid recruiting people from outside the UK, so there is just the same risk of discrimination as in the landlord/tenant sector. Thank goodness the “Go home” vans were short lived.

We can address only address legislation through our amendments. The legislation sets out the policy, and from the policy, practice flows.

A week ago, Ian Birrell wrote an interesting and powerful article in the i about the impact of our arrangements. He talked about the large number of people who

“had never bothered applying for passports, while the Home Office had lost their papers”

and then discovered that they were “technically undocumented”. One young woman who found herself in that situation was precluded from attending university, for which she had qualified, and is behind a report showing how lives are “distorted and damaged”—her words—by a

“callous bureaucratic system that sows division, hurts mental health and condemns families to more than a decade of massive financial strain … Talk to these young adults and you hear tales of life on the edge as they are pitched into a Kafkaesque process that is complex, intrusive, often incompetent, demands huge and constantly rising fees”—

the fees are no little part of the picture—

“yet make one mistake and, like a dystopian game of snakes and ladders, applicants slide back down to start the torturous … process to citizenship again.”

I will discipline myself and not quote further from the article, but it ends by saying that

“the horrors of the hostile environment have not faded”.

The Government talk of welcoming people from the EEA making a home here within the Immigration Rules, but the application of the hostile or compliant environment legislation does not say, “Welcome to the UK.”

I beg to move.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 71 in my name and also to Amendments 42 and 52 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford. They cover parts of Amendment 71 and also Amendment 43, which covers data sharing.

I pay tribute to the campaign group Liberty for its help with my preparation of this amendment and for its support through its unfortunately unsuccessful struggle to see its scope allowed to cover everyone affected by the hostile environment, rather than just those who face being newly affected by it—for whom, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the digital-only status is likely to create particular issues.

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Amendment 72, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, seeks to limit the use for immigration purposes of data gathered by certain public service bodies in healthcare and education, and where the person has reported a crime or being a victim or witness to a crime. The amendment is helpful in at least limiting the harmful impact of Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act, but that paragraph in fact needs wholesale deletion. I beg to move.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, my Amendment 72 complements my Amendment 71. I have spoken at length on these issues, so I will be brief. I also support Amendments 43 and 74, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for making the same point as I made at the start of my speech. It might seem somewhat disingenuous to suggest that these amendments are discriminatory by choice, when we were actually given the option of applying these only to limited numbers of people. Everyone who has spoken on this subject has expressed their desire to see them used to end the entire hostile environment.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, the Data Protection Act is designed to fundamentally affect the way we use data to market, provide services and run our businesses. It also provides an obligation to warn people how their data will be gathered and used. My noble friend has already spoken about why the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018 does not apply to EEA or Swiss nationals. I support the arguments that have been advanced, particularly in the field of immigration.

Immigration is a fairly emotive issue and the use of data has caused serious problems in this country. There is an insatiable appetite to question migrants about their movements, but to put very little emphasis on what has been said. The Minister arranged a briefing session prior to Committee. I was not satisfied when I asked why some of the agencies can share the information collected but the police have been excluded from this arrangement. We need clarity on this issue, and I hope that the Minister will be able to provide that today.

I do not dispute the procedures, which are to admit those who are eligible and to remove those who are not, but in any administrative system questions arise about priorities. The administration of the immigration system is no exception and we know that the points system is to be introduced at the tail end of this particular withdrawal Bill. The purpose of the data collection is not in dispute. The administration of the immigration system about the need to exclude the ineligible is no exception. It has always been the case that to exclude the ineligible means that checks have to be made to determine who is eligible and who is not. The immigration officers have similar powers to those of the police in this matter. There is always a concern about fishing raids unless they are done on intelligence. The problem is that the more intensive these checks are, the more delay and expense there is to those who are eligible. The matter of proper documentation has been a point of dispute and likely to cause serious problems. We have seen this in relation to Windrush, which is so often mentioned in debates on this subject. Even today, after 70 years, we have not resolved this issue. We may head towards the EU settled migrants with similar problems if we fail to give proper documentation backed up by proper data collection and the proper use of information collected.

There are ample safeguards on how the information on individuals is to be used. It is explicit that such information may not be used for immigration control or enforcement. All we want to ensure is that there is less adversarial contact with migrants. The police need adequate information in their duties as providers of public services, as is the case with public service organisations such as the NHS and schools.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I essentially support all the amendments in this group, but in particular it is crucial to think about the EU nationals resident here for maybe five years or more who expected to get settled status and then were given pre-settled status. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee so eloquently outlined in her opening remarks, 41% of those EU nationals seeking status of some sort have so far been given pre-settled status.

Maybe members of Her Majesty’s Government are always fully on top of every detail of every document they are ever required to look at, sign or agree. Whenever they get a piece of paper—assuming they even get a piece of paper and it is not some digital communication—they presumably know where they put it and they will know that on some future date, perhaps 23 July 2023, they will have to say, “Now I’m due to have my settled status. Oh Government, please, what do I do now?”

Every Minister might be able to do this, but I suspect that many of the 1.4 million people with pre-settled status might be more like the rest of us: they would know at the back of their minds that they needed to do something. It is a bit like doing a tax return, but at least with an annual self-assessment, one is reminded of it constantly—not just by emails from HMRC but by regular newspaper and television advertisements telling people the date by which they have to do their annual self-assessment tax return. People with pre-settled status are not going to have a single date: each of them will have a different point at which their five-year residence is up and needs to be turned into settled status. Amendment 45 is therefore absolutely crucial.

The Minister may argue that each individual should take responsibility for themselves—this may be the government view. I am sure that everyone who has sought settled status and has so far been told that they can have only pre-settled status is trying to take responsibility for themselves, but there may be all sorts of reasons why they do not necessarily remember the precise date by which they need to regularise things. It could be because of individual specific circumstances. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, mentioned, it could be because of the Covid crisis. There are all sorts of reasons people may not be able to deal with paperwork in the way they would normally be able to do. There may be a family bereavement—there could be a whole set of reasons why people have not thought through what paperwork is required.

There is, however, something to be said for the Government sending appropriate reminders. Surely one of the lessons of Windrush is that it is hugely important not only for individuals to have details of their own status but for the Government to have them too. If the Government are moving so much towards digitisation—so that all settled status documentation will be digital, unless the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Oates is passed—it ought not to be beyond the wit of the Government to have a mechanism for alerting people, six months out, to what they need to do to convert their status. If the Minister is minded to demonstrate Her Majesty’s Government’s compassionate and flexible approach—not something we very often see from the Home Office—that would be one way of going about it.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, requesting information about what would count as appropriate for a late application is most valuable. EU nationals who have used their rights of free movement in recent years would be fully aware of the requirement to seek settled status. But people who have lived in the United Kingdom for many years—who were maybe born here, to parents who are not British but who had the right to be here because of some other European citizenship—may not think to apply. Maybe they have lived all their lives in the United Kingdom and never stopped to realise that they did not have the rights of residency that settled status would give them, without which they may not even be permitted to be in this country. Unless the Government has an effective way of identifying a whole range of people eligible for settled status but who did not realise that they needed it, some flexibility is required. A tolerant country would surely allow these people to apply late when their status becomes clear.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I offer the Green group’s support for all the amendments in this group. We have already had a strong, informative debate, so I will not take up very much of the time of your Lordships’ House.

I wish to address a couple of points. On Amendment 46, on comprehensive sickness insurance, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, powerfully and clearly set out the discriminatory effects of this surprising—possibly illegal—application of the rules. I am particularly concerned about the differential gender impact: invariably, it is women in caring situations who do not have their own income who will be affected by this.

I want to speak briefly to Amendment 44 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. This can be described only as a modest and reasonable request for transparency, democracy and scrutiny from the Government. It asks them to show what their plans are for looking after the group—that will inevitably, by definition, be made up of more vulnerable people—affected by the inability to apply for settled status within the deadline. Debating this amendment in the other place, as well as in your Lordships’ House, would be a chance for scrutiny, as well as constructive engagement, the pointing out of flaws and making suggestions for improvement. Will the Minister consider this? We can assume, I hope, that we will receive many assurances from the Government about how they intend to use the right to late applications. The Government clearly already have in mind how this is going to look, so surely it would not be that difficult to set it out on paper.

I want to briefly follow on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, said about technology. These days, what people have to do practically and how they manage their lives is increasingly digital. Maybe you have put a reminder to yourself in a digital calendar to do something. The deadline is there and you have done the right thing, but we all know that sometimes technology goes wrong: computers die and people lose passwords. The Government should be able to ensure a steady recording and reminder process. They do not perhaps always have a great record when it comes to IT projects, but this should not be very difficult or very costly. It would provide people with a security blanket, which is what all these amendments seek to do. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said in her introduction, we are talking here about enabling people to exercise the rights to which they are entitled. Surely that is something that the Government want to make as easy and practical as possible.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, this group of amendments, and the later group on the grace period, are somewhat interrelated. However, as I will not be speaking to that group, I want to make all my remarks now.

Amendments 44, 45 and 46, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, with support from the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, on Amendment 46, are designed to address concerns about late applications and the need for the EU settlement scheme to remain open. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has fully explained, it would ensure that those granted pre-settled status get a reminder of the need to apply for full status and can, in the meantime, enjoy access to social assistance and housing. It would also rule out a retrospective requirement for private health insurance, which is what comprehensive sickness insurance means in this context, if a person with settled status applies for citizenship. I also fully support all the comments made by my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham.

A week ago, in a debate on applications for citizenship, the Minister told us that

“if people who were previously here as a student, or as self-sufficient, lack this”—

“this” being CSI—

“it does not mean that an application will be refused. The British Nationality Act allows for discretion to be applied around this requirement in the special circumstances of a particular case.”—[Official Report, 7/9/20; col. 579.]

I do not think we were told what the nature and criteria of the exercise of this discretion would be. Perhaps the Minister can tell us a bit more about this.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I am the first person who signed Amendment 51 to speak on this group. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for providing such a clear introduction to both the need for a physical document and the difference between these two amendments. Amendment 51, which I signed with the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, calls for the automatic provision of the document, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates said, and Amendment 49 would provide one on request. I would argue that Amendment 51 is stronger because “on request” requires people seeing into the future and predicting when things might not work. It would be simpler and easier for the department to administer, but either one of these amendments would be a significant improvement on the situation we have now.

As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, both the3million and Britons in Europe have done a great deal of work to spread the information about the need for this document. I was at a briefing earlier with the Children’s Society and the3million, focusing on the situation of the 260,000 children who have acquired settled status and the 150,000 who now have pre-settled status. If we think about the situation where—in about 10 or 15 years’ hence—one of those young children has to suddenly prove their status, recovering all the emails, the phone numbers and all the other information they might need to do that is likely to be far from simple.

I also want to address the situation for adults. Can the Minister confirm my understanding of what the process would be? My understanding is, for example, if someone wants to prove their right to work—as we were discussing in an earlier amendment—they will need to access their status via a website, providing the passport or ID card they applied with and their date of birth; they will then have a choice of getting a code with either email or phone; that code will need to be entered on the website; if that is successful, their status will appear on the screen and there will be an option to prove their status. They will then have to fill in the employer’s email address; the system will attempt to email a code to the employer, who will then need to find the correct website, enter the code along with some security information and finally see a screen with a photograph and proof that the person has the right to work. Does the Minister acknowledge that this has many moving parts? If any one of these fails, then it all fails.

We were talking before about landlords being reluctant to go through the extra hassle. We can also imagine plenty of employers who might be similarly reluctant—if they are choosing between two nearly equal applicants—and thinking, “Well, let’s just go for the simpler option.” We saw research from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants that showed that only three in 150 landlords said they were prepared to do those digital checks. Perhaps employers might not be quite so prepared—if they are concerned about discrimination legislation—to talk about their reluctance to do it, but you have to wonder if it would be there.

Of course, as other speakers have already said, this is really very frightening; it makes people feel very insecure. It is estimated that 22% of people do not have the essential digital skills to complete this process. It might be that they rely on someone else—such as the small child that I started off by talking about—but what happens when that person is no longer accessible or available to them or in contact with them? Physical back-up would provide people with certainty and security. It would be good if everyone had it, but either way it should certainly be available. Therefore, I commend both of these amendments, but particularly Amendment 51, to your Lordships.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to support Amendments 49 and 51. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said in introducing them so cogently and reasonably, and I had the advantage of being able to have had a conversation with him last week where he explained the generalities of the amendments to me. I thought the arguments were compelling; the noble Lord, Lord Polak, put it well when he said this was a practical and sensible option. All three speeches that we have heard so far have underlined why this is not one of those ragged political debates that require us to take positions; it is something about which we can do something useful this evening in Committee.

I will turn, if I may, from the generalities to something specific, a particular case of people who will be especially disadvantaged by the impact of digital-only status: the Roma community. On 2 August, Roma Holocaust Memorial Day commemorated the shocking liquidation of Roma in August 1944 at the so-called Gypsy family camp at Auschwitz- Birkenau. On that infamous day, 2,897 men, women and children of Roma or Sinti origin were murdered by the Nazis. Of around 23,000 Roma taken to Auschwitz—and hundreds of thousands more perished during the Holocaust—an estimated 20,000 were murdered there. At the time of the liberation of Auschwitz, only four Roma remained alive.

Now, 76 years later, Roma people still face discrimination and liquidation. I especially commend the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Roma in ensuring that Parliament understands the horrors that this community has experienced and the special circumstances and challenges which it faces today.

In debates like this, I miss the voice of Lord Avebury, a good and long-standing friend and the author of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. At the memorial event celebrating his life, Damian Le Bas, a Roma who wrote The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain—a remarkable insight into the world of Travelling people—spoke powerfully about how parliamentarians such as Lord Avebury can act to ensure that the UK’s 200,000 Roma can lead lives of dignity.

Lord Avebury would have been the first on his feet to support these amendments, pointing to the lack of awareness within the Roma community of digital immigration status and the way in which digital exclusion simply builds on the other exclusions which Roma historically have experienced. The Roma Support Group says that only 3% of Roma are able independently to complete online applications such as those required by the European Union settlement scheme. Very little data exists about how many Roma have applied to the EUSS so far and been given settled or pre-settled status. As the debate proceeds, I will hand the Minister a copy of the Roma Support Group’s briefing on this so that she can read some of the cases illustrating this point. I would be grateful if the Minister could say how this problem can be addressed, especially as the Home Office data does not include a breakdown of ethnicity.

Enabling those who need it to receive physical evidence of their status in the UK would certainly be a start, and enabling programmes to be developed which could address the issue of digital exclusion, on which this debate has helped us to focus, would be a very good outcome.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 53, to which I have added my name, which was moved so ably by my noble friend Lord Rosser. I am sure that I also support Amendment 73, but that has not been explained yet.

The recent report of the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee identified those with no recourse to public funds as particularly vulnerable to food poverty and insecurity. The impact on children has to be of particular concern.

A pre-Covid study of children and food by the Child Poverty Action Group—of which I am honorary president—found that children in families subject to the rule were among the most deprived in the study. Both children and their parents were going hungry, and denial of entitlement to free school meals was a particular problem. One child said of his hunger that

“it was like I got stabbed with a knife and it’s still there.”

Another explained:

“Sometimes you don’t have enough energy, you cannot cope in the classroom so you have to, like, try and rest a bit. You just put your head on the table and you end up falling asleep in the classroom and you get in trouble for it.”

The partial concession, which allowed some children in families with NRPF to claim free school meal support this summer, was very welcome as far as it went. But what possible justification could there be for withdrawing it now that these children are back at school, with the pandemic very much still with us? A letter from 60 organisations to the Education Secretary last month put it very well; it said that

“the Covid-19 pandemic simply exposed the precariousness of daily life for thousands of NRPF families, where the absence of a safety net leaves them only one crisis away from catastrophe. No matter where the next few months lead us, this basic fact will not change. Meanwhile, the effects of this crisis will continue to be felt for years to come. While much effort is being made to ensure children do not fall behind, without access to free school meals many children in NRPF families will face having to make up for half a year of lost learning on empty stomachs, at a time when they may still be struggling to cope with the mental and emotional aftershocks of lockdown.”

As we have heard, the Government have devolved to local authorities much of the responsibility for this extremely vulnerable group, without willing them the means to provide the support needed and without providing clear enough guidance during the pandemic. In particular, as the Work and Pensions Committee noted, there is lack of clarity on whether local welfare assistance funds, which have been boosted during the pandemic, count as public funds for these purposes. Could the Minister provide a definitive clarification on this?

Another concern, as we have heard, is the lack of official data. There has been an exchange between the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the UK Statistics Authority and the Home Office on the issue. While it is welcome that the Home Office has now published data on the change of condition applications, this is only a rough indicator of the extent of hardship caused and the data need to be disaggregated. Could the Minister undertake to see what can be done to improve the provision of data, possibly in consultation with the Children’s Society, which has done a lot of work on this? Without it, how can the Home Office assess the impact of the policy?

The amendments raise important social policy issues, but more fundamentally they raise crucial human rights issues. As Project 17 and Sustain point out, the UK Government have signed up to a number of international human rights standards that uphold the right to food, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I agree with them that, to uphold these obligations,

“our Government should ensure that all children, regardless of immigration status or any other characteristic, are able to access food in a dignified way and this should include universal entitlement to healthy free school meals.”

Of course the “no recourse” rule does not only affect access to food—for example, there are serious concerns about its impact on survivors of domestic abuse, which we will be raising when the Domestic Abuse Bill is with us—but the right to food is crucial to both healthy development and education.

Amendment 53 is a very modest amendment—indeed, some might say too modest—but it could make a real difference to a significant number of extremely vulnerable people, including children and women subject to domestic abuse. The Work and Pensions Committee suggested that the total number exceeds a million, of whom at least 100,000 are children. Moreover, as the committee underlined and my noble friend has already pointed out, there is a very strong case on public health grounds for the immediate suspension of the rule at least for the duration of the outbreak.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Government are giving serious consideration to the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee and the Home Affairs Committee, and will not dismiss this amendment in the frankly complacent way that the Immigration Minister did in the Commons, with reference to “a range of safeguards” that evidence from a range of organisations indicates simply are not sufficient to prevent severe hardship and destitution.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which is also signed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and Amendment 73 in my own name. I thank her for offering her support before I had even spoken to it; that is much appreciated.

To be speaking on these two amendments in what is Universal Basic Income Week around the globe has both an irony and an extra importance. Universal basic income would be an unconditional payment going to everyone accepted as a member of our society. No recourse to public funds, together with universal credit, is the extreme other view: conditionality that can deny people the most basic support that they need and human rights, such as the right to food, which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, just referred to.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, cited what I believe are figures from Citizens Advice showing that 1.4 million people are on visas, or have received visas, that may leave them having no recourse to public funds and therefore, in the age of Covid-19, intensely vulnerable. This is not just a human rights issue; it is an issue of public health. If you face your children going hungry and you have Covid symptoms but you could go to work, what do you do? That is a very difficult situation and one that potentially puts everyone’s health at risk. As other noble Lords have said, this is a very modest measure to apply in the special circumstances of Covid-19 when so many other things in our society have had to adjust and flex.

However, I want to speak chiefly to Amendment 73, which, as I alluded to earlier, is part of a package with Amendments 71 and 72. Together they create a situation where the end of freedom of movement could not be brought in until people who were newly affected by the hostile environment were freed from that environment. As I said previously, this is something that Liberty has done a great deal of work on, and I appreciate its support on this matter.

In the previous debates, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, spoke about the situation where people—most likely women—trapped in abusive relationships are in a very difficult situation if they cannot access evidence of their status. Of course, this is also true if they have no recourse to public funds and, over many years, I have spoken to many people—particularly workers in refuges—who have been left greatly distressed by their inability to help people in the most desperate need because they are in a situation where they have no recourse to public funds. People make choices to remain in abusive relationships because their other option is hunger and homelessness—a situation where they are also highly vulnerable to abuse.

So we need to think about what kind of society the UK is. I believe that we should be a society with a universal basic income; one where everyone has access to the support that they need. However, in the meantime, Amendment 73 would spare people being newly affected by the hostile environment of “no recourse to public funds” and spare them the impacts of this.

I am well aware that, with the Minister, we are on something of a merry-go-round and back to saying that this is discriminatory. Of course, I would absolutely welcome it and be delighted if this was to be applied to everybody affected by “no recourse to public funds”. However, in the meantime, I have put down the amendment that I have been told is what is allowed within the scope of the Bill. “No recourse to public funds” is now a dreadful sentence being inflicted on innocent people through no fault of their own. That is true under Covid and all the time, and I suggest that this is something we cannot allow to continue.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, both of these amendments seek to do something that I think very much aims to right the injustice of a million people—100,000 children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, was saying—having no recourse to public funds. For many of them, in a time of Covid, that means no food and potentially no heating, which is a danger to the most vulnerable in terms of, “Are they going to starve, are they able to get food that they can then cook from a food bank?” Because one of the real difficulties that you hear so often from people running food banks is that people say, “Please can I have some food that does not need to be cooked because I cannot actually afford to cook anything”. So we are talking about people who are going to be very vulnerable.

The hour is late, and I do not wish to detain the House for very long, but we have already heard that this is about social policy, public health and human rights. What sort of a country are we if we allow children to go to school who cannot be fed and say, “Well, I’m terribly sorry, you can’t have free school meals because your parent has no recourse to public funds”? Whatever choices the parents have made—whether they could or could not go home to another country—the child under 18 has no such say; their rights need to be taken into consideration.

These amendments are limited. We are talking about a time of global pandemic. The amendments are not asking for people to be taken out of “no recourse to public funds” in perpetuity, but the current context is that the economy is in a very, very difficult situation and many people who thought they had a job—perhaps on an hourly basis or possibly a zero-hours contract—may find there are no hours and they may not have been furloughed. Can the Government not find it in their heart to deal with these people fairly? It may be a question of immigration law saying that, normally, it is not right for these people to have recourse to public funds—whether that is right or not is for a wider debate—but, in the narrow context of EU nationals who find themselves still in the UK and unable to access public funds in the current context of Covid, please can the Government think about acting?