State of Hunger: It’s not right that growing numbers of migrants without access to benefits are being forced to turn to food banks 

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We need a plan to end the need for food banks

By Rosie Sourbut, public affairs assistant at the Trussell Trust

Last week, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending the Need for Food Banks ran a joint event with the APPG on Immigration Law and Policy.

The groups  discussed the links between destitution, food bank use and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)  which is when migrants are not allowed to access the benefits system.  

In today’s instalment of the State of Hunger (2021) blog series, we are looking at the impact of the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition on people who are forced to turn to food banks for support. 

 The NRPF condition prevents a person subject to immigration control from accessing a range of welfare benefits except in a very limited number of cases.

This condition means many people with NRPF are forced to use food banks. Before the pandemic, 2 to 4% of people referred to food banks were likely subject to the NRPF condition, which rose to 11% in mid-2020. 

State of Hunger 2021 shows that 95% of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network are experiencing destitution, a level of poverty which means they cannot meet all of their basic needs like food, heating and shelter.

While government legislation officially allows people with NRPF to be exempted from the condition if they are destitute or at imminent risk of destitution, our data shows that many destitute people with NRPF are still not getting the support they need, and are forced to food banks as a result. 

The issues in the current system were highlighted starkly during the APPG discussion by panellists including Ealing Foodbank Manger Janet Fletcher. Janet explained how the food bank was seeing high numbers of people with NRPF coming to them for support, particularly since the pandemic hit, and that people feel the system is stacked to make them fail. 

People with NRPF coming to the food bank also told Janet how much they wanted to be able to give to society, but the present barriers in place prevented them making the full contribution they could, as well as stopping them from having adequate financial support to afford the essentials.   

Why has need increased particularly among people with NRPF during the pandemic? Evidence suggests that people with NRPF were particularly exposed to income shocks from the economic impact of the pandemic.

People with NRPF are more likely to be self-employed and/or in informal, casual and low-paid types of employment. These forms of employment have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic and those with NRPF have not been able to access government support. Due to the low-paid and precarious nature of their employment, many people with NRPF also have low levels of savings, making it harder to weather the financial shock of lost earnings. 

However, the issue of NRPF and food bank use is not a new one arising solely from the pandemic’s economic impact. State of Hunger 2021 shows that, before the pandemic, almost two in five referral agencies (38%) and a quarter (25%) of food bank managers said that the restricted access to public funds experienced by migrants and refugees had a very high impact on the need for food banks.

They also highlighted the impact of people with NRPF being denied access to local support services, with 31% of referral agencies and 10% of food bank managers saying that the limited or restricted access to local support services (such as welfare advice, debt advice, homelessness services etc.) had a very high impact on food bank need for this group. 

What can be done to prevent people with NRPF from needing to use food banks? The UK government has a major role to play in tackling this problem.

The government should work to increase the accessibility of Local Welfare Assistance Schemes to people in crisis who are subject to NRPF, building on the work local authorities have done during the pandemic. The government can learn from the work of local authorities and its own actions during the pandemic, such as the welcome choice to expand access to crisis support to people subject to NRPF through the Covid Local Support Grant, to ensure that, going forwards, support through LWAS is accessible. 

 It’s not right that anyone in our society experiences destitution, and as an absolute minimum the government must make it easier for people experiencing destitution to have the NRPF condition lifted so that they can access the support they need.