Locked Out of a Lifeline: Migrant Destitution in Scotland

Published 15 June 2023 / By Jacqui Broadhead, Lucy Leon

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Recent research shows that there has been a rise in the number of people at risk of destitution or who are destitute due to their immigration status who are approaching local authorities for support in Scotland, including a 138% increase in the number of EEA nationals being referred for support.

In what is believed to be the first baseline of these costs and the scale of need, at least 1,343 people and families presented to Scottish local authorities in 2021/22 as a consequence of their immigration status, which limits access to the welfare safety net (also known as No Recourse to Public Funds or NRPF.)[1]

The NRPF policy significantly impacts local authorities, who may end up providing an unfunded parallel welfare system to their vulnerable residents when they are destitute and unable to access the mainstream welfare safety net. As a consequence of this, Scottish local authorities spend at least £5.9 million annually supporting these cases, mainly focussed on accommodation costs (£5.13m) followed by subsistence (£480k) and staffing costs (£240k). Scottish local authorities also reported a 138% increase between 2020/21 and 2021/22 in the number of EEA nationals facing destitution being referred to the local authorities for support.

The findings come as part of the first published results from the ‘Understanding Migrant Destitution’ research project (funded by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust) on social care provision across the UK for vulnerable people with no recourse to public funds. GEM researchers worked closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to design and deliver this survey, which provides a snapshot of the changing face of migrant destitution in Scotland. Building on COMPAS’ (2015) research on Safeguarding Children From Destitution: Local Authority Responses To Families With ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’ (NRPF), the research project will provide the first comprehensive overview of local authority provision and approach across the four UK nations, with a focus on the following core research questions: 

  • How has the cohort of people with NRPF and at risk of destitution changed since 2015?
  • How has local authority provision for people with NRPF at risk of destitution changed, including concerning decisions on who is eligible for services?
  • How have outcomes for destitute people with NRPF changed since 2015? 

Through our ‘Understanding Migrant Destitution in the UK’ research, we aim to consolidate the existing evidence base around the NRPF policy and its impact on local government by providing the first comprehensive overview of local authority and health and social care trust activity across the UK. Through our nationwide survey and deep dives into case study areas, the research aims to help understand the scale of migrant destitution in the UK, the changing face of migrant destitution and the vital role of local authorities in supporting this group – which includes many children and vulnerable adults.


[1] These figures should be treated as a likely floor of need within Scotland. They may represent an under-reporting of need due to the challenges in collating and reporting data across local authorities’ systems. These numbers provide the first baseline indication of a population significantly impacted by the no recourse to public funds policy. However, they also highlight the need for better and more systematic data collection to understand true need.