Understanding Migrant Destitution in the UK: Literature review

Published 28 June 2023 / By Lucy Leon

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In 2020, it was reported that a fifth of destitute households were migrants (JRF 2020). In many cases, the destitution arose primarily from the households’ immigration status, specifically the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition, which restricts access to the welfare safety net (including most mainstream benefits such as Universal Credit). Attempts to tackle destitution in the UK, therefore, must consider the characteristics of the NRPF condition, its impacts, and the characteristics of the parallel welfare safety net that is in place for (some) migrants and delivered by local authorities.

This literature review is part of COMPAS’ Understanding Migrant Destitution in the UK research project, a UK-wide study (2022-2023) focusing on local authority practice and provision for vulnerable people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) facing destitution. Building on COMPAS’ (2015) research on Safeguarding Children From Destitution: Local Authority Responses To Families With ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’ (NRPF), we will be using a mixed methods approach exploring the following core research questions across all four nations of the UK:

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

Whilst many reports in recent years have highlighted the experiences of people impacted by NRPF, amplifying their voices, there is a significant gap in the literature from the perspective of local authorities as well as social work practitioners leading on assessing and providing support (Begum et al., 2022). There is also a gap in understanding how these policies work across a wider geographic spread, mainly gathering a national picture, including the devolved administrations (Jolly et al., 2022), where new and innovative approaches have been piloted in recent years. The focus in academic research around NRPF has been on families and children, whilst much less is known about single vulnerable adults, particularly men, accessing adult social care (Hines & Leishmann, 2022; Jolly et al., 2022).

The pandemic saw more comprehensive visibility for NRPF issues, with the ‘Everyone In’ policy of supporting single adults with NRPF with accommodation giving a broader scope to the policy area. Many local authorities have been striving for a more cross-council approach to NRPF in recent years. Building on the good practice established during the pandemic, local authorities have looked at tailoring their approach and working with external partners to provide alternative housing and additional subsistence, as well as commissioning immigration legal advice to support residents with regularising their status and accessing mainstream benefits. However, despite new and innovative approaches being piloted, the reliability and provision of social care support can still be patchy, with local authorities operating on overstretched budgets and with limited statutory guidance on best practices.

What emerges from the literature is that the NRPF policy moves beyond being a relatively niche migration governance issue to impacting broader priorities such as ending homelessness and tackling destitution and child poverty; therefore, it needs to be included within policy discussions of these areas. The policy impacts not only local governments’ budgets and resources across the UK through the provision of an unfunded parallel welfare safety net for their residents excluded from mainstream support, but the policy also impacts a much broader population, including long-term UK residents, British citizens as well as the communities in which families are integrated (Pinter, forthcoming).


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