Hostile ‘gatekeeping’ leaving thousands of children living in appalling conditions

Thousands of children are growing up in poverty in Britain after being treated like “second-class citizens” because of the “hostile environment” policy, a report claims.

It says many children of parents whose immigration status means they are not entitled to mainstream benefits are living in “appalling” conditions.

Their plight leaves them feeling socially isolated, distressed, ashamed and unsafe, according to charity Project 17.

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 places a duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children “in need” in their area.

This provision has become an essential safety net for children whose parents are unable to access mainstream welfare support because of their immigration status, according to the report.

But it says support under Section 17 is “increasingly hard to access” and argues Home Office policy has “pushed the burden” of supporting children living in families with no recourse to public funds onto local authorities.

“But the pressures of austerity and cuts to local authority budgets have left local authorities largely unwilling to provide such support,” the report says.

“Hostile ‘gatekeeping’ methods and increasingly gruelling assessment processes have been introduced to deter families from accessing Section 17 support.

“The Government’s commitment to creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants trumps its commitment to children’s rights, rendering the children in destitute migrant families ‘second-class citizens’.”

The “hostile environment” – now referred to by the Government under the heading “compliant environment” – refers to a range of measures designed to deny illegal immigrants access to work, accommodation and vital services in anticipation this would encourage those in the country unlawfully to leave voluntarily.

Ministers came under fire over the approach last year after members of the Windrush generation faced difficulties despite living in the UK legally for decades.

Legislative changes and hostile environment policies mean that many people who have migrated to the UK are unable to access mainstream benefits or housing assistance, even if they are living in the country lawfully, according to Project 17.

Its interim director, Amy Murtagh, said: “In the UK in 2019, children should not be growing up in poverty, in conditions that impact on their mental health. All children deserve to have a home and enough to eat, regardless of their parents’ immigration status.”

David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, said: “Councils play a key role in tackling migrant destitution by providing housing and financial support to families, care leavers and vulnerable adults who are excluded from mainstream welfare benefits as a result of their immigration status.

“Councils remain hugely frustrated that despite years of lobbying, the lack of a strategic approach to the resolution of local authority supported cases by the Home Office, and immigration policies that are confused and sometimes contradictory, are detrimental to the welfare of children and vulnerable adults.

“This is hindering the integration of people whose long-term future is in the UK and resulting in significant direct costs for local authorities.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The welfare of children is one of our top priorities, and our immigration system will always protect families with children from becoming destitute.

“Support will never be withheld if the welfare of a child is at risk due to a family’s financial circumstances.

“We also work closely with local authorities to assist them with applications for support from migrants, helping to reduce the financial burden placed on local authorities and ensuring applications for leave to remain are assessed promptly.”

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