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Government fails to enrol British children into food scheme, despite court order

The Government has failed to enrol any British children from migrant families into a food voucher scheme, three months after being ordered to do so by the courts.

Credit: Pexels

Credit: Pexels

A Freedom Of Information request submitted by food charity Sustain has revealed that since the court ruling on 2 June 2021 the Department of Health and Social Care has sent out 228* application forms for Healthy Start vouchers to families with the ‘no recourse to public funds’ immigration condition. However, ministers also confirmed that the Department is yet to grant anyone the vouchers, despite the court order to do so.

The Healthy Start voucher scheme, worth £4.25 a week, supports families with young children to buy fruit and vegetables, milk and infant formula, as well as vitamins.

A legal challenge had been made to enable British children from low-income families with the ‘no resource to public funds’ (NRPF) condition to apply to the scheme. This condition bans families from accessing welfare support because they do not have final settled status, even if they are legally living or working in the UK. At least 175,000 children under the age of 18 in the UK were living in families with this condition at the end of 2019, though some of these children will be too old to benefit.

The scheme has an existing application process, but newly eligible families were told to apply via a dedicated email address monitored by the Department for Health and Social Care. The Department had not yet developed a separate application form though, leaving potentially eligible families waiting up to eight weeks before they could progress their application. This has created a back log of applications resulting in no families yet benefitting from the scheme. The forms are also only currently available in the English language, despite many people with NRPF not speaking English as their first language.

Citizens Advice has already reported a doubling in the number of people with NRPF seeking advice since the pandemic. Campaigners are also warning that rising food and energy costs coupled with the cut to Universal Credit will see a difficult time for more low-income families this winter. The Government continues to face a significant rebellion on the matter and senior Tories see this as a threat to the Government’s so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Cecily Spelling, Food Poverty Campaign Coordinator at Sustain says:

“It’s shocking to learn that despite losing its legal challenge, the Government is yet to support some of the most disadvantaged groups in the country because of delayed and complicated application systems. Helping no families a full three months after being asked to do so reflects very badly on the Government. They need to step up and fast track existing applications for these families that the court have ruled are eligible, promote the scheme nationally, and simplify the application process so every child, no matter their family background, is able to have a healthy start in life.”

Pascale Robinson, Campaign Coordinator at Praxis says:

“The reality is that children are going hungry right now and this government is not taking action to fix that – it’s just not acceptable. This news shows that the various hoops that families have to go through to access support means they’re not receiving anything when they need it.

No child should be going hungry and that means we need to remove any barriers families face to getting the support they need in tough times. We must do the right thing and end brutal No Recourse to Public Funds policies that stop migrants accessing support now, so people are met with compassion, not hostility.”

A consultation on whether to maintain the temporary extension is expected this winter. Campaigners want to see this support for people with NRPF maintained and urgent action to address the backlog in applications.

This news comes as campaigners, including footballer Marcus Rashford, continue to call for improvements to the scheme to increase uptake, with 40% of eligible families missing out. Proposals include extending the scheme to all families in receipt of Universal Credit and launching a promotional campaign, as recommended in the recent National Food Strategy. Campaigners are also calling for a charge on users accessing the scheme’s telephone helpline to be dropped.

Published 21 Oct 2021

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