William Eichler 09 April 2018

Councils threaten to ‘divide' migrant families, report says

Local authorities often threaten to take children into care if their parents do not have the proper documentation to remain in the country, human rights groups warn.

A new report from a number of human rights organisations has detailed the extent to which the Government’s policy of discouraging immigration by creating a ‘hostile environment’ has infiltrated all areas of UK life.

One area in which this has been felt is in the level of support offered by local authorities to migrant families.

The report - entitled A Guide to the Hostile Environment: the border controls dividing our communities - and how we can bring them down - details how when faced with undocumented families in desperate need, local authorities are often only offering accommodation to children.

This, effectively, means councils threaten to take children into care if an undocumented parent asks social services for support.

Local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of ‘children in need’ in their area under the Children Act 1989, sometimes called a ‘Section 17 duty’.

If a family is homeless or unable to meet certain basic needs the authority will be required to help the children, who will be classed as ‘in need’. When it comes to accommodation, the family will be kept together.

This is also, technically, the case for undocumented migrant families from outside the European Economic Area who are classed as having ‘no recourse to public funds’. A failure to provide support is considered to be a breach of human rights law.

However, the report states that, due to the policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’, councils often offer the children of undocumented migrant families accommodation but wrongly conclude these families cannot be offered support.

This effectively leaves families, as Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, explains, with ‘a choice between homelessness or having their children taken into care.’

‘The Government’s war on migrants’ rights has made the UK a place where parents fear sending their children to school, people with life-threatening illnesses avoid seeking medical care, people sleeping rough hide from services that should exist to support them and undocumented families face a choice between homelessness or having their children taken into care.

‘These toxic policies depend on willing participation from people across society – but that will also be their downfall.

'Civil servants, doctors, teachers and the wider public are already refusing to be complicit in the Government’s attempt to turn us all into border guards. If more of us do so, we can fight for a country that guarantees people’s fundamental rights, wherever they come from.’

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