The Government’s commitment to creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants outweighs their commitment to children’s rights, a charity has warned.
Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 places a duty on councils to safeguard the welfare of children ‘in need’ in the event that their parents are unable to access mainstream welfare support because of their immigration status.
The charity Project 17, which focuses on supporting migrant children, estimates there are 5,900 children from families across England and Wales who received section 17 support in 2012-2013.
These children grow up in ‘exceptional poverty’ and are at risk of homelessness, exploitation and abuse, according to the charity.
However, the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, an approach designed to discourage immigration, and cuts to local authorities means that these children are not getting the support they require.
Local authority assessments for section 17 support are ‘excessively focused’ on the credibility of parents at the expense of a focus on the child, Project 17’s research has found.
The charity discovered that support under section 17 is hard to access and local authorities are employing various strategies, such as attacks on credibility and intimidation, to refuse families with no recourse to public funds.
Financial support provided to families under section 17 is often well below Asylum Support rates under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act.
According to Project 17, this is the minimum the Home Office says is required to avoid a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, and case law suggests it is the minimum a council is required to pay under section 17.
Many families are unable to afford basic necessities such as enough food, clothing, school uniform, and transport on this support.
‘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,’ according to the charity’s report Not Seen, Not Heard: Children’s experiences of the hostile environment.
‘Hostile ‘gatekeeping’ methods and increasingly gruelling assessment processes have been introduced to deter families from accessing section 17 support.
‘The families we work with are routinely failed by local authorities and the results are devastating.’