Charities sound alarm over migrant parents being denied vital childcare
A letter has been sent to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, signed by 21 organisations supporting families
Charities have called for an end to potentially hundreds of thousands of migrant parents being denied access to crucial free childcare because they are categorised as “not present” in the UK.
A letter sent to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, signed by 21 organisations supporting families and exclusively shared with the PA news agency, said the current restrictions imposed on support could have “severe consequences” for vulnerable children.
Denying many families free childcare due to their immigration status is also at odds with the Government’s bid to boost the workforce and economic activity, the letter added.
Regulation currently denies children, many of whom live in disadvantaged households with a single parent, access to extended early years support seen as crucial to their development even though they are UK citizens themselves.
The condition of “no recourse to public funds” is applied to most people with temporary visas to remain in the UK and means that, in most circumstances, they are unable to access benefits and the majority of childcare support despite many working and paying taxes.
The condition does not apply to refugees or people who have entered the UK under schemes to protect those fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
New research by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford found the number of people in the UK who have no recourse to public funds had risen by more than one million since 2020 to 2.6 million at the end of 2022.
Among recently arrived migrants, most of whom are expected to have no recourse to public funds, almost 100,000 were found to be living in economically vulnerable households with dependent children.
The childcare restrictions are included in regulation dating back to 2016, which states parents with no recourse to public funds “are treated… as not being in the United Kingdom”.
These parents can benefit from the universal offer of 15 hours a week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds, but they cannot access the 30 hours of free childcare for this age group available to most working parents – even if they are working the required number of hours.
They will also not be able to benefit from the Government’s roll-out of extended free childcare, which will lead to all qualifying parents being able to access 30 hours of childcare a week for children aged nine months and over until they start school by September 2025.
This would compound the impact of the Government’s restrictions which are already preventing thousands of parents from working enough hours to support their families and leave them at high risk of destitution, the organisations said.
The letter, led by migrant support charity Praxis and signed by organisations including Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, highlights various studies which suggest childcare costs create a bigger barrier for migrant parents than other groups.
Single migrant parents in particular – the majority of whom are women – suffer from reduced rates of workforce participation due to their exclusion from Government support for childcare costs, the letter said.
It adds: “The convoluted treatment of these parents who are demonstrably resident in the UK as being ‘not present’ in the country makes it more difficult for them to get a job, increase their hours and contribute economically.
“It also creates a vicious cycle of exclusion, by heightening the already higher-than-average risk of financial hardship and material deprivation faced by migrant households.
“Any barrier to these parents’ ability to work, including lack of affordable childcare, can have severe consequences because of their lack of access to the social safety net.”
The letter also raised the alarm over the impact on child development.
It said: “Children in migrant households are already significantly more likely to experience poverty and destitution than their counterparts and may be further excluded by other factors such as language, making their access to good quality early education of paramount importance.”
Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, policy and public affairs manager at Praxis, said the organisation is aware of children with special needs who have no access to early years education because of the “small print” on their parents’ visas, resulting in a “long-lasting impact on their development and future learning ability”.
She added: “We have recently spoken to an NHS nurse who has a child on the autistic spectrum.
“Her child really needed early years education to develop vital language and learning skills, yet was cut out of this vital service because of cruel immigration policies.”
Praxis CEO Sally Daghlian said including migrant workers in support for childcare costs was a “no brainer”, particularly as parents are living in the UK and have a right to work.
She added: “At a stroke, this would allow parents to better contribute their skills to the labour market, including in sectors currently struggling with recruitment, enable households to increase their incomes and bring big benefits to children.”
Meghan Meek-O’Connor, senior policy adviser on child poverty at Save the Children UK, said: “Children should not be excluded from the benefits of childcare simply because of their immigration status.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The government expects migrants coming to the UK to be able to maintain and accommodate themselves without the support of public funds. However, there are strong and important safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable individuals can receive support.
“In September 2022, we extended eligibility for the 2-year-old entitlement to disadvantaged families who have no recourse to public funds, subject to income thresholds that are broadly equivalent to those for families who can access benefits.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub