Should we sit back and accept a racist and unjust law which forces people into destitution, simply because it has been in place for several decades? That was the argument put to me recently by a Conservative councillor at a council committee meeting. Greens – and others – were criticising UK immigration law which removes some people’s right to access public services.
Owing to that law, a person who is subject to certain immigration controls has ‘no recourse to public funds’. Put simply, this means that they are not able to receive the same support from the state which is open to others – for example, access to temporary accommodation if they are facing homelessness. The policy gatekeeps an idea of who is ‘worthy’ of receiving state support and about who we, as a society, should accept into our idea of the ‘public’. Unsurprisingly, designed by a British state which has a shameful history of empire and colonialism, the idea is one rooted in racism.
At that meeting we heard from Just Right Scotland – a team of expert lawyers who work to protect and defend people’s rights. They told us about the disproportionate impact that this policy has on people of colour, about the horrendous consequence the policy has in forcing women experiencing domestic abuse to choose between staying with the perpetrator or facing destitution, and about the wider – and negative – human rights implications of the policy too. Their evidence was damning and shameful.
This is a nasty policy, and it should be called out as such, regardless of how long it has been in place. Instead of making the bizarre claim that longstanding policy must be right, shouldn’t we feel shame that this has been allowed to continue for so long? Nasty policies should, and must, be revised.
Of course, my Conservative colleague’s argument would have had more weight if their own government had been taking steps to amend the legislation in the decade they have been in power. But that isn’t the case. The UK government has deliberately fostered a culture of fear and hostility towards migrants, violently ramping up anti-migrant rhetoric at every turn.
From Theresa May’s infamous ‘Go Home’ vans, the Windrush scandal under Amber Rudd, Priti Patel’s Borders Bill and now Suella Braverman’s “dream” to see deportation planes lined up to fly to Rwanda by Christmas, the Conservatives are at the heart of this poisonous policy. And, shamefully, Labour seem determined to keep pace with it – Rachel Reeves managing to one-up Priti Patel at Labour conference recently, for example.
As well as being deeply unpleasant by design and having devastating consequences for individuals, the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy has real implications for councils responsible for delivering many of the services which must be denied to those in need. This is an uncomfortable position for councillors and officers whose role is meant to be about supporting individuals in crisis and making Edinburgh a better city for everyone. As we face a deepening cost of living crisis which will hit the poorest hardest, Greens will be working to mitigate the cruelty of the Westminster Government at every turn. And we will do all we can to make sure that our city is a welcoming place for everyone seeking to make a home here.
Ben Parker is the Green councillor for Morningside