4 minutes read

Guest blog: Free School Meals for those affected by No Recourse to Public Funds

Pascale Robinson

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Action Group, facilitated by the migrants rights charity Praxis, campaigns to end No Recourse to Public Funds and is formed of people with lived experience of the policy and the immigration system. It was an amazing moment when, as we were in a meeting together honing our public speaking skills, we learned that the group had won the very campaign we were practising speaking on.

The Department for Education announced on March 24th that they will extend access to free school meals to all families affected by NRPF, which means that free school meals will continue to be available to all children below a certain income threshold, even if they have the cruel No Recourse to Public Funds condition on their visa.

What’s more, the government also announced that they are extending free school meals to families with ‘irregular’ immigration status, sometimes referred to as people who are ‘undocumented’, (though it is well documented that the immigration system pushes too many migrants out of legal status). 

Though we have questions about how this will work in practice, given the risks that sharing information on immigration status may present, if introduced carefully, this will be a really positive move.

NRPF prevents people from accessing the welfare safety net, even if they’re living in poverty. From Praxis’ day to day work with people affected by No Recourse to Public Funds, we’re used to hearing regularly about the hardships it creates. This is a policy that disproportionately affects racialised communities, with the Home Office previously accepting that 80% of migrants subjected to NRPF are Asian or African and the policy has been taken to court before on the grounds that it discriminates based on race. In the past, this policy even meant that children affected were prevented from having free school meals. 

When the Government took the welcome step of changing the rules so that some of these children could get free school meals during the pandemic, it was an important move – thousands of children were guaranteed one hot, freshly cooked meal per day, at a time when many families were losing their jobs and incomes.

But the uncertainty of whether this would continue weighed heavily. That’s why, working with the NRPF Action Group, Praxis launched a campaign calling on Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi to make this temporary extension permanent and ensure that all children who need them, regardless of immigration status, can access these meals.

We organised a digital and social media campaign, with a video written by members of the group, and an email to MP action taken by over 130 people. We were adamant that we needed to bring this issue to MPs’ doorsteps, so we also organised an event in parliament with cross-party engagement, where nearly 50% of the panel had lived experience of this issue.  

Our campaign was important but it was built off of years of work, and a huge thanks is owed to amazing organisations such as Project 17, The Unity Project, Hackney Migrant Centre, The Children’s Society, Citizens UK and Food Foundation, along with many other allies, for their tireless work campaigning on this for years! Their interventions included report writing, advocacy, stunts, building broad coalitions and more – a true variety of tactics won this campaign. 

But the hard work isn’t over. We have so much more to do. We need to clarify how the meals will be accessed, ensure that all schools know about this rule change and make sure every eligible child has access.

Moving forward, the NRPF Action Group plan to focus their campaigning on other harmful aspects of the immigration system, such as extortionate visa fees and the punitive 10 year route, which leaves so many waiting at least a decade for stability and certain rights. There is the horrendous Nationality and Borders Bill that we need to fight, even as it reaches the end of the Parliamentary process, and well after. And last but certainly not least is the news of sending those seeking asylum to Rwanda, something the NRPF Action Group describes as ‘dizzying’ in its cruelty.

However wins like this show that coalition campaigns and a broad range of tactics can win. In times like this, it’s best to end with the words of those who led this campaign. 

As one of our campaigners from our NRPF Action Group said, speaking on behalf of the group:

“We are tremendously happy to hear [the] good news. This promising development gives us hope. It is so important to safeguard children. This is a step further on our quest: we are closer to ensuring that one of the most basic rights of children, to be well nourished, are being met.”

“We are not resting on our laurels, there are more battles to fight. We are glad to see the government is listening to us and our voices are being heard. We are looking forward to achieving more of our aims.”

Pascale Robinson is the Campaign Coordinator at Praxis.