We are determined to ensure that Scotland is a fair country where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
Destitution should be unthinkable in modern Scotland. Devastatingly, it is a daily reality for some people who have moved here to work, study or join family, as well as some people who have been forced to seek sanctuary from violence and persecution.
The UK Government’s immigration system, and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy in particular, locks many people out of essential safety nets in times of need. These restrictions have, for many years, created dangerous divides in our communities, leaving people facing food and housing insecurity and limiting what the Scottish Government and Local Government can do to prevent destitution and homelessness.
We are determined to ensure that Scotland is a fair country where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and where destitution and homelessness are issues of the past. We cannot achieve this until everyone living in our communities has equal rights to access support in times of need, including people in the UK immigration and asylum systems.
During the unprecedented public health crisis caused by COVID-19, we have demonstrated that it is possible – although extremely challenging – to deliver services that recognise the human rights of people with NRPF and make sure that help is available in times of crisis. However, the policy of NRPF does create significant challenge, as it limits our ability to respond to this crisis in a way we would like. The complexity of that challenge will only increase and continue during recovery and as we emerge from the pandemic, impacting people in our communities. There is a need for the UK Government to recognise their policy creates this challenge and work to resolve this so we are not left having to work around a system to provide much needed support to a potentially very vulnerable community.
The ongoing pandemic, growing economic challenges and changes to hundreds of thousands of EU citizens’ rights following EU Exit will all increase the risks and rates of destitution for people with NRPF. These circumstances make this an extremely timely moment for the publication of this strategy, which will have to be flexible and dynamic to respond to change throughout its implementation.
The Scottish Government and Local Government continue to urge the UK Government to change the NRPF rules so that we can keep our communities healthy and safe. Destitution should not feature in our society or our immigration system.
This joint strategy builds on an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee and its report: Hidden Lives - New Beginnings. We are grateful to the many people who participated in that inquiry and in engagement to develop the strategy. People who have experienced destitution provided particularly powerful testimony of the impacts of NRPF restrictions on them and their families.
We have heard about the harmful impacts on people’s mental and physical health, the threat of exploitation and abuse that they can face and their broader experiences in our communities. These policies put women and children at particular risk of harm, as well as leaving many adults vulnerable to rough sleeping.
The strategy takes a preventative approach that aims to support people to resolve the issues they face before they reach a point of crisis. For people who experience destitution, it aims to improve the safety nets that are available in Scotland. In the first year of the strategy, our actions will focus on the delivery of safe accommodation, dignified food access and work to strengthen local authority support for the most vulnerable adults and families with children.
We will work to expand the provision of high quality legal advice and advocacy services, so that people can better secure their rights. The strategy also aims to help ensure that people with permission to work can be supported to successfully enter the labour market and secure sustainable employment. It will explore what is possible in order to provide financial assistance to people in crisis, as well as to remove any barriers to services people are entitled to access, including health provision.
The strategy will also provide a framework for even closer partnership working across sectors, and particularly with the third sector and community groups who play such a powerful role in assisting people with NRPF. It is a commitment to combine our skills, expertise and resources across sectors and to forge new solutions to these toughest of challenges, with and alongside people who are experiencing the worst effects on their daily lives.
However, the best solution to eliminate destitution would be change in the UK’s immigration rules and systems. Managing the ongoing impact of immigration restrictions on families and individuals when resources are severely stretched and pressure on public services is high will continue to be a significant challenge.
The Scottish Government and COSLA will continue to raise issues impacting people living in Scotland and urge the UK Government to prevent, not create, destitution. Everyone should be able to seek support when they need it without fear, regardless of their immigration status.
We believe it is morally right that everyone in our communities has their human rights respected and can access support in times of need. We will continue to be bold in our actions and ambitious, as we strive to create a fairer Scotland for everyone.