This is the first strategy of its kind and sets out the ambition of the Scottish Government and COSLA to ensure the people living in communities across Scotland do not experience destitution because of their immigration status. It aims to prevent and mitigate destitution for people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), who are not permitted under UK immigration rules to access most mainstream benefits, local authority housing or homelessness services.
People with NRPF can experience extreme poverty, rough sleeping, domestic abuse and labour exploitation as well as social isolation and exclusion because of UK Government immigration rules, which mean they are unable to access most support options designed to help people at the point of crisis. The purpose of this strategy is to address these issues as far as possible in Scotland, through increasing the accessibility, availability and coordination of dignified support for people during times of crisis.
The strategy sets a direction of travel and initial actions for delivering: improved support for people during times of crisis; advice and advocacy to resolve underlying issues; and inclusive approaches to policy and service design which enable people to participate in society and access the support they need. The focus is on action which can be taken in partnership in Scotland, to deliver a cross-government and multi-sectoral approach to achieving our goals, working across national and local government as well as the wider public and third sectors.
The strategy also recognises reserved matters which are beyond the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and describes changes in policy that we believe would prevent destitution from occurring as a result of the immigration system.
Development of the Strategy
The strategy is based on evidence of the risks of destitution for people with NRPF, including from the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee report, Hidden Lives - New Beginnings, as well as new and emerging analysis of the risks of destitution created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU.
Whilst gathering robust data on the number of people impacted by NRPF rules and destitution across Scotland remains challenging, the strategy draws on available estimates of need and developing information on the current costs of providing support through local government and the third sector.
The strategy was developed with the input and advice of people with lived experience of destitution as well as the organisations and frontline workers from the public and third sectors who support them. Quotes are included throughout to highlight the voices of people who have experienced destitution and contributed their knowledge and expertise to shape the strategy. These voices are a reminder of the impact NRPF policy has on people living in our communities.
The strategy recognises that there is existing expertise in Scotland within local authorities, across third sector and community organisations and the legal sector. There are innovative examples of service delivery providing people with essentials such as food, cash and housing, as well as casework and advocacy support and specialist advisers who help people to navigate systems and resolve underlying issues.
NRPF Policy and Destitution
NRPF policy is a highly complex area. This strategy provides an overview of the ways in which restrictions on an individual’s rights and entitlements to public funds can create or exacerbate extreme poverty and inequality. It highlights the risk factors that can make people more susceptible to destitution as well as describing how person-centred support can prevent or mitigate its effects.
It also sets out policy approaches and services that are not restricted under immigration rules and can provide assistance to people subject to NRPF. The views and perspectives of people who have experienced destitution are included throughout the strategy and describe the impact that destitution has on people, as well as highlighting some of the issues people have told us they face on a daily basis.
NRPF restrictions do not impact people equally, and the strategy recognises the different intersectional experiences which can affect people’s needs and access to support including for women, children and those with disabilities. It also identifies the different factors that impact on people’s risks of experiencing destitution, which include loss of income, increased living costs or a change in immigration status and the associated rights and entitlements.
Vision and Purpose
The vision for the strategy is to create a Scotland where:
‘No one is forced into destitution and everyone has their human rights protected, regardless of their immigration status.’
The strategy is guided by three overarching principles:
- Partnership; and
The strategy aims to provide a basic safety net in times of crisis; access to advice and advocacy; and to ensure inclusive approaches to support people and communities.
To achieve its vision, the strategy is guided by the three principles and takes a human rights-based approach, including recognising the fundamental right to an adequate standard of living – in particular the right to food, housing and social security which is essential to ending destitution. It also recognises the role of public services and wider community support in helping people to: establish their rights and entitlements; improve their health and wellbeing; and access secure and well paid employment or sustainable support as routes out of destitution.
We will strengthen provision of support through the statutory safety net for families with children and adults with care needs. We will also work in partnership with the third sector and wider civil society to develop the non-statutory safety net within communities for adults who are not eligible for local authority support.
We will increase the availability of specialist advice that can help people with NRPF to address immigration status issues as well as remove barriers to accessing public services that support people’s physical and mental health. The strategy will support routes into sustainable employment for people with permission to work, enabling them to pursue their ambitions and support themselves and their families.
The strategy builds on learning from the COVID-19 response and longer standing examples of policy interventions and service innovations which have enabled people with NRPF to access assistance safely and legally. It will build skills and capacity across the public and third sectors to understand the risks of destitution and to design and deliver holistic services for people with NRPF.
This strategy acknowledges that certain actions cannot be taken by the Scottish Government alone, because asylum and immigration, including NRPF policy, are reserved to the UK Parliament. The Scottish Government and COSLA will continue to raise issues which impact people living in Scotland with the UK Government and will seek to influence future immigration policy.
The strategy will also help services to prepare for and respond to changes in rates of destitution across Scotland as a result of policy or economic changes.
The strategy coordinates work under three action areas:
1. Essential Needs: Actions will help to increase the provision of dignified access to accommodation, food and financial assistance via local authorities and the third sector, as well as removing barriers to health services including mental health provision.
2. Advice and Advocacy: Actions will increase access to specialist advice and advocacy, including legal advice, to help people to navigate immigration and asylum systems and make informed decisions about their future.
3. Inclusion: Actions will support inclusive approaches to the design and delivery of support, including through Scotland’s extended social security powers and employability. People with lived experience will continue to inform and shape the strategy during implementation, and the strategy will work to support inclusive community approaches.
Delivery of the Strategy
The strategy will initially run for three years and will be delivered as a partnership between the Scottish Government and COSLA. It will support wider partnerships with the third sector and civil society. It will focus on identifying and implementing practical actions in the short term that can increase available support for people who are destitute, at a national and local level.
The Scottish Government is making an initial investment of £500,000 to support delivery of the actions in the first year of the strategy.
Learning from the implementation of the strategy will help us to build a stronger evidence base on the nature and scale of need for people with NRPF and strengthen our understanding of what it takes to implement sustainable solutions across Scotland. This will inform the development of longer term actions.
We will report annually on progress and review the effectiveness of the approach.
The strategy contains thirteen initial actions:
1. We are piloting a Hardship Fund to support people with NRPF across Scotland who are facing crisis situations.
2. We will improve dignified access to culturally appropriate food, in line with the dignity principles outlined in Dignity: Ending Hunger Together.
3. We will contribute to the ambition of ending homelessness and specifically support actions relating to people with NRPF and destitute asylum seekers. This includes work to support the development of a five year delivery plan by the Everyone Home Collective on the ‘route-map’ to end destitution.
4. We will strengthen provision of financial assistance and wider local authority support to destitute families with children and vulnerable adults.
5. We will update guidance and training to support local authority provision of services to people with NRPF.
6. We will improve access to primary health services, including by working with Public Health Scotland and other partners to address health inequalities experienced by people subject to NRPF, translating Health Access Cards and promoting to NHS staff the right to access healthcare for migrants and people seeking asylum.
7. We will improve access to mental health services for adults and children with NRPF by working to better understand the barriers and to collectively agree the practical actions that can be taken by local authorities, the Scottish Government and the NHS.
Advice and Advocacy
8. We will invest in the provision of diagnostic legal advice delivered in partnership with advocacy support for people subject to NRPF.
9. We will increase access to specialist immigration advice to support local authorities assisting people with NRPF.
10. We will extend financial support to people subject to NRPF where it is possible to do so, on the same basis.
11. We will ensure that employability support is accessible for people subject to NRPF who have permission to work.
12. We will contribute to development of the next Race Equality Action Plan to ensure that it takes into account the challenges faced by people with NRPF and explore what further action can be taken to ensure no one faces destitution.
13. We will work with people with lived experience of destitution and NRPF to continue to inform and shape the strategy during implementation.
New actions will be developed as required to deliver the strategy vision.
The Scottish Government is making an initial investment of £500,000 to support delivery of the actions in the first year of the strategy. As set out in the strategy action areas, a wide range of Scottish Government programmes, public services, local authority statutory support and third sector projects already deliver support that is accessible for people subject to NRPF. As this support is delivered inclusively, it is often not possible to isolate the total spent supporting people subject to NRPF. As a result, the total investment in supporting people will be significantly higher than this initial investment. We will also use this strategy to strengthen existing support and services, as we work to build a fuller picture of support provision.