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Thousands of migrants left in the lurch by self-isolation muddle

Under the government’s discriminatory immigration system, it remains unclear whether those with no recourse to public funds will have access to the new Covid emergency payment, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

THE government introduced a new £500 emergency payment to help low-paid people who must self-isolate over Covid-19. 

But in a sign of both the government’s lack of control and its mixed-up, discriminatory immigration system, ministers admitted they do not know if hundreds of thousands of migrants can apply for the self-isolation payment. 

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle pressed the government on this key issue and found that they, quite literally, do not know what they are doing.

On September 20 Boris Johnson announced the £500 emergency payment those people told to self-isolate by Test and Trace authorities, but who face hardship and cannot work from home.

Labour has rightly been pressing the government for months on support for people told to self-isolate: the government is stopping the main furlough scheme, so will cease significant subsidies for businesses to pay wages to those stuck at home by the Covid-19 crisis. 

But the government’s failure to control the crisis means that Test and Trace authorities must still demand people self-isolate.

Good employers will pay their wages. But people working for bad employers on zero-hours contracts, the self-employed and casual workers may be told to stay home and lose all their income. 

If people risk losing their food, rent or heating money by self-isolating, they are less likely to follow the rules.

Johnson accepted this, saying: “I don’t want to see a situation where people don’t feel they are financially able to self-isolate. 

“That’s why we’re also introducing a new £500 Test and Trace support payment for those on low incomes who are required by NHS Test and Trace to remain at home to help stop the spread of the virus.”

However, there is a very large category of migrant workers who might be excluded from the scheme. The government admits it does not know its own rules.

Most migrants from the EU have largely the same rights as UK workers. But most migrants from outside the EU are lumped into a category called “no recourse to public funds.”  

The government wanted to discriminate against migrants — because EU membership meant EU migrants had to be broadly treated the same as UK citizens, it doubled its discrimination against non-EU migrants. 

These are not allowed to have “recourse to public funds” — meaning they can work and pay taxes here, but cannot claim universal credit if they become unemployed, and are banned from claiming various disability, child and other benefits. 

This is a big group. It includes probably 350,000 to 400,000 workers from outside Europe on long-term and short-term contracts, along with perhaps 500,000 students — who may supplement their living with bar work. 

There are also some family members and some asylum-seekers in this group, so all told there could be over a million people in the UK with no recourse to public funds. 

They are a very mixed group, some in well-paid jobs, some in low-paid jobs, some in part-time work, and some with very little money. 

But the Covid-19 crisis cuts across every kind of employment. Crucially there are many health and care workers in this category. 

There is a good chance that at least some of these people may be forced away from work by the need to self-isolate. So will they be able to claim the grant?

Russell-Moyle understood this was important, so on September 24 he asked Health Minister Helen Whately in Parliament “whether people with no recourse to public funds will be eligible for the government’s recently announced Covid-19 self-isolation payment.”

Parliamentary questions are supposed to be answered as soon as possible. 

Whately replied: “The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.”

Which is an “official-ese” way of saying “we don’t know.” And they still don’t — two weeks on, no answer has arrived.

This isn’t just a problem for our non-EU migrant neighbours and workmates. It is a problem for all of us.  

The government wants a migration system full of discrimination, including the “no recourse” rules. 

Which is why they haven’t given a clear answer on the £500 self-isolation payment. But the virus does not discriminate. It doesn’t care about people’s legal status. 

If anyone from this group is faced with the choice of their family going hungry or turning a deaf ear to any self-isolation advice, we know what will happen.

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