Children affected by immigration rules and at poverty risk, warns Commissioner

School children
Credit: ITV

Northern Ireland's children's commissioner has said some young people risk being plunged into poverty because of the immigration status of their parents or carer.

In a new report, Koulla Yiasouma said families affected by immigration rules face a condition called "No Recourse to Public Funds" (NRPF) which prevents them from accessing many social security benefits and housing support.

She said: "This can have devastating effects for children and families and government know very little about the numbers or the realities of the lives of these children and indeed how much they rely on voluntary and community sector services to keep safe.

"These groups are ultimately trying to fill the gap that the UK government has deliberately created."

The commissioner said there is no accurate data, making it almost impossible for the Stormont Executive to understand and provide support for some of the poorest children and families.

She added: "Failure to provide a coherent and accessible pathway for support is creating the need for informal avenues of support and charitable efforts which, whilst an invaluable lifeline to those left destitute, does not take away from the duties placed on government and statutory agencies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children."

NI Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma Credit: PA

The commissioner's report highlights that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problems experienced by asylum seeking families and those subject to NRPF in Northern Ireland.

She has called on the UK government and Northern Ireland Executive to undertake work to identify how many children in are living in a family with No Recourse to Public Funds and publish this data.

The report also calls for the development of clear pathways across and between agencies like Home Office and health and social care agencies to ensure that children and families are referred and that the needs and best interests of children are assessed as a matter of urgency.

The commissioner concluded: "It is unimaginable that in 2021 there are children living in Northern Ireland who are left without recourse to public funds for the most basic of needs."