NELMA protest Haringey Council’s cruel treatment of families in need

On Tuesday 13 December, North East London Migrant Action (NELMA) [1] will be protesting Haringey Council’s failure to meet its obligations to destitute children and their families. The demonstration outside the Haringey Civic Centre in Wood Green will begin at 6pm, to coincide with Haringey Council’s Cabinet meeting at 6.30pm.

Through its work supporting migrant families with no recourse to public funds, NELMA has uncovered the systematic mishandling of cases by Haringey. The Labour-run Council’s wrongful ‘gatekeeping’ tactics are leaving destitute families who approach for support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 [2] homeless and at risk of exploitation.

While many London local authorities are failing to uphold their legal obligation [3] to support destitute children regardless of their immigration status, Haringey exemplify the worst of this pattern of bad practice. Haringey’s No Recourse to Public Funds Team adopts particularly aggressive forms of ‘gatekeeping’. NELMA has documented cases of Haringey social workers:

  •   threatening to take children away from their parents and into care when this is not in the best interests of the child;
  •   using aggressive (and sometimes racist) language;
  •   threatening families with deportation when they have no legal basis upon which to do so;
  •   falsely claiming that families are precluded from support on account of their immigration status.

The presence of Home Office officials during meetings with social workers constitutes another intimidation tactic. Destitute migrant families frequently emerge from meetings with Haringey Council frightened, exhausted and reduced to tears. Worst of all, they are routinely left destitute and homeless, with the Council refusing to provide urgently-needed interim support or even conduct an initial assessment of children’s needs. This is despite the fact that the threshold for conducting an assessment is very low: local authorities have a duty to assess any child who might be ‘in need’.

Haringey Council has a legal obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in need within its area. In cases where destitute families have no recourse to public funds (and thus cannot access mainstream benefits or housing), local authorities have a duty to provide statutory support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Families who seek such support do so because they face destitution and/or homelessness and have exhausted all other avenues. According to the Children’s Society, 6 in 10 families who applied for this support from London local authorities were turned away.[4] A child’s immigration status, or that of their parents, should not mean that they go hungry or without shelter.

NELMA has tried to address these issues with the Council through formal complaints, a Twitter campaign and a meeting with Councillor Elin Weston, the Cabinet member for Children and Young People. Local MP Catherine West has written to the Council about one NELMA family, who were evicted from Section 17 accommodation by Haringey Council, leaving them with nowhere to go.

Councillor Elin Weston has agreed to investigate the Council’s refusal to allow NELMA accompaniers to attend meetings with Haringey’s NRPF team and the question of whether Haringey Council erroneously believes Section 17 support to be a ‘public fund’ (that is, something that individuals and families with no recourse to public funds cannot access). Without public pressure, however, even these small promises might go unfulfilled. With immigration enforcement seeping into all aspects of public life and racism and xenophobia on the rise, resistance to the discriminatory treatment of migrants is more urgent now than ever.

Quotes:

Elife Akan, NELMA activist, says “Families have told me that approaching Haringey Council was “hell” and said they were treated like animals. I get that there’s a housing crisis in London and local authorities have had their funding cut, but that’s no excuse for treating people with such callous disregard! Children shouldn’t face homelessness just because of their immigration status.”

The mother of a destitute family, refused support under Section 17 by Haringey Council, says: “The Haringey social worker made sure life was horrible for me and my children. She went on a spree of lies, changing every word I mentioned to something else to suit her, calling me names and using some derogatory remarks […] The social worker’s name, Haringey council, police and social service have now become threats to my children that they do not want to hear.”

 

[1] North East London Migrant Action (NELMA) brings together activists from across London to campaign on issues faced by migrants in vulnerable positions in our communities. The group’s current focus is on challenging injustices towards families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). See https://nelmacampaigns.wordpress.com/ and https://twitter.com/nelmacampaigns

[2] Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 states: “It shall be the general duty of every local authority (in addition to the other duties imposed on them by this Part)—

  1. to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
  2. so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.”

See http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/17

[3] For more information on local authorities’ duties under Section 17, see: http://www.project17.org.uk/media/7763/s17-Factshet-May-13.pdf

[4] See ‘Making Life Impossible’, The Children’s Society (April 2016) http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/making-life-impossible.pdf

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