On 6th May 2020 the Archbishop of York, Most Revd John Sentamu, led a debate in the House of Lords on the motion that the Lords “do consider the case for increasing income equality and sustainability in the light of the recent health emergency.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd Justin Welby, also spoke in the debate, highlighting the position of those with no recourse to public funds:
The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, first, I thank the most reverend Primate for tabling this debate today, as well as for a lifetime’s work of battling inequality. May we continue to benefit from his wisdom and prophetic voice. I also look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby.
I wish to highlight the issue of those particularly at risk because they do not have the right to access public funds. Migrants are more likely to be self-employed, in temporary work, or working in industries which have been especially badly hit. They are less likely to own their own homes, risking homelessness if they lose their income. Concerns have been raised that migrants may be compelled to continue working even if they become ill as to stop would be to risk destitution, which puts their and others’ health at risk.
We rely on the contribution of migrants to our society and economy. Some 850,000 migrants work in our health and social care sector, while they make up 40% of our food manufacturing industry. These are essential industries. They are working on our farms so we can have food on the table. We owe them deep gratitude.
After the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Government confirmed that
“all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, can access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/17; col. 167.]
Can the Government give a similar confirmation now, and suspend the NRPF condition to allow migrants to access public funds?
Many of those without access to public funds are supported by small charities, which themselves face existential threats due to the health emergency. Will the Government continue to offer more support to those charities before they are no longer able to function and pick up their normal operations?
Christ teaches us that every human is equal before God. I pray that, as we face these extraordinary times, we seek to enact policies that affirm the dignity and worth of all as we have seen it in their contribution to us.