Project PEDHSC19

Hostile Environment: Migration and Food Poverty in the UK

A qualitative study with the aim of understanding migration and food poverty in the UK.

Summary of project

Some people subject to immigration control in the UK (e.g. those seeking asylum) are defined as having ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) status under UK law (1). Those with NRPF status are given minimal state financial support whilst their immigration case is being processed (2). They are not entitled to seek paid employment and local government support is varied, depending on the local authority.

Disabled people, (pregnant) women and children are all disproportionately affected by NRPF policies (3). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, children with NRPF status were not eligible for free school meals, unless their school chose to support them on a case-by-case basis. This exclusion was temporarily lifted for families during the pandemic. In April 2022, the government decided to permanently extend free school meals for children with NRPF status (4).

Three-quarters (84%) of those with NRPF status have stated that they do not have enough money to buy sufficient quantities of food to meet their basic needs (2). Some also borrow money to pay for basic necessities and often end up with high levels of expensive debt. This population group are at a high risk of experiencing food poverty and often rely on third sector support organisations for food (5).

The University of Hertfordshire are working in collaboration with The Food Foundation to understand the experiences and impact these circumstances have on the health and wellbeing of families with NRPF status, especially for those with children. The research questions are as follows:

  1. How do families with NRPF status experience dietary inequalities in the UK?
  2. What factors are associated with or exacerbate existing dietary inequalities of families with NRPF status in the UK?
  3. According to families with NRPF status and the organisations that support them, how should the local and national governments attempt to solve this issue?

Project aims

The Food Foundation (FF) is conducting a 3-year project with the aim to re-shape the public narrative on dietary inequalities and catalyse purposeful action from policy makers. As part of the larger project, the UH research team is carrying out this study focused on families (with children) who have NRPF status in the UK,.

To address the aims and research questions, this study uses a qualitative mixed methods approach with in-depth interviews, observations, focus groups and visual methods. Interviews and visual methods will be carried out with families (with children) who have NRPF status. Focus groups, interviews and observations will be carried out with organisations supporting families with NRPF status.

Researchers and institutions 

Dr Laura Hamilton, University of Hertfordshire

Dr Claire Thompson, University of Hertfordshire 

Prof. Wendy Wills, University of Hertfordshire   

(1) Project 77 (n.d.) “Sometimes my Belly will just Hurt”. No Recourse to Public Funds and the Right to Food.

(2) Asylum Matters (2020). Locked into Poverty: Life on Asylum Support. UK: Asylum Matters.

(3) Woolley, A (2019). Access Denied: The Cost of the “No Recourse to Public Funds” Policy. London, UK: The Unity Project.

(4)  Department for Education (2022). Providing free school meals to families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). Guidance. London, UK: Department for Education.

(5) Govan Community Project (2021). An Ongoing Emergency: Barriers and Solutions in Access to Fair Food for People Seeking Asylum. Govan, Scotland: Govan Community Project.