Applying for the government’s new ‘settled status’ immigration regime is supposed to be “as easy as setting up an online account at LK Bennett,” at least according to former Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Navigating the app – ‘EU Exit - ID Document Check’ – may be relatively straightforward for EEA nationals who are politically engaged, technologically literate, in long-term employment and have access to legal advice. Unfortunately, it’s likely to cause a major headache for thousands of people who do not meet this criteria. The government trialled the app during two pilot phases, which highlighted several causes for concern. Here, I’ll outline just a few of them.
Firstly, as has been well documented, the app is currently only available on Android devices. Anyone who owns an iPhone, or does not have access to a smartphone at all, will need to post their passport to the Home Office (not ideal given the Home Office’s poor track record) or visit one of 50 scanning centres that will eventually be set up (which could be problematic for those with childcare commitments or mobility issues). The rocky start doesn’t inspire confidence in the rest of the process.
Once applicants have gained access to the app, they need to supply the correct documents to prove their eligibility for ‘settled status’. During the government’s pilot phase, 16 per cent of cases processed initially fell at this hurdle and applicants were required to provide additional papers. We know that this burden tends to fall to the least fortunate groups, including people with low literacy levels, those employed on precarious work contracts or suffering from medical issues.
Meanwhile, thousands of children are also at risk of slipping through the gaps. According to a new study by Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC), children represent roughly one third of the estimated 3.8 million individuals who may have to engage with the EU settlement scheme. Most of these children will rely on their parents to deal with their applications for ‘settled status’. So it’s deeply worrying that The Migration Observatory estimates some 55,000 children will miss out on registering as their parents mistakenly believe they are EU citizens.
I’m also very concerned about the status of the 5,000 vulnerable EU children within the UK’s care system. According to CCLC, one third of local authorities in England do not know how many children in their care may be directly affected by Brexit. Even if they do pinpoint which children in their care need to apply for ‘settled status’, they may struggle to source the necessary paperwork. In Waltham Forest, my hometown and one of the five local authorities taking part in the government’s pilot project, not a single application for children in care was made during the five weeks of the programme because no children had the requisite nationality documents.
The adults and children who fail to register for the government’s new immigration status are likely to find themselves exposed to its relentless, irrational ‘hostile environment’ – a policy which is designed to make undocumented migrants’ lives a misery within the UK. They may find themselves unable to get a job, drive a car, open a bank account, or even access some NHS services. Excluded from attending college or university, this could very well mark the start of a slippery slope into the margins of society.
Sadly, the problematic ‘settled status’ application process is just one example of the government’s abject failure to exercise a duty of care towards vulnerable people during the Brexit negotiation process.
The UK is now just days from plummeting from a ‘no deal’ cliff edge, which charities warn could have a debilitating impact on food banks and homeless shelters. Services that feed millions of people, including free school dinners, could be affected by a combination of high demand and high inflation. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Radiologists has warned that NHS trusts would have no choice but to prioritise which patients receive cancer treatment, while supplies of life-saving medication such as insulin may be stuck at the border.
Even if Theresa May does manage to scrape together a majority in favour of her dismal deal, food standards, environmental protections and workers’ rights could be stripped back. And there is still no sign of the government’s promised consultation on its proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, which is intended to replace billions of pounds of EU funding to the UK’s most deprived communities.
We will all lose out from Brexit. But it’s children, older people, those with disabilities, single parents, families in temporary accommodation and the millions who are struggling to make ends meet who will be hit hardest by this government’s reckless decisions.
If this government had an ounce of integrity, and was truly acting in the national interest, it would immediately call a People’s Vote. If it fails to do so, the most vulnerable among us will pay the price.
Jean Lambert is Green MEP for London.