I was recently drawn for my first ever Prime Minister’s Question and had the opportunity to push the Government on the issue of high citizenship fees. Across the UK, hundreds of thousands of British children have been priced out of claiming their right to citizenship.
It’s thanks to the brilliant work of campaign groups like Citizens UK (in particular the local Lambeth Citizens branch), Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and Amnesty International that this issue has been brought to light.
In 2019, there were 421,000 children born in the UK who were not registered as British citizens. In the same year, a further 177,000 children raised in the UK for at least 10 years were unregistered.
These children will experience real difficulties as a consequence of this in later life, falling victim to some of the same Hostile Environment measures which were brought to light during the Windrush Scandal and remain in place today.
They will face barriers when it comes to accessing healthcare, taking up employment, attending university, renting a home and opening a bank account through absolutely no fault of their own.
The most immediate stumbling block to most families seeking to register their children is the sheer cost of registration. This has risen from £35 in 1983 to £1012 in 2020, increasing at almost ten times the rate of inflation and almost doubling in the last decade alone. Of the current fee, just £372 accounts for actual administrative costs. The remaining £640 is pure profit.
These same households face higher levels of hardship and poverty. Some families also live with the devastating No Recourse to Public Funds condition, preventing them from accessing basic services. It cannot be right that the Home Office is able to turn a 64% profit whilst children from poor households are deprived of citizenship.
Over the last ten years, the unchecked rise of fees has driven a sharp decline in registrations, leaving more and more children facing barriers across many areas of their lives.
We need to look at drastically reducing these fees, introducing waivers for those who cannot afford them and ensuring the burden of such costs is borne by central government, not cash-strapped local authorities.
I was glad that Boris Johnson committed to looking at this policy again in light of my recent question and will be holding him to this. These children are no less British than he or I, and the Home Office must start acting like it.
This article was first published in the South London Press on 19th February 2021: https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&pubid=86f57ab1-6d54-4d4c-b610-8e30b25bc25e