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Report slams effects on children of family immigration rules

September 12, 2015 3:59 PM
By Caron Lindsay in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

There are rightly many areas where the Liberal Democrats can be proud of what we achieved - and stopped - in government. There were other areas where we had little impact and left things in a much worse state than we found them.

For me the most noticeable of these was immigration. Not only did we countenance some highly unfair changes, particularly the income requirement for spousal visas, for which our Ministers must take the blame, but our Conference passed policy which reflected what the coalition had done rather than our own liberal values.

In York two years ago I made an intervention in the debate on immigration to say I'd be voting against the policy, and that it broke my heart to do so. That was captured by the Guardian at 10:42 here.

  • "Caron Lindsay says it breaks her heart to have to vote against a Lib Dem immigration policy. But she will vote against this motion because it supports the "horribly unfair" minimum income requirement for people coming to the UK to join their families. These immigrants are not entitled to claim benefits anyway, she says, so this is unnecessary."

My view was very much that this flew in the face of what we were saying about equal marriage. How could we consider love to be equal when we required people to have a certain income (regardless of whether their spouse had a job or not) in order to live in their own country.

As the world gets smaller, it is not difficult to fall in love with someone from the other side of the world. How can we deny our citizens the right to build their families here if they wish to do so?

A report this week from the Children's Commissioner for England lays out in painful detail that it's not just spouses who suffer from the enforced separation our immigration rules impose. Children separated from a parent suffer real emotional trauma.

It found that children, almost 4 in 5 of whom were British citizens, suffered distress and anxiety at the absence of a parent for reforms which simply don't do what the government said they would do, e.g. reduce dependence on state benefits or increase tax take.

Worryingly, it says that the best interests of children are not considered and that the rules break national and international law.

No fewer than 20 pages of the report (Section 4) cover the various emotional, physical and behavioural harms caused to children as a result of these rules. It's worth taking time out to read the whole thing. The conclusion is damning:

Thousands of children are being forced to grow up without a parent solely as a result of these Rules. Children are growing up in broken homes, separated from a parent, and in some cases siblings, for prolonged and unknown lengths of time. In further cases, children face being torn from the life they know in the UK in order to be reunited as a family abroad. Other children are prevented from returning to the UK, their country of nationality, and are effectively exiled abroad in countries with far lower health and education standards.

When the evidence about the thing we're not supposed to call the Bedroom Tax showed that it wasn't meeting its policy objectives and was causing unnecessary hardship, we changed our policy. This report on the effects of the family income requirement should force a similar change in outlook.

We are doing the right thing on refugees at the moment. We also need to do the right, evidence based thing by children caught up in an unfair immigration system.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by Caron Lindsay or more about children's commissioner, family migration rules or immigration.