One of the phrases which is commonplace here at Body & Soul is ‘no recourse to public funds’. But what is that and what does that label really mean in the day-to-day reality of people’s lives?
“No recourse” means that, for a variety of reasons, someone’s immigration status is unresolved and while a decision is being made by the Home Office, that person has no entitlement to welfare benefits, Home Office Support for asylum seekers or public housing. Or, in more everyday language, no house, no money, no right to work.
Many of the members at Body & Soul who have no recourse had successful careers in their country of origin. They are educated, articulated, motivated and had self-sustaining lives. Then things fell apart. Often what happens is that someone’s HIV status becomes known in the family and community. Then that person is rejected, blamed, ostracised, excluded and in cultures which absolutely rely on community, life becomes untenable. Sometimes people flee from rape, torture or conflict. Whatever the story, the person makes it to the UK where they seek peace, tolerance, freedom, acceptance and the chance of a new life. They want to work, contribute and rebuild a shattered sense of self. They bring their resilience, their survivorship.
The UK is no Promised Land for those with “no recourse”. No home, no money and no right to work is a tall order. Whilst HIV treatment is available for someone with no recourse, primary health care is not, so no access to GP services either. So what do people do? Our members are smart and resourceful. They sofa surf, they do bits and pieces of cash in hand work, they sleep rough sometimes or find the corner of a Church. The Home Office is an unwieldy monster and decisions on immigration take not months but many years, so for someone with no recourse they are in for the long haul and have to live by their wits. Can you imagine? The fact that they don’t return home demonstrates the horror of what they fled.
So, someone with all the physical and psychological challenges of such a life might come to Body & Soul. What might they experience as they walk through the door? The first word that springs to mind is family and all that implies – kinship acceptance, solidarity, love, support, connection, celebration.
Members will get food – not just scraps but a nutritious, hot, tasty meal served to them. They will find others like them, other people who are living with HIV, others who are managing uncertainty about their Leave to Remain. They will find practical help, social work advocacy, counselling and other psychological interventions, complementary therapies, and above all a sense of welcome and belonging.
This blog is from Body & Soul’s Head of Therapeutic Interventions, Katherine.