£18,600 income requirement: pricing UK workers out of a family life
A few weeks ago, we were contacted by a lady called Margaret, who lives in South Wales. Margaret has worked for the past decade as a legal secretary for a private solicitors firm, earning £13,500 a year. However, her salary is not considered adequate in order to sponsor her Tunisian husband to enter the UK, and so they are living apart for the foreseeable future.
“I’m doing a respectable job, but am now being told that my salary is not enough. It’s just so difficult to find work at £18,600 in my area. It doesn’t make sense because we could both live with my parents when he comes here, and Mohammed wants to work, and pay taxes, too. But if I leave and go to Tunisia, we will never be able to come back together. In the meantime, we are kept apart and are unable to start the family that we planned to have together.”
Margaret is not the only person whose earnings are too low to meet the rules and be with her husband. 47% of the working population are reportedly unable to sponsor a loved one, on the basis of their earnings. Because £18,600 is considerably higher than the national minimum wage (approximately £13,200 per annum at a full time rate), some people, like Margaret, are in full-time employment and still fail to meet the rules.
But, crucially, where you live and work in the UK is a significant determiner of your ability to live with a foreign partner. New research by MRN ("The family migration income threshold: Pricing UK workers out of a family life"), released today, shows that being able to live with your non-EU spouse is now essentially subject to a postcode lottery.
The research reviews Office of National Statistics earnings data for employees across the 632 parliamentary constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales. It finds that, in 74 British parliamentary constituencies, less than 50% of employees have a gross annual income at or above £18,600 per annum. That means that more than half of workers living in these areas are effectively priced out of having a family life with a non-EU national.
Workers in parts of the North West and South West of England, as well as across Wales, are particularly likely to be affected due to lower than average earnings in those areas. By contrast, the ten parliamentary constituencies with the highest average earnings are all based in London. Someone living and working in Putney, in London, is effectively more than twice as likely to be able to meet the rules than a worker residing in Blackpool South.
Since July 2012, a number of MPs have raised the issue of the regional disadvantage felt by some trying to meet the family migration rules. The Government has resisted calls for a regionally varied income requirement, and largely refused to acknowledge the uneven impacts of the rules across the UK. But surely the solution is for the Government to reduce the income requirement to a level that can be realistically reached by workers across the UK - with the level of the National Minimum Wage seeming like a sensible place to start. In addition, widening the income sources that can be used to meet the rules would allow families to reflect the full range of resources available to them in their applications.
Currently, many of the families affected by the rules are anxiously awaiting the Court of Appeal judgement on the MM & Ors legal challenge. This is an important case, but we understand that any outcome from the legal challenges, even in the best case scenario, is unlikely to be felt before the next general election.
In the meantime, the mounting evidence that the bar for family migration is prohibitively high needs to reach a wider set of parliamentarians who are more generally disturbed about the widespread disadvantages faced by the UK’s lower-income workers. It is critical that this wider group of MPs and peers, and other potentially supportive stakeholders, are drawn into the public debate about these rules.
Over the coming month, as we build up to the second anniversary of the family migration rules and the Court of Appeal judgement is issued, there will be renewed attention on this issue. If you are interested in campaigning, please put 9th July 2014 in your diary as there will be a parliamentary meeting from 10 - 11.30am in Westminster - you can sign up for that here. In addition, there will be lobbying and campaigning activities organised by MRN, JCWI and Britcits, and others across the Divided Families campaign.
Let’s work together to make the case for political change on this critical campaign.
To download the report click here [PDF].
MRN has sent copies of the report to the MPs of the 74 constituencies listed in the report. We would encourage all who wish to, to take the opportunity to write again to your local MP, enclosing a copy of the report. Please click here for a template letter. We strongly advise that you adapt the letter according to your personal circumstances - and please do let us know if you get a response.
Sign up to receive updates from MRN by registering on the We are Family website here.