A group of single parents who cannot claim social benefits because of their migratory status are suing the government.
A High Court hearing will hear arguments for the lifting of restrictions due to the coronavirus epidemic.
Lawyers say tens of thousands of people are affected, mostly mothers from Commonwealth countries with children born in the United Kingdom, who are in low-paid jobs.
The Home Office said “no one should be starved or destitute”.
Activists say workers face an “impossible choice”: to continue working during the epidemic, to put themselves in danger and put others in danger, or to stop working and have no way to pay for the food, rent or bills.
“I have no right to anything”
Single mother Zeenab, a caregiver who cares for adults with epilepsy, has had to reduce her hours to care for her seven-year-old son since schools closed last month to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
As a key worker, she has the right to babysit, but her son’s school said she could only provide two days a week.
She says she was forced to cut her working hours from about 50 a week to just 12 and that she now reports £ 300 a month after deduction and shipping costs.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said.
“In a few weeks, I will not have enough food or rent and I am really worried.
” I like my job. I work hard. I want to work and I pay taxes but I am not entitled to anything. “
The government has said workers affected by the coronavirus crisis should apply for universal credit.
Since the start of the epidemic, almost a million people have applied for this benefit.
But the so-called “non-use of public funds” rules attached to certain immigration statuses mean that some are not entitled to state aid.
Zeenab, from Sierra Leone, arrived in the UK in 2007 and gave birth to her son in 2012.
She has limited leave to stay and therefore cannot claim any state benefits such as child benefit or universal credit.
On Friday, she was among a group of single parents challenging the restrictions before the High Court.
If they succeed, the policy of “not using public funds” would be suspended, before a full hearing in the courts where the parents argued that it should be definitively abolished because it discriminates against women and ethnic minorities.
“Politics causes intense poverty at best,” said Caz Hattem, of the Unity Project, a volunteer-led organization behind the legal challenge.
“But since the coronavirus epidemic, things have become hopeless. We want an immediate suspension so that these families can access basic social support during this crisis and, in fact, any future crisis. “
Human rights lawyer Adam Hundt, who represents the group, said: “It is the mothers of British children who have worked, paid taxes and national insurance and who have literally nothing and depend on the charity.
“There is a huge cohort of British children who do not receive the same social safety net as my children. “
The Interior Ministry said it would not comment on the ongoing legal proceedings, but a government spokesperson said, “The government is supporting people through this crisis and no one should be left hungry or destitute.
“The measures we have proposed, such as rent and mortgage protections, and food stamps, are not considered public funds and may be available to migrants authorized to stay who meet the eligibility criteria. “