On Monday 8 February, at the House of Lords, the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, with support from peers across the political spectrum, will table vital amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to protect migrant women.
Whilst the Bill has been welcomed as a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity to address domestic abuse, some of the most marginalised women who are at high risk of domestic abuse are excluded from the measures proposed, because of their lack of immigration status and the operation of the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule. This means that important measures in the Bill, for example placing a statutory duty on local authorities to accommodate domestic abuse survivors, will have no effect on migrant women who will continue to have no access to the welfare safety net. They will remain trapped in abuse because they will be economically dependent on abusive partners who use their lack of immigration status as a weapon of coercive control, and as a means by which to maintain absolute power. Those women who choose to leave will be forced into destitution and put at risk of other forms of harm and exploitation in the UK or in their countries of origin.
In 2002, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) secured the Domestic Violence (DV) Rule which allows women who arrive in the UK on spousal visas to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK if they are victims of domestic abuse. In 2012, the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) was introduced to ensure that such women have access to public funds pending their application for leave to remain under the DV Rule. Taken together, the DV Rule and DDVC now form a vital and much needed framework of protection, but it does not extend to migrant women on non-spousal visas. Despite growing calls for change, so far, the Government has refused to allow migrant women access to the safety routes that are available to other abused women in society. It has instead proposed a pilot scheme (the Support for Migrant Victims Scheme) that is woefully inadequate. The scheme will not provide effective protection to all women and children who need it. Nor does it replace the need for long-term legislative solutions to what is an urgent and mounting crisis of violence against migrant women and girls.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester, supported by a cross-party coalition of Peers including Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Rosser, Lord Woolley of Woodford and Baroness Hamwee, will set out why eligibility for the DV Rule and DDVC should be extended to all migrant survivors of domestic abuse who have insecure immigration status. The decision about whether to enshrine protection for these women in the Domestic Abuse Bill through this amendment will be the litmus test of whether this Bill is the landmark legislation it is intended to be.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek who is leading on the amendment, says:
“This Bill is a significant and welcome piece of legislation, so we must therefore ensure that it encompasses everyone, including migrant victims of domestic abuse who are among the most vulnerable in our society. I am glad of this opportunity to make an intervention as we make this Bill the best it can possibly be.”
Lord Woolley of Woodford, who will be speaking in favour of the amendment, says:
“The Domestic Abuse Bill is an incredibly important piece of legislation that has the potential to transform the lives of so many survivors in the UK. However, it is also a test for this Government as to whether it will commit to protecting some of the most vulnerable women in our society – BAME and migrant women. The amendments proposed by Southall Black Sisters, with support from myself and Peers across the House of Lords, will provide BAME and migrant women with nothing less than a vital lifeline. It does not bode well for the Government to refuse to listen given that following the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, it promised to address ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issues of race.”
Pragna Patel, Director of SBS, says:
“We are immensely grateful to Bishop Rachel and the coalition of cross-party peers in the House of Lords for tabling and supporting amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to enshrine protection for migrant women in law. We are clear that what is on offer so far from this Government, remains at best inadequate and at worst, profoundly discriminatory. Migrant women remain some of the most vulnerable women in our society and yet on a daily basis they continue to be turned away from life-saving support because of their immigration status. We now look to the House of Lords to right the wrongs that are perpetrated on migrant women and in doing so herald in a fairer and more compassionate society that protects all women irrespective of their background or status.”
Pragna Patel: [email protected]
Janaya Walker: [email protected] – 07947304221