International Women’s Day Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds
Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds
Call on the Home Office to Save the Lives of All Women and Children
Today marks International Women’s Day.
The Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds welcomes the Government’s commitment to provide benefits and public housing for victims of domestic violence who are in the UK on spousal visas while they apply for settlement under the Domestic Violence Immigration Rule, due to start in April 2012. It also welcomed the Sojourner Project, established by the Home Office in 2009 and managed by Eaves Housing for Women, as a pilot to pay direct housing and living costs as an interim solution. This represents a major victory for the Campaign, and for the rights of women at risk of gender based violence and exploitation.
However, there are many other vulnerable victims who remain without a safety net. These include women in the UK on other visas, overstayers, and overseas domestic workers, who experience gender based violence or abuse and exploitation by their employers. Women who have been trafficked into the country are also not protected. These women are still forced to make a stark choice between staying within an abusive relationship, and risking their lives, and that of their children, or leaving, and facing destitution, and in many cases, also deportation. Under new proposed legislation, they will not be entitled to legal aid to make an application to stay in the country or to appeal against refusal.
Monitoring data collected by the Campaign from some key agencies from across the UK, has found that during the period 24 October – 18 November 2011, there were 137 women and 74 children experiencing abuse with an insecure immigration status looking for accommodation and/or support. Of these, 52 were accommodated and supported, and 54 were provided with support only. Disturbingly 31 (29%) women and 16 children were unable to access any support, and only 48 (35%) were eligible for Sojourner funding. This means that a shocking 65% of women were ineligible for help from the Sojourner Project, and were either dependant on limited support elsewhere or destitute.
The Campaign is also dismayed by the Government’s new proposals on family-related migration, including plans to increase the probationary period for spousal visas from two to five years, and changes to the Immigration Rules which require applicants for settlement under the domestic violence rule to be free of unspent convictions, despite the fact that many victims of abuse act in self-defence or are falsely accused of crime by abusive partners and family members. These changes undermine women’s ability to escape abuse and gain access to safety and support.
The Campaign calls on the Home Office, and where relevant, the Department of Works and Pensions and local authorities, to ensure that there is:
- Effective implementation of the new benefit and housing scheme for victims of domestic violence on spousal visas. This includes ensuring that victims are fast tracked through the benefit system and tracked by the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) for monitoring purposes. Training should also be provided to officials within the DWP, the UKBA and local authority housing departments on the new scheme, delivered in conjunction with campaign members, and that victims have access to telephone (where interpretation is available), rather than online-only application processes. This also means that women’s organisations, particularly specialist BME women’s services, should be adequately funded to provide advice and assistance to enable victims to access benefits and housing under the new scheme.
- Provide benefits and public housing, and the right to permanent settlement, for all victims of gender based violence and exploitation. In the interim, a pilot should be established similar to the Sojourner Project for such victims.
- Provide legal aid for all victims of gender based violence and exploitation with immigration problems.
- Exempt victims from the unspent criminal conviction regulations.
- Withdraw proposals in the recent family migration consultation, such as the extension of the probationary period for spousal visas from 2 to 5 years, which will force more women to stay in abusive relationships without recourse to protection.
Southall Black Sisters, 020 8571 9595
Women’s Resource Centre, 020 7324 3030
The Campaign has over 24 members, including:
- Against Violence and Abuse (AVA)
- Amnesty International UK
- Apna Haq
- Ashiana Network
- Black Association of Women Step Out (BAWSO)
- British Red Cross
- Eaves Housing for Women
- Imece Turkish Speaking Women’s Group
- Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)
- Kiran Project
- Newham Asian Women’s Project (NAWP)
- Rights of Women
- Scottish Women’s Aid
- Shakti Women’s Aid
- Southall Black Sisters (SBS)
- Surviving Economic Abuse
- Welsh Women’s Aid
- Which Direction
- Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland
- Women’s Aid (Federation of England)
- Women’s Resource Centre (WRC)