SBS Reasserts Demand for Protection for Migrant Women in The Domestic Abuse Bill
A £1.5m pilot project is a wholly inadequate and discriminatory response to the plight of migrant women subject to ‘no recourse to public funds’.
At the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, Victoria Atkins MP, announced £1.5million for a pilot fund to cover the cost of support for migrant women with NRPF in refuge accommodation. She stated that this pilot will be used “to assess better the level of need for that group of victims and to inform spending review decisions on longer-term funding.”
For the following reasons, we submit that even as an interim measure, the proposed pilot fund is a wholly inappropriate and inadequate solution to the urgent need to protect all migrant women subject to abuse:
- The proposal for a pilot project to conduct yet more assessments of the level of need completely fails to appreciate the urgency and the seriousness of the risk of abuse and destitution that abused migrant women on non-spousal visas currently face. These difficulties and challenges faced by women with NRPF are extensively outlined in our Domestic Abuse Briefing Papers 1 and 2. We are concerned that the pilot project is yet another means by which the Government is seeking to avoid its moral and legal responsibility to provide abused migrant women with access to the welfare safety net. Pilot projects take a considerable amount of time (sometimes years) to complete and evaluate and can be followed by further pilot projects. This simply delays the introduction of the urgent measures that are needed now to protect abused migrant women with NRPF.
- On 7 May 2020, the High Court ruled that the NRPF policy breaches Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. This followed a legal challenge brought by a child supported by the Unity Project (who support migrant families facing destitution as a result of the NRPF policy). In the light of this, the Government’s response to provide £1.5million at some point in the future, in order to conduct a pilot project to assess the needs of abused migrant women with NRPF is problematic and potentially discriminatory and unlawful.
- The Home Office stalled on addressing the need to institute immediate protection measures for migrant women for over eighteen months, by constantly referring to the pending outcome of an ‘ongoing internal review’ on the needs of abused migrant women with NRPF. On 23 April 2020, SBS submitted considerable further written evidence to the Home office’s ‘final call for evidence’ in respect of the review, outlining among other things: the number of abused migrant women seeking access to safe accommodation, their visa status on arrival in the UK; and a detailed assessment of their needs and the risks they face in contexts of abuse. The review was also supplemented by our participation in a series of meetings, including a ministerial roundtable, numerous submissions to periodic calls for evidence, as well as engagement with the Home Office on a regular basis. The review – Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Review Findings – was finally published by the Home Office in July 2020, however when closely analysed it is highly flawed. It has either gravely misunderstood or simply ignored or rejected outright the detailed evidence submitted by SBS and other organisations about the needs and circumstances of abused migrant women. Our formal response to the Review is available here. We have concluded that the review itself cannot form a credible basis for decision-making concerning protection for migrant women.
- There already exists extensive evidence in the form of countless research reports/submissions and briefing papers by us and others about the ways in which the NRPF condition traps women in abusive and exploitative relationships. For the purposes of the Home office’s internal review, SBS’s submission of evidence included the evaluation findings from our pilot ‘No Recourse Fund’ (NRF) project, funded by the Tampon Tax. This set out in detail the barriers faced by migrant women, their support needs and outcomes, following assistance from our NRF over the last three years. Our previous evidence shows that between April 2015 and March 2016, 67% of those who accessed SBS’ NRF were women with non-spousal visas subject to NRPF and that they could not obtain accommodation from other sources of support including refuges. We also submitted more recent evidence that shows that between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020, 57% of women who approached us were on non-spousal visas and were therefore not eligible to apply for the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) or for leave to remain under the Domestic Violence (DV) Rule. Similarly, previously, Women’s Aid has reported that in 2016/2017 two thirds of their users with NRPF were not eligible for statutory support.
- In light of this, we don’t understand the reasoning behind the Home Office’s decision to undertake yet another pilot project to assess need. Nor is the amount of £1.5million on offer sufficient to safeguard abused migrant women and children with NRPF.
- In the absence of concrete data, in our Domestic Abuse Bill Briefing Paper 2, we provided an estimate of the numbers of abused migrant women with NRPF likely to need support and the overall costs involved. The costs are based on SBS and Women’s Aid estimates that around two thirds of women who use our services are currently not eligible for the DDVC. If we take the Home office’s figures in 2018 of 1210 successful applications for the DDVC, then the number of women applying for the DDVC is likely to be around 3630 (1210 x 3 = 3630.) According to the Home Office, 6 months of DDVC costs on average £5146. A three-fold rise in successful DDVC grants for a 6-month period would therefore total around £18.6 million (£5145 x 3630 women).
- More recently, the Tampon Tax has awarded SBS and our partners £1.09 million to support women with NRPF across England and Wales over two years (April 2019-March 2021), with both accommodation and holistic, wrap around support. However, this amount will only meet the housing needs of around 130 women over two years.
- In the light of this evidence, even as an interim measure, the £1.5 million total allocated to the pilot fund is not sufficient to address what is an urgent and mounting crisis.
- The pilot pot has been described as providing funding for “refuge accommodation” only for migrant women. This does not cover the range of accommodation options nor the scope of support (including meeting the costs of other basic needs, advocacy, counselling and outreach support) required for those escaping abuse and facing destitution.
- The Domestic Abuse Bill has already been years in the making, and has been presented as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to support all victims of domestic abuse. If the Government is to meet its equality and human rights obligations (particularly Article 3 of the ECHR), it must use this opportunity to put protection for all migrant women on a statutory footing. The protection of migrant women from abuse cannot be delayed any further, nor made conditional upon a pilot project in contexts where the risks and needs are widely known and recognised across the statutory, voluntary and charity sectors.
We reiterate that in order to provide meaningful protection for all abused migrant women, we require a clear commitment from Government to take urgent steps to support migrant women with insecure immigration status subject to NRPF. The protections we seek must be embedded in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill.
Our three key amendments for the Domestic Abuse Bill are as follows:
- Extension of eligibility under the Domestic Violence Rule (DV Rule) and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC)
- Extend the time frame for the DDVC from three to six months.
- The introduction of a comprehensive strategy on violence against migrant women.
The background to these amendments are set out in detail in SBS’ Domestic Abuse Briefing Paper 2.
Cris McCurley – Ben Hoare Bell LLP
Latin American Women’s Rights Service
Women’s Aid Integrated Services, Nottingham
Surviving Economic Abuse
End Violence Against Women Coalition
Women’s Resource Centre
Professor Aisha K. Gill, University of Roehampton
Asian Women’s Resource Centre
Aanchal Women’s Aid
Against Violence and Abuse (AVA)
Ashiana Network London
Women’s Aid Scotland
IMECE Women’s Centre
Solace Women’s Aid
Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights
Kiran Support Services
Welsh Women’s Aid
Rights of Women
London Black Women’s Project
Dr Ravi Thiara, University Of Warwick
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
Dr Sundari Anitha, University of Lincoln
Asylum Support Appeals Project
Migrant’s Rights Network
One Law for All
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space
Leyla Burn, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid
Kathy Leach, NHS
Alice McGee, Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Trust
Kruti Walsh, Filia
Roisin Ross, Solace women’s aid
Abi Wyatt, Independent
Mandi Whittle, Private
Leyla Buran, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid
Hannah Coombes, Women’s Resource Centre
Francesca Jarvis, RASASC
Janet McDermott, Women’s Aid
Margaret Swift, KRAN
Nadia Chalabi, Hackney Migrant Centre
Fiaza Manzoor, Trafford Rape Crisis
Marta Righetti, Bromley & Croydon Women’s Aid
Jude lancet, Haringey Migrant Support Centre
Sushmeethaa Khurana, School
Raheela Saleem, Centre for Human Development
Maureen Storey, Vida Sheffield