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Guest Post: “Why we will not be celebrating the Domestic Abuse Bill just yet”

(28 Posts)
JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 01-Apr-21 15:57:38

With the Domestic Abuse bill having made its way through the House of Lords and about to return to the House of Commons, Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters argues that crucial elements are missing from the long-awaited bill.

"We at Southall Black Sisters (SBS) find it hard to applaud the government’s much touted ‘landmark’ Domestic Abuse Bill, which has just completed its passage in the House of Lords and is about to return to the House of Commons. Even though there are some important measures contained in the bill, it remains fundamentally incomplete and flawed for a number of reasons.

First of all, the bill is ‘resource neutral’; there is no commitment to provide the considerable resources that are necessary to transform the promises contained in the bill into reality. Secondly, it remains gender-neutral although there is some acknowledgement that domestic abuse impacts largely on women and girls. Given the massive outcry surrounding the tragic murder of Sarah Everard and the significant anxieties and concerns expressed by thousands of women about safety in our homes and on the streets, this omission should worry us greatly. It comes at a time when the government without prior consultation, has also decided to create two separate strategies; one on domestic abuse and another on violence against women and girls. Apart from making no sense, it will, in our view, take us backwards in terms of de-linking domestic abuse from the growing understanding of violence against women as misogyny and a patriarchal form of coercive control that is rooted in gender inequality.

Thirdly, the bill is heavily focused on criminal justice outcomes when so many other measures are desperately needed. For example, specialist refuges and community services, advocates, social workers, alternative ‘move-on’ accommodation, counselling and support services, better court facilities, full access to legal aid and more prevention work in schools and colleges. Above all, we need a radical shift in the social and economic policies that create female poverty and gender inequalities in the first place.

Fourthly, the bill excludes abused migrant women who need protection. This failure in particular, has been the focus of our current campaign and lobbying efforts.

We are bitterly disappointed by the government’s discriminatory stance towards migrant women, who remain at heightened and prolonged risk of abuse and coercive control due to the overlap between gender-based violence and harsh immigration laws and policies. Migrant women will remain trapped in abuse without hope of protection since many of the measures in the bill will simply not apply to them. For example, the legal duty placed on local authorities to fund refuge and safe accommodation for domestic abuse victims will continue to disregard migrant women and children.

At least 60% or more of the women that contact SBS have been subject to gender-based violence and have insecure immigration status. Some are dependent on their partners or spouses for their immigration status, whilst others arrive in the UK through other immigration routes. Most are also subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule, which is a central plank of the ‘hostile environment’ policy. NRPF is a legal restriction imposed by the UK Border Agency on people subject to immigration control, preventing them from accessing most forms of welfare benefits and social housing. Breaching this rule puts a person’s current or future right to be in the UK at risk.

We struggle on a daily basis to support abused migrant women with NRPF because the normal routes to safety are simply not available to these women. They cannot go to the local authority (unless children are involved and even then it is difficult) or to a refuge, because refuges rely on rental income and do not have the experience or expertise to support migrant women with complex needs. In 2019/20 for instance, just 4% of refuge spaces were accessible to women with NRPF. As a consequence many women are forced to rely on charity and hand-outs from strangers and in the process subject themselves to other forms of degradation, exploitation and harm. As a result, we are seeing higher rates of destitution, poverty, indebtedness, trauma and mental illness amongst abused migrant women and children. What makes their position even more worrying is that they are held hostage by their abusers who routinely tell them that they will be arrested, detained and deported if they report the abuse. Their passports and other documents and any money they have are taken away from them and they are deliberately kept away from the outside world, in order to limit their opportunity to tell someone about the abuse. *What is particularly palpable is migrant women’s overwhelming sense of fear*; fear of what will happen to them if they stay in abuse and fear of what will happen if they leave. This is powerfully captured by the following quotes from survivors:

‘Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, a whole dark world built up around me. It was then that I realised that I was trapped by him. I had been sexually, mentally, verbally abused by him every day. I was so scared to talk to anyone about it because of my immigration situation. He knew that too so he carried on doing it. I wanted to go to the police but I thought they would send me home. I cried my eyes out every day. I walked in the dark and sat at bus stops until I was sure he had gone to sleep.’

‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

We invite you to listen to and read the many more powerful and moving accounts given by migrant survivors of abuse and violence.

Over the years, we have attempted to address the problem by setting up an emergency ‘No Recourse’ fund made up of grants and donations for migrant women across the UK, but this is nowhere near enough to address the level of need for crisis accommodation and support. Without question, it is now one of the most challenging problems facing the Violence Against Women and Girls sector.

For this reason, we have worked with others to include amendments that enshrine legislative protection for migrant women in the Domestic Abuse Bill. For example, we have specifically called for the Domestic Violence (DV) Rule and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to be extended to cover all migrant women trapped in domestic abuse due to their lack of immigration status. Currently the DV Rule and the DDVC only apply to women who arrive on spousal visas and are subject to domestic abuse. They are able to exit abuse and access benefits on a temporary basis, pending their application to remain in the UK as victims of domestic abuse.

Our amendment was passed in the House of Lords on 15 March 2021 with considerable cross-party support, but we fear that the government will reject it when the bill returns to the House of Commons. Despite a growing consensus that something must be done to protect all migrant women and children, to date the government has rejected this and other amendments that address the problems faced by migrant women. Instead, it has offered a paltry £1.4 million pilot project to support migrant women for one year only! This is wholly inadequate. At best, it is only likely to provide minimal support to a few hundred women for three months each. Countless women will continue to be denied support and there are no guarantees that following the completion of the project, lasting measures and new laws will be introduced to protect migrant women.

The Covid-19 crisis has brought with it additional challenges and risks as reports of domestic abuse have risen sharply, but it has been deeply disappointing to us that in this moment of unprecedented crisis and lockdowns, the government has chosen not to lift the NRPF rule for desperate migrant women needing access to the welfare safety net.

What this tells us is that we will have to contend with a highly discriminatory government response to domestic abuse, based on assumptions about those who are ‘deserving’ of protection and those who are not. It doesn’t have to be this way. If the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we are connected to and dependent on one another for our wellbeing and safety.

We urgently need your support to ensure that our amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill are not rejected, and in challenging other alarming immigration measures that are in the pipeline such as the devastating new rule on deporting rough sleepers. The irony of this is that the rough sleeping rule will make it even more impossible for migrant women to exit from abuse, for fear not only of destitution but also of being punished for their destitution which is created by the NRPF rule in the first place. The rough sleeping rule gives a new meaning to the oft-quoted sentiment that women are not safe in their homes or on the streets.

We can do no better than repeat the words of the Conservative Peer Baroness Helić, who in supporting our amendments in the House of Lords said:

“Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.”

Please help us to make the Domestic Abuse Bill work for all women. No woman should be left behind, whatever her background.

Please write to your MP and urge him/her to support our amendments for migrant women when the Bill returns to the House of Commons."

Pragna Patel is the founder and Director of Southall Black Sisters Centre (on twitter @SBSisters) and co-founder of Women Against Fundamentalism.

OP’s posts: |
Ereshkigalangcleg Thu 01-Apr-21 18:48:45

Thank you for this important post Pragna and Mumsnet. I will write to my MP thanks

alwayslucky Thu 01-Apr-21 19:43:36

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

WarriorN Fri 02-Apr-21 07:32:20

Thank you, bump

MrsMidClegs Fri 02-Apr-21 08:07:51

This has all been a complete eye-opener for me. Thank you.

ArabellaScott Fri 02-Apr-21 08:44:16

Thank you, Pragna, for this and all that you do. Informative and useful information. I'll write to my MP.

PotholeHellhole Fri 02-Apr-21 11:32:00

Thank you for setting it all out so clearly. I will write to my MP too.

persistentwoman Fri 02-Apr-21 12:05:20

Another thank you for raising this. I had not appreciated the extent of the problems with the bill and I will also raise this with my MP.

Thecatonthemat Fri 02-Apr-21 12:52:17

This is so important. Thank you for making it so clear. Where is the fund to donate to? I will be writing to MP though he never answers my posts! When will the bill be returning?

Salarymallory Fri 02-Apr-21 16:41:28

I would so appreciate actual quotes from the Bill demonstrating your points, particularly surrounding migrant women

R0wantrees Fri 02-Apr-21 18:52:17

Many thanks for this guidance.

User133847 Fri 02-Apr-21 18:54:21

Why have migrant women been overlooked like this in this bill?

StillWeRise Fri 02-Apr-21 19:23:20

thank you
please can you let us know how we can donate to support women with NRPF- I know its not a solution but its a practical thing we can do- as well as write to our MPs of course

EightiesRobot Fri 02-Apr-21 19:36:00

Thank you Pragna, for setting out the issues so clearly. I'll write to my MP

334bu Sat 03-Apr-21 07:53:43

Thank you for this post

EmbarrassingAdmissions Sat 03-Apr-21 11:01:31

I shall contact my MP in line with your guidance on this important topic.

EmpressWitchDoesntBurn Mon 05-Apr-21 13:03:04

Thank you, Pragna. I’ll write to my MP too.

DemobHappy Mon 05-Apr-21 14:17:33

Powerful post. I agree with every word and will write to my MP pronto. I work with women with NRPF and the current system is shameful.

Thank you for all the work you do for women @Southall Black Sisters [flower]

TreeDeeDum Tue 06-Apr-21 13:39:23

Wow - I had no idea, and I'm so glad I do now.

It is deeply shocking to me that so many migrant women don't get access to domestic abuse services because of this NRPF.

It is hard enough - psychologically and practically - to leave an abusive man without also fearing being deported or having nowhere to go. I dread to think how many women and children are living through horrendous situations because of this sad

Is there a template letter/email for contacting MPs? And is there anything apart from writing emails that we can do?

Thank you Pragna and Southall Black Sisters flowers

JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 07-Apr-21 17:08:34

Hi everyone - thanks for your comments. Here's a message and an email template from Pragna Patel:

"The Domestic Abuse Bill returns to the House of Commons next week (15 April). In the light of this, I am getting in touch with you to request your assistance to ensure that our amendments to protect migrant women are successfully voted in.

Would you consider contacting your local MP to ask them to vote for the amendments? We are particularly keen to reach out to Conservative MPs given the Government’s majority in the House of Commons.

I attach a template letter for MPs that you might find helpful. I also provide a link to a collection of moving testimonies from migrant survivors excluded from state protection. Some people asked where they can donate to - here is our donations page.

As background information, on 15 March 2021, our amendment to extend eligibility for the Domestic Violence Rule (DV Rule) and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to all migrant survivors was successful in the House of Lords. The amendment was led by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, with cross-party support. It is an amendment also supported by the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Victim’s Commissioner, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, all leading Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) organisations and many charities in the Children’s sector.

This is a crucial opportunity to enshrine the legislative protection for migrant survivors that is so desperately needed. Thank you so much."

EMAIL TEMPLATE:

Dear [insert name of MP],

Subjet: The Domestic Abuse Bill and Protection for Migrant Women

I am writing to you as your constituent residing in [name of area] regarding the Domestic Abuse Bill and the urgent need to enshrine protection for migrant women. Recent events surrounding the tragic death of Sarah Everard in March 2021 have reignited a much-needed national conversation about the immense dangers faced by many women and children in their homes and on our streets. The need for protection and support for all women subject to abuse and violence could not be greater.

Please listen to and read the powerful and moving accounts given by many migrant survivors, who describe in detail their distressing experiences of abuse and violence. Many women find themselves in precarious immigration positions through no fault of their own. Their abusers often deliberately jeopardise their immigration status, for example by supplying them with false information, withholding essential documentation and interfering with their application to regularise their stay. This results in many women becoming ‘overstayers’ and undocumented as a direct result of abuse. Detailed case studies highlighting these and other issues can be found in Briefing Paper 2 by Southall Black Sisters (SBS).

It is now well recognised that abusers weaponise women’s insecure immigration status and economic dependency to exert absolute control, and to keep them in a state of fear. Women are regularly threatened by their abusers who tell them that any report of abuse to the authorities will lead to separation from their children, destitution and ultimately deportation.

The immigration laws including the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule trap many women in abuse that often escalates, creating greater risks and vulnerability. They cannot access basic welfare benefits, and consequently cannot access refuges spaces or other safe accommodation as they have no means to pay for such accommodation or support themselves. As a consequence, abused migrant women and children are routinely turned away from services and safe accommodation. In 2019/20 for instance, just 4% of refuge spaces were accessible to women with NRPF.

Vote for the amendment to protect migrant women

I am seriously concerned that migrant women risk being excluded from the protective measures contained in the Domestic Abuse Bill. I believe such exclusion undermines its status as a ‘landmark Bill’ and for this reason, I urge you to vote in favour of the following amendment put forward by Southall Black Sisters (SBS) which was passed in the House of Lords with considerable cross party support on 15 March 2021.

The amendment:

Extend eligibility for the Domestic Violence Rule (DV Rule) and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to all migrant victims of domestic abuse.
Extend the time period for the DDVC from three to at least six months.
The success of the vote on the amendment in the House of Lords demonstrates a growing consensus on the need to do more to protect migrant women and children. It is supported by, amongst others, the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Victim’s Commissioner, all leading organisations in the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and many charities in the children’s sector.

If passed in the House of Commons, this amendment will provide abused migrant women and children with a lifeline, by removing their financial dependency on abusers and giving them access to the safety and protection that all domestic abuse survivors deserve.

The Government’s position is flawed

The Government has so far rejected the amendment on the grounds that there is no clear evidence about the needs of migrant women and that the amendment will lead to the ‘exploitation’ of the immigration system. There is simply no factual basis for such assertions. SBS and others have provided considerable evidence on the needs of migrant women which has been completely ignored or misconstrued. The existence of the DV Rule and the DDVC also shows that the immigration system is not being exploited by migrant women otherwise it would have been reformed by now.

The Government has offered a £1.4 million pilot project (Support for Migrant Victims Scheme) to support migrant women for one year only. This is wholly inadequate since SBS estimates that it will provide minimal support to at best, 300-500 women, for three months each only. Countless other women will continue to be denied support and there are no guarantees that following the completion of the project, lasting measures and new laws will be introduced to protect migrant women. See here for reasons as to why the pilot scheme is not a viable alternative to the need to enshrine statutory protection for migrant women in the Bill.

As your constituent, I urge you to take the opportunity that will be presented when the Bill returns to the House of Commons to give proper consideration to the compelling reasons why the Bill must be amended to protect migrant women. As Baroness Helić said in support of the amendments on migrant women in the House of Lords:

“Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.”

I urge you to support the amendments on the DV Rule and the DDVC (41) when the Bill returns to the House of Commons. I also urge you to support amendments on better protection for migrant women put forward by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (number 40) and the End Violence Against Women Coalition (number 43).

For more information, please contact the organisations supporting migrant women.

I look forward to your response

Yours Sincerely,
[Insert name and post code]"

Find who your MP is here

OP’s posts: |
EmbarrassingAdmissions Wed 07-Apr-21 17:29:09

Thank you for the helpful template to send along to our MPs.

SunsetBeetch Thu 08-Apr-21 16:30:07

EmbarrassingAdmissions

Thank you for the helpful template to send along to our MPs.

Yes, thank you. This is excellent.

SilencednotSilent Thu 08-Apr-21 18:35:36

Thank you so much for this and for letting us know the ways we can help! Thank you for all of the work you do 🌷

Justtryingtobehelpful Fri 09-Apr-21 10:16:32

I support your work, I've just emailed my MP. Thanks for the template.

334bu Fri 09-Apr-21 10:48:27

Do Scottish MPs have a vote on this?

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