'Women's rights groups say government provisions not enough', 12th November
Today, the UK government announced a pilot scheme for women experiencing domestic violence but who cannot access safe housing and support due to their insecure immigration status.
The scheme will provide funding for a woman with ‘no recourse to public funds’ in a refuge for up to 40 days pending an application to remain in the UK under the Domestic Violence Rule. The scheme will run for three months, following which there will be a review as to its effectiveness.
Leading violence against women and human rights organisations give a cautious welcome to this initiative recognising that this is ‘a step in the right direction’. However they call on the government to ensure that all abused women have sufficient access to protection and safety when they need it for as long as they need it.
Hannana Siddiqui of SBS says:
‘We are pleased that our concerns about previous proposals to help abused and destitute women have been scrapped and that the government has recognised that women with insecure immigration status are entitled to protection and access to safety from violence and abuse. But we remain concerned that the proposals do not go far enough. We would like to see a more realistic and permanent solution that reflects the reality of women’s experiences of violence and abuse and the immense problems they encounter in accessing support, thus ending a stark choice between destitution or further violence ‘
Experience across the UK shows that supporting women with no recourse to public funds is a complex and time consuming process. Women fleeing domestic violence are often too traumatised by their experiences to tackle intrusive questioning on complex social, housing and immigration issues. Further, it is extremely difficult to access appropriate, timely legal aid solicitors and it takes considerable time to gather the necessary evidence, including police and medical reports that are necessary in order to qualify for permanent stay in the UK.
Campaigners are also deeply concerned that the short term scheme will only afford protection to women who have entered the UK as a spouse or intimate partner. It will not apply to women on student visas, over-stayers, those on temporary work permits, trafficked women and asylum seekers.
One London organisation this year found that only 9 out of 429 women with No Recourse to Public Funds were housed. It is impossible to say what happened to the remaining 420 – it is likely that they were compelled to return to violent and life threatening relationships.
Specialist black and minority women’s organisations and refuges, in particular, are feeling the impact of increased referrals for support for women with no recourse to public funds and decreasing funding streams. Under the pilot scheme, the burden will still fall to front-line women’s services that are already marginalised and under-funded.
This is why a permanent solution which offers adequate protection and support to all women is desperately needed. Under international human rights obligations, including recommendations under CEDAW and the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 2,3,8), States have a responsibility to act with due diligence, that is with due care and effort, to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of all women within their jurisdiction.
‘If the Government is serious about meeting its human rights obligations, it must exempt women experiencing violence from the No Recourse rule and provide up-front, sustainable funding to women’s organisations.’ (Kara Beavis, Women’s Resource Centre )
We seek a pre-election commitment from the government to a permanent solution.
Women's Resource Centre, Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds