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I agree completely. I spoke to Southall Black Sisters shortly before that, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that there were real problems with the funding for that organisation. We were all extremely glad that its court case went well, and we hope that it will be secure for the future and provide a great deal of advice on funding streams that could help women in other communities and in towns such as mine, so that they can draw on that experience to get improved services.
There is very little information about the scale of domestic violence in black and minority ethnic communities, but in any event, I would not want a dedicated funding stream to be based on numbers. Even if the prevalence of domestic violence were the same as in white communities, the women who are the victims suffer the consequences quite differently, and sometimes more acutely, because of the problems that they have in accessing services. I would not argue that their suffering is greater, because violence is appalling for any victim, but it has a different impact on women in different communities. For instance Southall Black Sisters found that south Asian women are three times more likely than others to kill themselves because of abusive practices in the family.
Drawing on the findings of Southall Black Sisters and the NSPCC report, as well as on my experience of supporting my constituents, I wish to mention some of the issues that make the experience of black and minority ethnic women different. First, there is the real problem of social isolation. Women who might only recently have arrived in the UK, or who are at home with young children, are by definition isolated. Walking out of their home because of the violence of a partner is difficult for any woman, but for those who have come from abroad and depend wholly on their in-laws, it is perhaps doubly hard.
There are also language problems. I know that we have policies about people learning English, but the reality is that a young wife coming from abroad may not be able to access information or services easily. It is not only language that can be a barrier. There can be cultural barriers that women have to overcome before they act on a completely unacceptable situation. They might not know their rights, and despite the Foreign Office's work in some countries to provide information, they still might not be aware that they do not have to tolerate what happens to them. They might not want to go outside the family, and they might not know that they should go to the police. The result, as set out in the NSPCC report, is that women from the south Asian community remain in abusive relationships for an average of at least 10 years before even seeking help.
Immigration status is another of the biggest problems. I find, as I am sure my hon. Friend Mr. Sharma and other Members do, that a number of women come over on a spousal visa but then do not apply for indefinite leave to remain, normally because they leave that to their in-laws. Often when they leave the marital home, it is without indefinite leave and often without their passport, which they have handed in. Sometimes their visa has expired.
The Government have rightly created a procedure for fast-tracking the immigration status of domestic violence victims, but for a number of women there is still real fear that if they leave the marital home, they will end up being deported. In addition, although the procedures can work extremely well, it can be hard for women who have been isolated in the home to get the evidence that they need to prove the domestic violence.
Discrimination is also a problem for women who are turned away from public services. Over the years, research has shown the different access that different communities have to public services. The consequences for the domestic violence victim can be profound. A report by the Fawcett Society found that, on average, women suffering domestic violence have 11 contacts with services before they get the help that they need. For black women, the number increases to 17 contacts before they get help.
Overall, there is the problem of poverty. The communities from which some of the women come are among the most disadvantaged. Some of the women have no independent income or even independent money. It is hard to leave a marital home, especially with children, unless some money is available. Some of the women have no recourse to public funds, and that is firmly stamped on their passports.
It might be helpful if I give a couple of examples, which show the impact that the different factors have on the women, and the scale of the suffering of some of the women whom I have seen over the years. One was a young Bangladeshi woman, who married a British man from Tower Hamlets and came to live in his family home in the east end. Soon after she arrived, he started to hit her, and so did his mother. She became pregnant and had a baby girl. She managed to gain access to different services—at one stage, she went to the GP because she was not well. However, she could not talk about the violence, because a member of her husband's family accompanied her and acted as interpreter.
The woman finally managed to escape with her little girl and they came to Northampton, where she stayed with friends. She was deeply traumatised by what had happened. The support worker at the Bangladeshi association brought her to see me, and the first time that I saw her, she was suffering from, among other things, TB. It took about three years to win her indefinite leave to remain, during which time she was reduced to penury and repeatedly threatened with deportation. When her friend could no longer support her, social services put her into a bed-and-breakfast hostel, where she stayed for almost a year.
According to housing rules, the woman should have been moved much earlier, but the rules that bar families with children from being placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation apply only to housing authorities, not to social services departments, and a social services department placed her in a bed-and-breakfast hostel in the interests of her child. That is a discrepancy in the rules and complete nonsense. Protection for homeless families should be aligned across departments. This year, some four years after she fled her marital home in the east end, she walked into a home of her own in Northampton with her not quite so little girl.
A second case, from some years ago, was particularly appalling and has had a deep and lasting impression on me. It involved a woman who fled when her husband attacked her with a knife. She travelled to the north to stay with family members before returning to Northampton to reclaim her three children, who had remained with her in-laws. She was pregnant when she left her marital home and, when she returned, she went into premature labour. The baby was born with a serious disability, and she stayed in hospital with him for 10 days before his life support was turned off, and then for several weeks because she had nowhere to go. The hospital was very good and allowed her to stay. She had a little room with literally all her belongings in a bag beside the bed. It took months, if not years, to get her children returned to her, with everyone's immigration status sorted out, and to be accepted by a local housing authority.
I have outlined some of the problems that women face, and I want now to consider the services that are available to support them. The NSPCC report highlights a profound lack of services. Although two thirds of all local authorities provide services for domestic violence victims, only one in 10—46 out of 434—have specialised services for black and minority ethnic communities. Ninety-five per cent. are in England and almost half in London, so there are only 23 services for the UK outside London. Many of the supporting services are in the voluntary sector, and the financial pressures on the third sector are a problem, as has been identified by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and, I am sure, by every hon. Member's constituency experience. Indeed, in Northampton, the services for black and minority ethnic communities have been disproportionately cut.
In addition, voluntary sector funding can be time limited. In Northampton, the Bangladeshi association applied for a lottery grant to fund a support worker to deal with domestic violence. That was an outstanding success, and two successive workers with quite remarkable commitment brought forward some exceptional cases and made a real contribution to changing the way in which things worked locally and the lives of many women. However, the funds were time limited, and the funding of the posts was not picked up by the public sector. The support services therefore disappeared, along with the knowledge and experience that those workers had built up. We also have an outstanding mainstream project in Northampton, the Sunflower Centre, which deals with domestic violence and works with black and minority ethnic communities. However, it does not have outreach services to reach the most excluded communities, including the Somali community.
I have taken up this issue with the Government before, and I have written to some of my hon. Friend the Minister's colleagues a number of times. Their response is usually that funding is available in a number of partnerships, and that it can be accessed through those partnerships. That is all very well on paper, but in practice, chasing funding through an inter-agency partnership is not a realistic proposition for communities that are often marginalised and competing for funds with some of the most powerful organisations in our society.
The NSPCC has set out proposals to improve multi-agency working, and I certainly support them. However, I believe that we need a specific funding stream to provide financing for services for women from black and minority ethnic communities who are the victims of domestic violence. Such services could be provided within organisations in the community concerned, or through outreach work to enable women to access mainstream services. The result of the Southall Black Sisters court case, to which my hon. Friend Mr. Sharma has referred, showed not only that such funding is permissible under the law, but that the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 actively requires it. The same court case also showed that equality work is essential to improve social cohesion. The provision of such a funding stream is possible via the inter-departmental ministerial group on domestic violence, which I believe is chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister's Department and which has provided real leadership on domestic violence issues in the past—for example, through the provision of more funding for refuges.
The Government have done a great deal to tackle the enormous problem of domestic violence and to stem the loss of life—two women a week are killed by their partners—by introducing legislation, providing funding for refuges, establishing the domestic violence courts and improving housing rights for homeless families. However, there are still key areas where action is needed, and one of those involves dealing with the problems facing women in the black and minority ethnic communities to ensure that they can access the services that they need and exercise their human right to live free of the fear of violence at home. Action is long overdue on that, and I ask my hon. Friend to provide assurances for my constituents and many other women up and down the country who have suffered in silence for too long.
In closing, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall, who has remained in the Chamber tonight because of his real commitment to this cause.
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