Domestic Abuse Legislation and Immigration Status

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons on 7th February 2019.

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Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

What assessment she has made of the potential effectiveness of provisions in the draft domestic abuse Bill to support women and children who do not have secure immigration status.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

What assessment she has made of the potential effectiveness of provisions in the draft domestic abuse Bill to support women and children who do not have secure immigration status.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Labour, Blaydon

What assessment she has made of the potential effectiveness of provisions in the draft domestic abuse Bill to support women and children who do not have secure immigration status.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The Home Office operates an immigration policy that supports women and children with insecure immigration status. Victims of domestic abuse who entered the UK as the partner of a British citizen, settled person or person with refugee status are eligible to apply for settlement in their own right. Those who are destitute can also apply for crisis support under the destitute domestic violence concession. We are funding a project conducted by Southall Black Sisters to pilot support for women and children who are victims in these circumstances.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

If the system is so effective, why does the Ubuntu women’s shelter in my constituency have to be the first charity in the UK to provide short-term accommodation for women with no recourse to public funds? Fleeing gender-based and domestic violence, they are denied access to homelessness, social security and housing support. These are non-EEA women with limited leave to remain. Women who have settled status or leave to remain face delays in processing their status. Any situation where women fleeing domestic violence, torture or persecution have no recourse to public funds is unacceptable. Does the Minister agree, and what is she going to do about it?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to advise those working in the refuge to help the women he describes in seeking the destitute domestic violence concession. The point of that concession is to provide immediate crisis support to women and children who are victims of domestic abuse, giving them three months’ leave to remain so that they can find new homes and reflect on their situation, and also have access to public funds.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

As the Home Affairs Committee, we have expressed concern that the police, having helped an individual who is a survivor of domestic abuse, are then sharing their details with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration control. This has a chilling effect on the likelihood of reporting abuse. Will the Minister give an assurance that when the domestic abuse Bill has made its way through this place, the only thing that will matter is a woman’s welfare, not their immigration status?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

In those circumstances, the response of the state is always led by the needs of the victim. We must be careful to recognise that the immigration system operates in and of its own right. That is precisely why we have the destitute domestic violence concession to help women in these desperate circumstances by giving them a three-month break period to seek help and build a future for themselves and for their children, if appropriate.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Labour, Blaydon

What steps are the Government taking to ensure that police forces are not sharing information on victims of domestic abuse with the Home Office for immigration purposes?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

This is where there is a tension between the immigration system and the needs of victims of domestic abuse. That is precisely why we have the destitute domestic violence concession to give those women three months’ leave to remain and recourse to public funds. But we must be clear that people who do not enjoy settled status in the UK must not have recourse to public funds in the same way that a British citizen would expect.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire

Support for domestic violence victims is devolved to different tiers of government right across the United Kingdom. What is my hon. Friend doing to support different levels of government to make sure that victims get consistent support across our United Kingdom?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

My hon. Friend raises an important point that we are seeking to address through the domestic abuse Bill with the appointment of a domestic abuse commissioner. I am very grateful to my colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government who are in the process of conducting a review of services nationally. The role of the commissioner will be to hold local and national Government, and stakeholders, to account as to the provision of services in areas across the country so that there is no possibility of a postcode lottery.

Photo of Angela Crawley Angela Crawley Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Children and Families), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

A constituent from Larkhall suffers psychological, emotional and financial abuse from her husband, with whom she ran a business for seven years in the UK. She held a spousal visa. Due to the length of time it took to be approved for indefinite leave to remain, she had a choice to remain in that marriage or to leave the UK. This was due to Home Office bureaucracy. Does the Minister accept that the Home Office needs to be sensitive to cases such as that?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I do; I hope the hon. Lady understands that I cannot comment on a particular case at the Dispatch Box, but that is why we have the destitute domestic violence concession—to give immediate crisis support to victims of domestic abuse whose residency status depends on the partner who may well be abusing them.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

The Women’s Aid “No Woman Turned Away” project can only find refuge accommodation for fewer than one in 10 women who have no recourse to public funds. The Government’s proposed measures in the draft domestic abuse Bill are not good enough for migrant women. Can the Minister offer assurances that more will be done to ensure that migrant women can have full and equal access to specialist services?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Only last week, when I visited a domestic abuse refuge in the area around Preston in Lancashire, I heard for myself the particular needs of women in the area who have no recourse to public funds. The Bill’s purpose is to provide a statutory definition and so on, to help all victims of abuse, regardless of their immigration status, but of course this matter may well be scrutinised by the pre-legislative Joint Committee of both Houses. We very much welcome that.