New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 8:00 pm, 6th July 2020

I am pleased to follow Nickie Aiken, but I was disappointed that she struck a more partisan tone than other speakers have done today and perhaps did not recognise as fully as she might the contribution to the Bill that has been made by Members on the side of the House. I am glad that it has been acknowledged by others across the Chamber.

I want to speak specifically on new clause 22, on access to public funds for survivors of domestic abuse. People are often surprised to discover that there is a large number of law-abiding, hard-working families in the UK, often with children born here, sometimes with children who are UK nationals, whose immigration status is subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. In the Liaison Committee on 27 May, I asked the Prime Minister about the position of a Pakistani-origin family in my constituency whose two children were both born in the UK. The father had stopped work because of the coronavirus lockdown, and the family were being forced into destitution because they had no recourse to public funds. The Prime Minister’s answer was that a family in that situation

“should have support of one kind or another”,

and I very much agree with that view. Unfortunately, the Government’s current policy does not deliver help to families in that situation. More than 3 million people have claimed universal credit since the beginning of March because their work has ended and they have not been eligible for one or another of the Government’s schemes. That vital safety net provided by universal credit is simply not available for people with no recourse to public funds, and both the Home Affairs and the Work and Pensions Committees have recommended unanimously that the no recourse to public funds restriction should be lifted for the duration of the current crisis. One of the points the Prime Minister made at the Liaison Committee was that he would find out how many people are in that position. Unfortunately, he has not been able to do so, because the Home Office does not know. It appears that the Home Office does not even have an estimate of how many there are. Fortunately, the Children’s Society has reported that there are more than 100,000 children in the UK whose parents have leave to remain but no recourse to public funds.

Where someone is a victim of domestic abuse, having no recourse to public funds is catastrophic. Protections that the House supports for victims are simply not available. The barriers they face are generally insurmountable. Only 5% of refuge vacancies are accessible. The reason is that housing costs in a refuge are largely met through housing benefit. People with no recourse to public funds cannot claim housing benefit. As Women’s Aid points out, the options for a woman with no recourse to public funds and unable to access a refuge space are shocking: it is either homelessness or returning to the perpetrator.

I welcome the fact that a small pilot is under way, but we know what the gap is. Anyone who came to the UK, other than on a spouse visa, cannot benefit from the domestic violence concession. The other people in this category need that help as well, and I urge the House to support new clause 22.