Moved by Lord Rosser
148: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—“Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors (1) The Immigration Acts are amended as follows.(2) In section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (exclusion from benefits) after subsection (10) insert— “(11) This section does not apply to a person who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom who provides evidence in one or more of the forms set out in section (Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.”(3) In paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 after sub-paragraph (b) insert—“(ba) to a person who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom who provides evidence in one or more of the forms set out in section (Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, or”.(4) In section 21 of the Immigration Act 2014 (persons disqualified by immigration status or with limited right to rent) at the end of subsection (3) insert “or if P is a victim of domestic abuse”.(5) In section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The Secretary of State may not make or maintain a condition under subsection (1)(c)(ii) on leave granted to a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom who provides evidence in one or more of the forms set out in section (Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; and it is not a breach of the immigration laws or rules for such a victim to have recourse to public funds.”(6) For the purposes of this section, evidence that a person is a victim of domestic abuse may consist of one or more of the following—(a) a relevant conviction, police caution or protection notice;(b) a relevant court order (including without notice, ex parte, interim or final orders), including a non-molestation undertaking or order, occupation order, domestic abuse protection order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction;(c) evidence of relevant criminal proceedings for an offence concerning domestic violence or a police report confirming attendance at an incident resulting from domestic abuse;(d) evidence that a victim has been referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference;(e) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic abuse;(f) a medical report from a doctor at a UK hospital confirming injuries or a condition consistent with being a victim of domestic abuse;(g) a letter from a General Medical Council registered general practitioner confirming that he or she is satisfied on the basis of an examination that a person had injuries or a condition consistent with those of a victim of domestic abuse;(h) an undertaking given to a court by the alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse that he or she will not approach the applicant who is the victim of the abuse;(i) a letter from a social services department confirming its involvement in providing services to a person in respect of allegations of domestic abuse;(j) a letter of support or a report from a domestic abuse support organisation; or(k) other evidence of domestic abuse, including from a counsellor, midwife, school, witness or the victim.(7) For the purposes of this section—“domestic abuse” has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; “victim” includes the dependent child of a person who is a victim of domestic abuse.(8) Within 12 months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must commission a review into the operation of the provisions in this section.(9) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report setting out the findings of the review.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause seeks to ensure that certain provisions under the Immigration Acts – including exclusion from public funds, certain types of support and assistance and the right to rent – do not apply to survivors of domestic abuse. There will be a review into the operation of this provision.
My Lords, this group of amendments is on the key issue of protections for migrant victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds, an issue which has been raised by Members across all sides in both Houses. I will speak in particular to Amendment 148 and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for adding their names to it.
Amendment 148 provides for a new clause in the Bill which seeks to ensure that certain provisions under the Immigration Acts, including exclusion from public funds and certain types of support and exclusion from right to rent, do not apply to survivors of domestic abuse. The amendment also provides for a review into the operation of this change to be commissioned by the Secretary of State.
There are currently no provisions in the Bill for migrant women facing domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds. This is despite their abusers being able to use the immigration status of a victim and their consequential inability to have any access to public funds as a means of control. It can be almost impossible for migrant women to escape from their abusers if they have no money to gain access, for example, to a refuge or other accommodation. They are often fearful too of any perceived or actual threat of action by their abusers, or their own actions, that would bring them to the attention of the immigration authorities and possible subsequent immigration enforcement and separation from their children.
The situation is not helped by the fact that it is the same department—the Home Office—that deals with immigration issues, including deportation, and support for victims of domestic abuse, which gives rise to our concern that a victim should always be treated as a person in need of support and not first and foremost as an immigration case.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee stated:
“Insecure immigration status must not bar victims of abuse from protection and access to justice” and the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill said:
“We recommend that Government explores ways to extend the temporary concessions available … to support migrant survivors of abuse.”
The Sun also, I believe, gave its support to protecting migrant women in this Bill when it said:
“Domestic abusers don’t discriminate, so why should the law discriminate against their victims?”
No recourse to public funds, NRPF, is a legal restriction that bars people on certain visas from claiming most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance paid for by the state. This would apply, for example, in respect of someone on a student visa. It also applies when migrant women, including their children, become a victim of domestic violence, when the restriction hinders their ability to access life-saving refuge support and other necessary welfare provisions.
Amendment 148 would remove the statutory exclusion that prevents migrant survivors accessing the support and assistance they need and would ensure that no survivor, whatever their immigration status, was treated as being in breach of immigration laws or Immigration Rules by accessing that support or assistance. Without recourse to public funds, migrant victims of domestic abuse are not eligible to welfare benefits needed to cover the cost of a stay in a refuge service. Very few refuge services do not face a funding crisis after 10 years of cuts, and they are unable to cover the cost of a woman’s stay without that funding.
Research by Women’s Aid found that only 5.8% I think it was of refuge vacancies in England in 2018-19 could accept a woman with no recourse to public funds. Three out of every five referrals to a refuge were refused because of a lack of availability and 64% of all referrals to a refuge were declined. That rises to 80% for black and minority-ethnic women. The chances of a migrant woman being able to access a refuge are slim, bordering on impossible.
The experiences of survivors with no recourse to public funds, unable to access a refuge, are grim. Only 8.2% of the women with no recourse to public funds, and supported by the No Woman Turned Away project in 2017, were able to access a refuge—about one in 12. Many had to sleep rough, sofa-surf or even return to the perpetrator while they waited for help. To escape abuse, an individual and their children need to have somewhere to go that above all is safe, providing a bed and food, and to have the resources to be able to get there and stay there. We should not be turning away victims of domestic violence from refuges because of what it does or does not say on their passport, and we should not leave survivors with the only option of sleeping on the streets, with any children, if they are desperate to leave an abusive relationship.
Migrant survivors are often too scared to report domestic abuse as they could then be investigated and even detained. They cannot access safe accommodation and their abusers use their immigration status as a tool of coercive control over them. Women without access to public funds can find it hard to support themselves and their children independently from the perpetrator. It is often the case that the perpetrator is in control of the incomes and the bank accounts.
Women without secure immigration status are prevented from renting accommodation, which also means that refuges can find it difficult to take them. A refuge will always want to provide support, but if a person cannot move forwards into rented accommodation, refuges are left knowing that the move-on options are very limited.
According to the estimates of Southall Black Sisters, we are talking about a group of individuals numbering in the low thousands a year. We are not talking about a large sum of money, but for each of these women the impact on their lives would be enormous.
At the most vulnerable point in their lives, these migrant women need to be believed and to be told that they can be helped. When the abuser tells them that they cannot leave, they have no access to public funds, there is no one to help them and they will be on the streets, they need to know that he is wrong. The trouble is, at the moment he is right. Migrant women are not migrants first and foremost; they are mothers, neighbours, and colleagues in workplaces—for example, care workers and NHS workers. Surely, the solution to the problems many migrant women who suffer domestic abuse face is to give them access to housing benefit, ensure that they can access welfare support and allow them to rent accommodation.
Amendment 151, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, and to which my name is one of those attached, is a specific remedy to some of these issues. It would extend the domestic violence rule and destitution domestic violence concession to more victims and extend the timeframe for the concession from three months to six months. This would build on existing practice to ensure that more victims get the often lifesaving support they need. We strongly support it and look forward to hearing from the right reverend Prelate.
Amendment 160, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and to which the name of my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport is attached, would put on the face of the Bill that all victims of domestic abuse must receive equal and effective specialist services and support to protect them and prevent abuse happening again. We also give our very strong support to this amendment and look forward to the speech from the noble Baroness.
I beg to move Amendment 148.
My Lords, I am again glad to speak in this Committee and draw attention to my interests in the register. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I thank him for his excellent speech.
Amendment 151, in my name, seeks to ensure that migrant victims of abuse have access to refuge spaces and essential support services, as with other victims of abuse. I thank all noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who have added their names in support of this amendment.
The existing domestic violence rule, or DV rule, is a proven route for a limited group of survivors, including those on certain spousal or partner visas, ensuring that they are able to regularise their immigration status independent of their perpetrator, and can access public funds for a limited time while the application is considered. Since 2002, this has given migrant women a lifeline—an escape route out of abuse, removing the power from abusers who threaten detention, deportation, destitution and separation from children.
However, the current rule excludes survivors who for one reason or another are dependent on their perpetrator for their status, or who have other expectations of staying in the country, such as having settled or British children, or being unable to return to their country of origin due to risk of further harm on return. Extending the DV rule to a slightly larger category of migrant survivors of abuse offers them security in what are often highly complex and challenging situations. As we have heard, the number of additional applications likely to be made each year under an extended eligibility criterion is estimated, on the basis of data from Southall Black Sisters and Women’s Aid, to be in the low thousands. But for those highly vulnerable individuals, the impact would be immeasurable. At this point, I add my own thanks to SBS for its excellent and tireless work.
The Istanbul convention has been mentioned previously in Committee, and I draw attention to Articles 4 and 59, which, as we have heard, the Government have signed and are committed to ratifying. They require victims to be protected regardless of their immigration status. This amendment and others presented to your Lordships provide an opportunity for the Government to take steps in the right direction.
Women without secure immigration status find it virtually impossible to access refuge and other welfare support to escape abuse. As we have heard, with no recourse to public funds or housing support, they are routinely denied access to safe accommodation and welfare refuge spaces. Only about 5.8% of refuge beds are available to women without recourse to public funds. They are therefore faced with the impossible decision of becoming destitute and homeless and separated from their children or returning to their perpetrator. This traps many women in abuse that often escalates, creating greater risks and vulnerability. Perpetrators regularly weaponise women’s lack of secure immigration status and economic independence to exert absolute control and keep them in a state of fear, often providing false information, withholding essential documentation, and interfering with applications such that women become overstayers and undocumented as a direct result.
As has been repeatedly said across debates, behind every statistic is a unique individual—so just one story. Last year, Hamida—not her real name—went to Southall Black Sisters seeking safety and help regarding the return of her child, who remained with her abusive partner, and assistance in regularising her immigration status. She had no money to support herself or to seek legal advice. She had originally entered the UK from Morocco on a tourist visa, having been persuaded to do so by her British partner. Soon after arriving she was abused, and her partner began to control every aspect of her life and forbade her even to speak to anyone. He also put her to work as a carer for an elderly lady and demanded that she give him all her earnings. She was subjected to sexual violence and rape. When she discovered that she was pregnant, her visa had expired and she could not return home, as her family had made it clear that her single mother status would bring disgrace and shame on them.
Hamida stayed. She had an Islamic marriage, but continued to be subject to abuse. She had no door key and no phone; her husband told her that he would never register the baby as British, as it would give her a route to resettlement in the UK. In the final weeks of her pregnancy, she was kept locked in a store cupboard at his workplace without food. Eventually, she made a disclosure to social services after her husband took the child away from her; as a result, her child was placed on a child protection register and Hamida was referred to Southall Black Sisters.
This brief portrait illustrates the immense challenges that Hamida has faced. Due to her exclusion from the DV rule, she has endured more than nine months of anxiety and uncertainty since escaping violence. She is dependent on donations for her survival and has no security about her future. She is unable to process the trauma that she has faced and remains in ongoing child contact proceedings to reunite with her baby. No survivor deserves to face such trauma and hardship after fleeing violence.
That is just one story. Research has shown that most women on non-spousal visas require assistance for periods of three to eight months and some even longer, because they have often had long and complicated abuse and immigration histories. With this Bill, we have an opportunity to intervene and relieve these women of their suffering, and we must take it.
In response to this clear gap, the Government announced a one-year pilot scheme to assess better the level of need for this group of victims and inform spending review decisions on longer-term funding. However, the £1.4 million offered to run the pilot project is inadequate to meet the needs of all vulnerable migrant women who need crisis support. As an example, the pilot project has set a financial cap on the rent payable for each woman, based on local authority housing allowance rates, which can be as low as £70 per week. There is also a cap on the subsistence payments that can be made to each woman to meet other basic needs, which cannot exceed £37 a week. These rates are inadequate to avert destitution, not least in even being able to pay for refuge accommodation. Furthermore, as we have heard, it is estimated that the number of migrant survivors who require support is probably between 3,000 to 5,000 a year. The pilot project is likely to provide only minimal support for up to 500 women for a maximum period of 12 weeks.
My next objection is that if this pilot is aiming to collect more data, I highlight that that has already been submitted by key specialist organisations during the review process. SBS and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service published a formal and detailed response to the Home Office’s migrant victims of domestic abuse review in September 2020. As far as I am aware, there still has been no response.
The pilot project has failed to allow for the impact of Brexit, which is expected to lead to a significant increase in the numbers of women who will be excluded from protection as they will now be subject to the same immigration rules as non-EU nationals, including restrictions on recourse to public funds.
Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the pilot scheme does not guarantee that any lasting change will follow when the scheme is ended. Running a pilot that gives no long-term assurance of anything in the Bill at the end of it is not an option. Only legislative protection for this vulnerable cohort of women will ensure that the Bill delivers its promise as landmark legislation that can deliver protection for all survivors in the UK.
The Bill provides the Government a significant opportunity to address the gaps in protection for migrant women with insecure immigration status. As a Christian, I am called to love my neighbour and welcome the stranger. This includes showing mercy and justice towards refugees and immigrants, perhaps especially so for those whose hope has been extinguished by abusive partners. I urge the Government to support the amendment.
My Lords, I am afraid we are having difficulty hearing my noble friend. I wonder whether she might give it another go; otherwise, we will have to move on and revert to her when the problem is sorted.
My Lords, my sympathy to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic; that is a very disconcerting situation.
I have added my name to Amendments 148 and 151. I would have added it to Amendment 160 but it is one of those amendments where the slots for adding one’s name fill up very quickly. I am particularly sorry about that because it puts the point very succinctly, and I would have liked to have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, before I spoke.
This is a matter of equality, of principle as well as a practicality. Last week we debated amendments relating to immigration status. I do not want to repeat too much of that debate but one cannot say too often that what we do must be rooted in equality and humanity. A victim may believe that she has no status. That very situation can be and is used for coercion and control. She—usually “she”, though not invariably—may in effect go underground or find herself in a very perilous situation while her abuser goes unpunished, and noble Lords will understand what all that entails, or of course she may remain with her abuser since she may have nowhere to go “back” to. As I recall, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, talked about this last week.
I was struck by a representation made by Southall Black Sisters that was quoted in the report by the committee on the draft Bill, which I will repeat:
“Abused migrant women are at risk of the most serious and prolonged forms of abuse, slavery and harm but cannot access justice or protection if they have unsettled immigration status; they are effectively excluded from the few protective measures contained in the Bill. The Bill does nothing to remove immigration and other barriers, including providing safe reporting measures to encourage abused migrant women to access necessary protection.”
I regard protection as including access to resources. These reasons apply to all the amendments in this group, which are among the priorities of the domestic abuse commissioner designate.
Can the Minister tell the Committee the timetable for the support for migrant victims pilot? The matter is urgent; the Minister will not be surprised to hear that. She will also be aware of the concern of some of the specialist organisations that they have not been involved in providing evidence. If you are caught up in this situation, I am sure that you feel no less abandoned because there is a pilot scheme that does not apply to you. It is a pilot, which is by definition limited. The Committee will be glad to hear whatever information about that that the Minister can share with it.
The Committee would also be interested in the Minister’s comments on the effect of the recent change in the EU settled status scheme, though I appreciate that it is very early days for that. The destitution domestic violence concession is limited in scope, as is the domestic violence rule, as we have heard. I recognise that the DDVC is outside the rules and does not require legislation to make changes to it, but then no rule changes need primary legislation.
It is hard, when one reads or hears of the experiences of victims caught up in the situations that these amendments address, not to feel—bluntly—that the state is complicit in their situation.
My Lords, it is hoped to get the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, on the telephone. In the meantime, I call the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
My Lords, I refer to my interests on the register. I have put my name to Amendments 148 and 160, and I support Amendment 151, to which I would have liked to add my name. I agree with what has already been said, and I do not propose to go through it again. I would, however, like to mention the powerful speech from the right reverend Prelate, with which I strongly agree.
I have a concern for several groups of women, about whom I have spoken earlier in this debate. One such group is migrant women who have been subjected to modern slavery. Very often the woman comes over with a man who she thinks is her boyfriend but who then turns her into a slave to make money for him. She is a victim and has irregular immigration status, if any.
I am particularly concerned about a group of women who are married according to the customs of their religion but whose marriages have not been registered and are therefore not recognised in English law. If such a woman leaves—either with her children or on her own—having suffered domestic abuse, she will not be recognised as a wife, her immigration status will not give her any of the support she needs, financial or otherwise, and she will be in danger of being deported. This is a huge injustice inflicted on a small but significant group of women, many of whom have suffered as the victims of forced marriage.
I will refer briefly to Amendment 160. The support that it proposes is urgently needed by victims of both forced marriage and modern slavery.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in regretting that we have not yet heard the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, introduce Amendment 160. On the assumption that we will do so eventually, I shall contain myself to simply offering support for Amendments 151 and 160. I join others in saying that, had there been space, I would have been very happy to attach my name to them.
I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 148, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. He has already provided an eloquent and powerful introduction, so I shall briefly add some further points.
I start with a reflection on the overall status of no recourse to public funds. This applies to some 1.3 million people who are part of and contribute to our society. We should ask ourselves some very tough questions about why we ask people to contribute without offering them protection.
However, today, with Amendment 148 we are specifically addressing the issue of victims of domestic abuse. I very much hope that every Member of your Lordships’ House will agree with the statement that the state must not be the facilitator of domestic abuse and that it must not act in ways that trap victims in abusive relationships. It is very clear that that is currently happening, and the amendment would seek to ensure that it does not.
Over the past year, I have been doing quite a bit of work on no recourse to public funds from a number of angles. I have spoken to Green Party councillors and asked them to share with me cases that they have dealt with. Of course, at that very distressing local level, very often it is local councillors, who have very few tools and resources at their disposal, who are forced to rush around trying to help and provide support in any way they can.
I want to quote one person who has been stuck with no recourse to public funds during the Covid pandemic. She had just about cobbled together the circumstances in which to survive, but then the pandemic pulled those apart. I ask your Lordships to reflect on this woman’s words. She said, “The citizens advice bureau is a vicious cycle of being referred to the same departments that have already said no.” We should think about what that must be like and the circumstances in which that leaves people. I note from information provided by Women’s Aid what it means practically. It noted that women with no recourse to public funds who care for children are, theoretically, entitled to continued support for their children under Section 17 of the Children Act, yet under the Women’s Aid Federation of England’s No Woman Turned Away project, of 20 women with no recourse to public funds who were fleeing with children in 2017-18, social services refused outright either to fund a refuge space or to provide emergency accommodation for 14. In six of the cases, they offered to accommodate the children but not the mother.
Those findings show very clearly that women with no recourse to public funds who have children are being refused help, despite Section 17 duties, and that the state is acting in ways to break up families. So, we have a situation where victims of domestic abuse are being trapped and families are being broken up by the law. That is why I very strongly support Amendment 148, and I hope that the Government will see the need to support it, or something very like it, too.
I finish with words from a Women’s Aid briefing. It is a simple, bald statement and I ask the Government whether they agree with it:
“No survivor should be left without access to a safety net and it is essential the Bill delivers reforms to ‘no recourse to public funds’.”
Those are the words of Women’s Aid. I very profoundly agree with them and I hope that the Government will too.
I hope that you can hear me better now. I will speak to Amendment 160, which stands in my name. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for their support. It is also a pleasure to follow the powerful speeches that have just been made; their arguments about the needs of migrant women are compelling and compassionate.
Amendments 148 and 151 are important and have my full support. In particular, I will focus on Amendment 160, on non-discrimination. It is not just about migrants or women; it is about making sure that all victims and survivors of domestic violence, whoever they are, get the support and justice they deserve and that we owe them. This amendment is also about international obligations and the Istanbul convention.
I started my work focusing on this Bill as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about foreign policy, which I still care about—but I know how important it is that we meet our treaty commitments. The Government are rightly proud of their work on girls’ education, and we used to lead on the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative; we have a good record on leading on these issues internationally. However, leadership requires moral authority as well: it requires us to do the right thing at home rather than just speak about it abroad.
The Government’s intention to ratify the Istanbul convention as soon as possible is very welcome, but gaps remain nine years after we signed, as the Government themselves acknowledge. The last review, in October, flagged progress on Articles 4(3) and 59 as “under review”, pending the outcome of the migrant victim pilot scheme. The Government have signalled their intention to wait, but we have an opportunity to set things right here and now.
As we have just heard, there is extensive evidence of the needs of migrant women and the precarious situation they are in. There is no need for the further delays that the pilot scheme entails and no need to wait to find new legislation to address a problem we face now. This Bill is a natural home for efforts to tackle domestic abuse; why should we knowingly leave areas out of it? If we want to get the Istanbul convention ratified, as the Government have said they do and as I believe we must, we will need to improve protection for migrant women as well. It is better to do that now than to delay it needlessly.
As such, this amendment is necessary in order to ratify the Istanbul convention. It also has an important role to play in making sure that the Bill’s provisions actually work for survivors, whoever they are and wherever they come from. There is a reason why the Istanbul convention contains an explicit list of non-discrimination grounds—it is not about giving us a warm fuzzy feeling; it is based on empirical research into whether victims of domestic violence and abuse seek help, how they do so and what help they get.
We can pass all the reforms we like to the courts, but most migrant and refugee victims never get to that stage. If we are serious about wanting to help all victims of domestic abuse, we need to ensure that we are not discriminating against some of them. By enshrining a principle of equal protection, this amendment would ensure a consistent and cohesive approach to victims, wherever they are.
Research by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 46% of migrant women were denied support by the police when reporting abuse. The report on police and crime commissioners’ approaches to violence against women and girls found that the responses varied widely across the country, with some deemed “very inconsistent” and even “haphazard”. This adds to the well-known barriers to disclosure and reporting that all victims of domestic violence face. By making sure that equal protection is embedded in the law, the amendment will both shape the response of public authorities and give victims the confidence to come forward in the first place.
This amendment is supported by End Violence Against Women, a coalition of hundreds of specialist services, academics, activists and NGOs. It is supported by informed organisations such as Southall Black Sisters, which work with black and minority victims of domestic violence. It is supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They all say that the current local authority duty in the Bill will not tackle the barriers and challenges that BME and migrant survivors face in accessing refuge unless there is a clear legal commitment to equal support.
This amendment is really about justice. It is about whether we choose to see survivors of domestic violence as being victims of crime, or whether we look at their status before deciding what protection they should be given. By enshrining equal support no matter what your sex or gender, your race or religion, whether you are married, a migrant, young or old, we can make sure this Bill applies to everyone—that it is seen and known to apply to everyone—and that domestic abuse cannot hide behind discrimination.
“all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims, regardless of their immigration status.”—[
By putting this amendment into statute, we can ratify the Istanbul convention and we can be proud of a Bill which says that the law will protect you, no matter who you are and no matter where you come from.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. She has said that she normally talks about international affairs, but in speaking to her Amendment 160 she has brought great skill and knowledge about discrimination, the Istanbul convention and international law in addressing this very important domestic question. It is therefore a great pleasure to be able to support and endorse her remarks, but also those of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and those who have supported his Amendment 148, as I do too. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Arise Foundation and I intervene in this debate specifically to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and her Amendment 151, to which I am a signatory.
The amendment would extend the eligibility to the domestic violence rule, DVR, and the destitution domestic violence concession, DDVC, to all migrant survivors of abuse and extend the DDVC from three to six months minimum. Undoubtedly, this amendment, like Amendment 148, would offer protections to some of the most vulnerable migrant women in our country who are currently denied support simply because they are on the wrong visa. The DDVC provides migrant women three months leave to stay in the UK, with access to benefits and the right to apply for indefinite leave to remain under the DVR.
This is a crucial path for women to escape abusive households and begin to be able to rebuild their lives, yet it is only open to a minority of migrant women—those on spousal visas or a small number of family visas. Those on all other visas suffer from no recourse to public funds, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, reminded us earlier. While there are no concrete numbers of how many women are penalised by this limitation, welfare charities estimate that the number is in the low thousands.
With no recourse to public funds, many of these women are trapped in situations of horrific abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, told us in an excellent speech earlier on. I will give just one example here of a woman who came to the United Kingdom over 17 years ago from Sri Lanka. She said that for the first few years her marriage was okay, but:
“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.”
This woman has lived in the UK for her whole adult life, yet due to her visa she could not apply for the destitution domestic violence concession or the domestic violence rule. As she said:
“If I had a chance to access public funds, definitely, I would have taken the opportunity to move out a long time ago.”
For many of these women, the lack of recourse to public funds, combined with the abuse and lack of security, means they suffer high levels of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Believing themselves to be completely trapped, they do not think there is anywhere they can turn. Their choice is so often either to stay in an abusive house or be returned to a country they left many years before.
As we have heard throughout the debates on this very welcome and much-needed Bill, the Covid-19 lockdowns are only increasing the vulnerability of those at risk of domestic violence and reducing the opportunities they have for escaping and rebuilding. Charities providing support to those with no recourse are finding themselves not only overwhelmed with women coming to them, but also having to face massive funding cuts.
Reading the testimonies from migrant women, I cannot help but be reminded of some of the stories I hear from the small anti-slavery charity of which I am a trustee. Let us not fool ourselves: in many other contexts this crime would be considered slavery, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss told us a few minutes ago. We should be treating those condemned to this life, and suffering so grievously, with the highest level of support that we can provide, no matter what their immigration status may be.
This amendment would begin to provide them with the welfare and benefits necessary to escape their abusers and build new lives. Moreover, by extending the DDVC support from 12 weeks to six months, we would be providing these women with enough time to really establish themselves and complete legal proceedings—12 weeks is simply not long enough to tie up all the legal ends necessary when leaving an abusive household and changing your immigration status.
It is time to end the visa lottery and extend the destitution domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rule to all migrant women, no matter what their immigration status. No doubt the Government will say—I look forward to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, when she comes to reply—that they have instituted a pilot scheme. While this is commendable, and of course welcome, it is not a viable alternative to legislative and additional protection for these women. This pilot commits £1.5 million for one year, which charities estimate would be sufficient to support only about 500 women; it can be described as a sticking plaster at best.
This amendment is an opportunity to create a fair and compassionate system of support that can be accessed by all migrant victims without discrimination. Let us not miss this chance, but instead give a fair wind to the right reverend Prelate and her amendment, and to the other amendments before your Lordships tonight.
My Lords, I am really pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, has spoken to Amendment 160 and that we were able to hear from her. I am very pleased to have put my name to it. I also support what I have heard about Amendments 148 and 151, which were excellently and very eloquently moved and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.
I am speaking to Amendment 160 to support non-discrimination to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill is truly victim-centred and complies with the Istanbul convention, as set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I signed amendment as someone who worked for many years supporting women from BAME and migrant communities who were victims of domestic violence. I saw terrible instances of violence and abuse against women and girls and, along with the women I worked with, I often faced threats from abusers who thought that an outsider interfering should not be allowed. This was very common; this was a private matter and anyone trying to intervene, to rescue women or give advice or information, could and did receive threats, as we did.
I want to ensure that all victims and survivors of domestic abuse can properly access protection and justice equally—which, sadly, is currently not the case. I helped establish a user-led, BAME women’s centre, IMECE, which for over 25 years has helped thousands of Turkish-Kurdish, Turkish-Cypriot and other migrant women, mainly across London, to access services and be given support. While I was a local councillor in the London boroughs of Hackney and Islington, for a total of 16 years, I dealt with numerous cases of domestic abuse—in fact I still get cases referred to me as a result of my work there.
This amendment would enshrine a more consistent and cohesive approach. The principle of equal protection in the Bill would ensure that all public authorities must adopt a consistent and cohesive approach to making provision and arrangements for victim protection. We currently have a postcode lottery approach to victim protection, but this would have to change if this amendment was enshrined in the Bill. Research found that 46% of migrant women were often failing to access support by the police when reporting abuse. This is a startling figure. The new criminal justice measures introduced in the Bill are welcome, but they relying on victims self-identifying when reporting abuse or violence and the criminal justice process responding positively to the victim’s complaint. They do not address the well-known barriers to reporting faced by victims of domestic abuse which are a particular problem for migrant victims. We have already heard that that is, sadly, the case. When it comes to support for these victims, they are faced with the chronic underfunding of specialist services run by and for BAME women which have the expertise, knowledge and links.
In December, I saw a report that the police watchdog advised that police should share less information with immigration officials about abused or trafficked women. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said that women do not report abuse for fear of deportation. This advice to the police needs to be better enshrined in law. These communities and women deserve more support. The specialist organisations that I referred to, which have provided such unique advice and information and shared their experience with us in the formulation of this very welcome Bill, are uniquely placed to support migrant women to get help and rebuild their lives after abuse. For example, Imkaan reported that 43% of the requests for violence against women and girls support to BAME specialists were from women needing support in connection with immigration-related issues. We heard that 60% of women who approached Southall Black Sisters, which has been around for many decades doing excellent work, for support have insecure immigration status. The organisation I referred to, IMECE, with which I worked extensively, also reports that a significant proportion of women seeking its help were migrant women or refugees.
The fact that perpetrators use immigration status as a weapon to continue to control and abuse is well-known and a reality. This is often exploited by perpetrators and misunderstood by public authorities, so enshrining in law the right to protection from domestic abuse without discrimination would remove significant power that perpetrators exploit and would enable victims to access vital support to escape abusive situations and to hold perpetrators to account. Migrant women who have experienced domestic abuse face additional barriers and they need our support. Crucially, that includes access to safe housing, as we have heard from other speakers including the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee. We heard the shocking figure that just 5% of refuge spaces listed last year were accessible to women with no recourse to public funds. Where do these women go? They are often destitute or have to rely on the help of family or sympathetic friends. Their lives are made appalling and actually insufferable and their children suffer immeasurably.
We know about the limited specialist refuge provision for BAME women across England and Wales. The figure I have is approximately 30 refuges in total, which are concentrated mainly in London and are oversubscribed. The current local authority duty proposal in the Bill will do nothing to tackle the barriers that BAME and migrant survivors face in accessing refuge space unless there is a clear legal commitment to resourcing equal access by introducing a non-discrimination clause.
“all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims, regardless of their immigration status.”—[
If this Bill is to be truly transformational, enshrining a non-discrimination principle is the only way to ensure that we do not have a two-tier policy where society’s most isolated and marginalised victims cannot get the support and justice they desperately need, and are left to suffer in limbo with no legal protection. Help should be available to all those who need it. There should be no hiding place for perpetrators and we cannot have a subsector of victims, a small but significant group of migrant women, who are left with little support and equality.
My Lords, I shall speak in favour of Amendment 151, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I want to start by commending the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and Southall Black Sisters for their work on this amendment and more generally for their work on behalf of migrants. I also want to mention a dynamic Christian group, the Black Church Domestic Abuse Forum, made up of academics, lawyers, pastors, therapists and counsellors who would, as well as representatives of Southall Black Sisters, very much like to meet the Minister to discuss these and other related issues. During the course of the Bill, we have heard a great deal from many unsung groups such as Southall Black Sisters who, by the way, have been on the front line of this work for more than 40 years.
I believe that the Government need to shift their position and ensure legislative protection for all migrant women. This amendment is a test for the Government as to whether they will turn their back on some of the most vulnerable women in our society today. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Hussein-Ece, and many others have given us eloquent and passionate chapter and verse about the plight faced by these women, including intolerable coercion and the use of absolute power by abusive men. In effect, the Government are operating a two-tier discriminatory system of support for those fleeing violence, one in which migrant women and children, in the absence of state protection, are at heightened risk of escalating abuse, exploitation and harm. Their plight is summed up by Farah, a survivor being supported by Southall Black Sisters:
“I guess that No Recourse To Public Funds means that it is ok for me to be violated, physically and mentally abused by my father. I guess the Government approves of people like me being treated like I was.”
I appreciate that the Government have committed to support the migrant victims scheme pilot, but, frankly, the support is not enough. It will not reach the majority of abused migrant survivors who urgently need protection. Southall Black Sisters has estimated that the number of abused migrant women who are subject to NRPF and need support is likely to run into the low thousands—anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 women a year. At a stretch, the pilot project is likely to provide only minimal support for up to 500 women for a maximum period of only 12 weeks. What answer should Southall Black Sisters and other groups give to the thousands of women and children who are turned away because the money has run out?
Without this change to the Domestic Abuse Bill, migrant women will continue to be turned away routinely at a time when they most need help and, worse still, are being regarded as potential immigration offenders rather than the victims of domestic abuse. This could be a matter of life and death. As the Bill makes its way through Parliament, we have borne witness not only to the Windrush scandal but to the Black Lives Matter movement as well. These are transformative events that have shed light on the deep and widening nature of structural economic and race inequality in the UK. This Bill offers the Government a real and ready opportunity to change course and provide redress for those who have been historically, and are presently, being excluded from protection and from their rights because of their background or immigration status. This would demonstrate a commitment to the promises made by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, following the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, to address institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issues of race.
I rise to speak to Amendment 160 while offering my sympathy and support for the other two amendments in this group. I reflect on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who said that this is a landmark Bill and needs to be as near perfection as we can possibly make it. I speak also as a member of the delegation from this Parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Istanbul convention is one of the key cornerstones of the achievements of that council over the last several years. It grieves me that I regularly see on the material put out by the council that the United Kingdom is one of the countries that has not yet ratified the convention, although of course it added its signature in 2012.
The idea is that our legislation is not yet in line with all the requirements of the convention, and that we are working on that. Earlier today, I heard extraterritoriality mentioned in debates and that a parallel effort is being made in the Northern Ireland Assembly which, mercifully, will deal with a major part of what prevents us at this minute ratifying the convention. That leaves us with Article 4(3) and Article 59. The whole question of discrimination has been properly alluded to as a very important thing for us to accord. I believe that the Government wish to do that, but they have taken the extraordinary step, having seen the recommendation in what is the fourth report since we have had these annual reports, to refer the matter into a pilot that will sit from December last to the end of March. That pilot’s findings will help us to quantify and find sustainable responses to this particular need.
I say that it is ironic and it is because, in a sense, the two other amendments in this group, were they on the statute book, would provide exactly the guarantees being sought and would allow us to ratify the convention at once. Is the fact that we have the pilot, which goes on to the end of March, going to make it necessary or impossible for us to include any measures to deal with discrimination for migrant women within the timescale of the passage of this Bill? I cannot see that we can possibly do the Bill and include any outcome from this process, which means that we will have missed the opportunity in this landmark Bill to deal with the two outstanding obstacles to our signing the Istanbul convention.
I missed a lot of these riveting debates because I was in Strasbourg, virtually—but we were talking about the same things. It pains me that we have not ratified the convention. At this minute Turkey and Poland are on the point of withdrawing from the Istanbul convention, and our moral stance in urging them not to is greatly diminished by the fact that we ourselves have not ratified it. With all that in mind—and this point has not yet been made, although it has been alluded to many times—I wish that these amendments could be made. Some 58 people and organisations wrote to me, as I am sure they wrote to the Minister, to say that all the evidence we could possibly need has been gathered. What is to stop us going forward? Why cannot we find a way between now and Report to leapfrog any obstacle, if necessary? Is this really impossible?
At the end of the day, it will all come down to money—£1.5 million will not do what needs to be done in the next five months and certainly, it will take a lot of money to deal with this in a sustainable way in the fullness of time. The domestic abuse commissioner designate—what a welcome appointment and what a clear-sounding person she seems to be—says that, unless migrant women with no recourse to public funds are included,
“their options are brutal.”
So, there it is from the person who will be overseeing this whole area of our national life.
I do not know whether the Minister can assure us that, even though we are out of sync with the passage of the Bill, we can hope in the not too distant future to incorporate retrospectively all that we are seeking to do through these amendments.
My Lords, as I and many others said at Second Reading, the biggest hole in the Bill is its failure to make any provision for migrant women—a group of domestic abuse survivors who are let down badly by current provisions. I therefore strongly support these amendments, which, in different ways, would fill that hole and ensure that abused migrant women receive the same support as other domestic abuse survivors.
It is to the Government’s credit that they listened to the criticisms from domestic abuse organisations and, in particular, those working with abused migrant women such as Southall Black Sisters and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service—to which I pay tribute—and revised the prospectus for the Support for Migrants Victims pilot scheme. However, they refused to face up to the most fundamental criticism, as cited by the right reverend Prelate in her powerful speech, that a pilot scheme of this kind is simply not necessary in order to provide the evidence that Ministers claim they need before taking longer-term action to protect abused migrant women. Southall Black Sisters, for instance, has already provided the necessary evidence and the domestic abuse commissioner designate supports its belief that the Government do not need further evidence to act.
Although much improved from its original specification, the pilot is still inadequate to meet the needs of abused women. According to SBS, and as we have heard, the £1.4 million allocated is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of all the women requiring crisis support. It calculates that this will enable it to support only 50 women for three months each over a year, which would leave many women still excluded from protection and crisis support. At the same time, the £1.09 million grant it was awarded from the tampon tax fund to support women subject to the no recourse to public funds rule is due to end in March. As the right honourable Theresa May pointed out on Report in the Commons, we have to take account of the fact that the removal of financial support from a woman in a relationship might be
“part of the abuse they are suffering”.—[
The Government must surely do all they can not to compound that abuse through public policy. At the very least, will the Minister consider suspending the application of the NRPF rule to domestic abuse survivors during the lifetime of the pilot to minimise the hardship that is likely to result?
Whatever the merits of the pilot project there is, as we have already heard, no guarantee that it will lead to lasting change. Such an important part of the domestic abuse strategy should not be dependent on the presence of sympathetic Ministers. Domestic abuse legislation does not come along that often; indeed, how many years have we had to wait for this Bill, welcome as it is? It is therefore vital that provision be made within it to ensure equal protection for migrant domestic abuse survivors. Indeed, the EHRC warns that failure to do so might put us in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and, as we have heard, it would almost certainly breach our obligations under the Istanbul convention. Given that the Minister said in her letter to Peers following Second Reading that the Government will ratify the convention only when they are satisfied that we meet all our obligations, it is surely imperative that equal protection for migrant women be enshrined in this Bill, as argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port.
As we have heard, Ministers repeatedly tell us—most recently at Second Reading—that, to quote from the 2020 report on progress toward ratification of the convention,
“all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims regardless of their immigration status.”
They are absolutely right that that is how things should be but it is not how things are, as migrant status trumps victim status all too often. The one way in which the Government can convince us—and, more importantly, the organisations on the ground and migrant women themselves—that they are genuine in their claim to treat abused migrant women as victims first is by accepting these amendments.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and an honour to follow noble Lords in the debate on the three amendments in this group. I add my support for them. Noble Lords have already spoken very eloquently about the need for proper support for migrant women who have absolutely no recourse to public funds. I have seen so many examples of women who have come into this country, been married into households and then been treated in a terrible way simply because they do not have any status here.
As my noble friend Lady Helic said about enshrining legal support, domestic abuse cannot hide behind any discrimination. That is absolutely right. To sum it up—I have raised this issue on many occasions—I have met many women living in multigenerational households where they do not know their rights, what services are available or how to access them. It is a duty of any decent community or society to make sure that we are the voices for those people who are suffering—regardless, as noble Lords have already said, of what gender they are. If they are a victim of domestic abuse, they are a victim.
I have seen some horrific cases come before me. I remember one where a woman with three children spent many nights in her car to escape. She had nowhere to go; the car that she had been using for her work was all that she possessed. If we as a society are to demonstrate our humanity and meet the expectations of others—noble Lords have mentioned the Istanbul convention—then we have to lead by example.
I do not want to extend this debate because all noble Lords have made exceptionally eloquent and poignant points, but it is important that we as a civilised society recognise that this issue affects many people. I have my home in the city of Leicester. Southall Black Sisters has done phenomenal work, as have many organisations there, but everyone is going to have their hands tied if the facilities are not there for access and if information is not readily available because the victims cannot access it.
I hope that the law stands on the side of every single person, regardless of their immigration status. I am fully supportive of the amendments. I know that my noble friend the Minister is compassionate and passionate about making sure that we can remove as many obstacles as possible so that people can have the right access. I hope that she will take these amendments very seriously.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, I find it difficult to add to the arguments that have been made so persuasively in this debate.
I want to pick up the point made by my noble friends Lord Griffiths and Lady Lister. We want to make this Bill as good as it possibly can be, which leads me to the issue of evidence. Essentially, the Government are saying that there is currently a lack of robust data to demonstrate which cohorts of migrant victims are likely to be in most need of support. As my noble friend Lady Lister explained, the Government have launched a pilot scheme, which is due to run to March 2022. The Minister said at Second Reading that this
“will enable us to take well-grounded and evidence-based decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term.”—[
The problem we have is that there is no guarantee that the Government will act, and 2022 is quite some way away—particularly when the evaluation would then need to take place.
One must ask how much evidence the Government need. We know that a large proportion of migrant women have no recourse to public funds, meaning that they are barred from accessing certain types of financial support, as noble Lords have already pointed out. We also know that the number of survivors of abuse with no recourse is set to increase post Brexit under the new Immigration Rules. It is quite likely that even more women will experience difficulties accessing safety and support. The Covid-19 crisis has served to demonstrate just how precarious the position of migrant survivors is and how essential it is that they can access financial support from the state. In the end, I hope that the House will have the gumption to pass amendments on Report because waiting for the pilot scheme and for the Government to review it, with no guarantee of future legislation, is simply not good enough. We have to act now.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for three outstanding speeches introducing their amendments. The clarity and passion with which they speak should influence all of us but also, I hope, influence the Government too.
My late mother was a great believer in things coming along in threes, both good and bad, so I was delighted to hear on the radio this morning a government Minister confirming that the Government had decided to make sure that the Covid-19 vaccine is available to everyone regardless of their immigration status. This establishes a very good principle, just in advance of our debate here this evening: that things should be equal. I was also delighted to hear earlier in our debate the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, agree on behalf of the Government to look at Amendment 142 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and discuss with the devolved Governments the potential for a UK-wide amendment to the legislation that might improve the Bill in front of us, which is primarily for England and Wales. Thus, I hope that things do come along in threes, and that this evening we might have a combination of equality regardless of immigration status on the one hand and a UK-wide measure, which would make this Bill far better, on the other.
In recent years, I have had considerable experience of the daily reality of women facing domestic abuse in some of the asylum and refugee communities in Glasgow and the surrounding area. In your Lordships’ Chamber, we regularly praise the work of the Violence Reduction Unit, which was originally in Glasgow but is now across Scotland, and its successful strategy to reduce violence in the city and now across the nation. But its work on domestic abuse is made far more difficult by the restrictions placed on the rights of many migrant women living in the city and facing daily abuse, which has escalated during the Covid-19 lockdowns of the past 12 months.
I strongly urge the Government to look positively at this measure. Surely the objective outlined so clearly in Amendment 160 of equality for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse should be at the heart of the Bill, and support for these amendments would be a critical step in that direction. We have spoken often, and I have spoken in all my contributions, not just about the legal technicalities of the Bill but of its human impact. However hard it is for a woman to leave an abusive relationship or household when she does have access to finance, housing and rights outwith that home, how much more difficult is it to make that choice when she does not have those rights? Whatever access to funding or pilot projects the Government are willing to provide is no substitute for rights. Rights are at the core of the Bill and they should be available to these migrant women too.
My Lords, I support the cogent arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Rosser and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I thank Women’s Aid and Refuge for their comprehensive and helpful briefings on these amendments.
“aims to improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse”.
There can be no more gaping hole in the effectiveness of the justice system than when a group with particular characteristics is deprived of its protection. These three amendments deal with one such group.
The Bill does not tackle the multiple forms of discrimination facing migrant women—at all. This was identified as an omission by the Joint Committee that preceded the first iteration of the Bill. The Government resisted attempts to change it in the other place, arguing that more evidence was needed to identify the groups of migrants most in need of support. Since then, domestic abuse campaigners, such as the Step Up Migrant Women coalition, have expressed concerns, and Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that
“to leave migrant women out of this bill sends the message that their lives are not valued, they are disposable, they are second-class people, they are invisible”.
Women’s Aid questions the Government’s proposals for a pilot scheme, as indeed have many noble Lords, arguing that evidence of need was there but was being ignored. It and other organisations are concerned that the findings of the Government’s migrant women review show
“a lack of meaningful engagement with the evidence that was submitted by key specialist organisations, resulting in inaccurate, poor and misleading analysis and conclusions”.
So the Government have a problem. They are not convinced by those organisations working most closely with migrant women and most likely to understand their problems, or that there is, as former Prime Minister Mrs May argued, a common intention between the Government’s view and those in favour of the new clause. It is clear that these organisations have difficulty believing that the Government are sincere in their stated commitment to support all migrant victims of domestic abuse. I hope that the Minister’s response convinces them otherwise.
The issue is very clear; it has been spelled out so well this afternoon. A large proportion of migrant women have no recourse to public funds. There is even an acronym for that category: NRPF. It means that they cannot seek certain types of financial support from the state, including homelessness assistance and other welfare benefits, so they do not have the means to secure a stay in a refuge. There are some exceptions, but those are on a limited number of visa types which allow access to something called the destitution domestic violence concession—DDVC. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated just how precarious the position of migrant survivors is without access to financial support from the state. They cannot keep themselves or their children safe.
All the organisations involved in fighting violence against women and girls are united in their view of the weight of evidence that NRPF should be abolished—or failing that, the eligibility for the DDVC should be extended to all migrant survivors. I hope that the Government will listen to these informed voices and to the powerful arguments made by noble Lords today in this debate and think again about supporting this change.
My Lords, this has been a comprehensive debate. As noble Lords have explained, Amendment 148 would insert a new clause to ensure that those whose immigration status would exclude them from benefits and the right to rent can receive support and find a place to live if they are the victim of domestic abuse in circumstances that would otherwise leave them destitute and homeless. It sets out clearly what evidence must be produced to show they are a victim of domestic abuse.
As noble Lord, Lord Rosser, explained, abusers use survivors’ immigration status as a means of coercive control. As noble Lords have said, no one should be prevented from escaping domestic abuse because they cannot afford to leave or because they have nowhere to go, not least those who are additionally vulnerable because of their immigration status. Amendment 151, led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, requires the Secretary of State to make changes to the Immigration Rules to extend the number of victims of domestic abuse who can apply for, and be granted, indefinite leave to remain. It proposes that they should be granted limited leave to remain for not less than six months to enable this, or longer if the application is awaiting a decision, including access to support and accommodation during that time. As noble Lords have said, it is likely that victims of domestic abuse could be in danger were they to be forced to return to their country of origin, as the example graphically described by the right reverend Prelate demonstrated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, has said, while the current pilot is welcome, it is not necessary. We know all we need to know to take the issue forward—a point reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece have explained, Amendment 160 gives effect to Article 4(3) of the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence—the Istanbul convention—that requires all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, to receive equal protection against domestic abuse and equally effective support and, as such, encapsulates the essence of Amendments 148 and 151. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, has said, if Amendments 148 and 151 were agreed to, we could ratify the Istanbul convention. As he said, either this is a landmark Bill, or it is not. I agree with the noble Lord: this all comes down to money—money that the Government appear to be unwilling to spend.
It is concerning that the Home Office has responsibility both for providing support for domestic abuse survivors and for enforcing immigration legislation. With only 5.8% of refuge places available to survivors who have no access to public funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, has said, something clearly needs to be done. With those affected numbering in the low thousands, it would not take much to implement these recommendations, and we support them. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, failing to take action would make it feel as though the state were complicit in these women’s suffering.
My Lords, the amendments in this group centre on support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic for proposing the new clauses.
All Members of the Committee will share the view that anyone who has suffered abuse, regardless of their immigration status, should first and foremost be treated as a victim. Where we differ, perhaps, is on how support is best provided to meet that end. Amendments 148 and 151 seek to provide, for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, at least six months of leave to remain, a route to indefinite leave to remain and access to publicly funded support. Amendment 160 seeks equally effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, while also referring to Article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention.
If I have correctly understood noble Lords’ objectives in tabling these very thoughtful and well-intentioned amendments, they are seeking to expand the existing destitute domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rule to cover all migrant victims of domestic abuse: to place the DDVC in the Immigration Rules, as well as lifting immigration restrictions, for any migrant victim of domestic abuse. The Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommended that the Government consider similar changes to the DDVC and DVILR. However, its recommendations did not include proposals to incorporate the DDVC scheme in the Immigration Rules.
As noble Lords will be aware, in response to the Joint Committee’s recommendations the Government committed to a review of the overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse. That review has been completed and its findings were published on
My issue with Amendment 151 is that it is based on a misunderstanding of the rationale for the DDVC and the domestic violence rule. Both were, and are, intended to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas. The system was designed in this way because, had their relationships not broken down as a result of domestic abuse, these victims would have had a legitimate expectation of staying in the UK permanently. Neither the DDVC nor the domestic violence rule was designed to support those without this legitimate expectation. This Government are concerned that expanding the scope of both would undermine the specific purpose that gave rise to them and introduce a route to settlement that might lead to more exploitation of our immigration system—or indeed of vulnerable migrants.
For this reason, at Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Safeguarding Minister announced that the Government would invite bids for grants from the £1.5 million support for migrant victims scheme. Such grants will look to cover the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation for migrant victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access public funds. The Government will use the scheme to better assess the level of need for these victims and inform spending reviews about longer-term funding, which is very important. The competition for the scheme was launched on
As I have indicated, our review has highlighted that a better evidence base is needed for migrant victims who are not eligible for the DDVC. Since 2017, the Government have provided over £1 million from the tampon tax fund to support migrant victims with no recourse to public funds. While clearly this fund has helped to deliver much-needed support for a number of individuals, and much has been learned, regrettably we require a more complete and reliable evidence base to enable us to make those long-term decisions. We particularly want to establish a robust dataset that we can interrogate about the circumstances in which support is most needed, the duration of support needed, what kind of support works best, and how individuals exit from support to regain their independence. We would like to do this work to ensure that the information that we need is available to inform future policy-making and that the decisions taken are sound.
I turn to Amendment 160. The support for migrant victims scheme and the associated evaluation work clearly illustrate that the Secretary of State is taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse. This scheme will be available to all migrant victims at the point of need while their eligibility for the scheme is assessed and other routes of support are explored.
The Government have been clear that migrant victims of domestic abuse should be treated first and foremost as victims, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and others, said. Data collected through the course of this scheme will provide the information that we need to assess current provisions and ensure that effective protection and support is available to migrant victims of domestic abuse. Therefore, while I am grateful to my noble friend and appreciate the sentiment and intention behind her amendment, we do not believe that this is necessary in light of the action that we are already taking. The provisions in the Bill apply equally to all victims of domestic abuse, whatever their status, including the ability to apply for a domestic abuse protection order or the provisions in respect of special measures and the prohibition of cross-examination in person.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Helic and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Health and Lord Griffiths, have talked about the Istanbul convention. It is important to recognise that legislation is not needed to comply with Articles 4 and 59 of the convention. As set out in the latest annual report on our progress towards ratification of the convention, which was published on
On the suggestion in Amendment 148 that the no recourse to public funds condition is lifted for all victims of domestic abuse, the Government believe that this is the wrong response. It is not subject to further definition in any way and would be a disproportionate and costly method of providing support for migrant victims. It is worth recognising that the principle of no recourse to public funds was established as far back as 1971, and no Government have sought to reverse that position. Successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly funded benefits and services should reflect the strength of a migrant’s connections to the UK and, in the main, become available to migrants only when they have settled here.
These restrictions are an important plank of immigration policy, operated, as I have said, by successive Governments and applicable to most migrants until they qualify for indefinite leave to remain. The policy is designed to assure the public that controlled immigration brings real benefits to the UK, rather than costs to the public purse. It does this by prohibiting access to public funds other than to those with indefinite leave to remain, refugees and protected persons, and those granted discretionary leave.
Nevertheless, exemptions from those restrictions are already in place for some groups of migrants. These include refugees or those here on the basis of their human rights where they would otherwise be destitute. Those on human rights routes can also apply to have their no recourse to public funds condition lifted if their financial circumstances change and there is a risk of destitution, imminent destitution, risk to the welfare of a child or exceptional circumstances. Equally, as I have said, migrant victims on certain spousal visas can already apply for the destitute domestic violence concession to be granted limited leave with recourse to public funds.
However, lifting restrictions for all migrant victims would enable any migrant, including those here illegally, to access public funds if they claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse. That is in no way to suggest that migrants would routinely present with false claims of being a victim of domestic abuse. As we all know, domestic abuse is widespread and it impacts all sections of society. However, we would want to ensure that any approach we take in no way allows the claims of legitimate victims to be undermined, along with the public support on which our immigration system relies.
I do appreciate that support for migrant victims of domestic abuse is rightly a significant issue for many noble Lords. We recognise this and that is why we have worked with the sector to launch the support for migrant victims scheme. That scheme will run to March next year and we should await the outcome so that we can determine the appropriate long-term solution on the basis of clear evidence of need and the resource implication of meeting that need. For those who would argue that we should not lose this opportunity to legislate, I remind noble Lords that the DDVC has operated successfully as an administrative scheme, so we do not need legislation to provide further support to other cohorts of migrant victims. In light of the action that we have taken and continue to take, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her considered response and want to acknowledge her support and compassion for migrant victims of domestic abuse. The issue for me is still the one that has been raised throughout this debate of how we guarantee long-term protection for migrant women with insecure immigration status, given all we have heard about the mismatch in timing between the pilot scheme and this Bill. So I really welcome discussion with the Minister as we determine whether to bring this matter back at a later stage.
The right reverend Prelate is right to raise the point about sustainability, long-term solutions and what happens after the pilot scheme has taken place. It is precisely because we want to identify where the gaps lie and where long-term funding might be needed that we have done this pilot scheme. With that, as I have said throughout the course of this debate, it is our intention to review the matter when that pilot scheme has finished. But the point about funding is one that is well made, because we can have all the legislation in the world and if the funding is not in place there is no point.
I start by thanking the Minister for her very full and comprehensive reply to this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, in which there has been a high degree of unanimity as far as the nature of the contributions is concerned and the objectives that we all want to achieve.
The Government have basically set out why they do not believe that the amendments we have been discussing meet the Bill as far as they are concerned. They have laid some stress on their point that a one-year pilot scheme is about to commence to better assess the level of need for this group of victims. It is, as the Minister has said, to run through until March 2022. Clearly, on that basis, as far as the Government are concerned, not a lot is going to happen to address the problems that have been identified in the near future.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester pointed out in her very effective contribution that the amount offered to run the pilot project would not meet the needs of all vulnerable migrant women who need crisis support. She also pointed out that the data the pilot scheme may collect is already available. Indeed, it has been published and submitted. I do not think that the Government, in their response, exactly made it clear what information they do not feel they have already, that has not been provided in the data that has been published and submitted. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester also pointed out that the pilot scheme did not guarantee change following its conclusion.
This Bill is surely the opportunity to provide legislative protection to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including migrant women who are among the most vulnerable. I had thought that was a government objective. I have no doubt the Minister would say that it is—or at least I hope that is what the Government would say. It does seem that it will be a little way ahead in the future before anything will get resolved. We have a serious issue that needs addressing now and not, maybe, at some unspecified date in the future.
I do not think we have heard, in the Government’s response, how the Government intend to address the immediate problem that exists already. I hope it might be possible, between now and Report, for there to be further discussions on this issue—which will involve a number of people, judging by the number of contributions to the debate and all the people who have added their names to the amendments that we have been discussing. But I share the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that it would be helpful if there could be further discussions about the issues have been raised before Report. I suspect, at the moment, that the issues we have been talking about now for one and three-quarter hours will be brought before the House again on Report, unless discussions provide a solution to the issues we have been talking about. I hope that proves to be the case and that the Minister will ensure those discussions take place. In the meantime, though, I withdraw Amendment 148.
Amendment 148 withdrawn.
My Lords, we still have a number of amendments to get through this evening, but I think now might be an opportune moment for a short break. I beg to move that the Committee do now adjourn until 8.23 pm.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 149. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. I should inform the Committee that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 157 or 168.