Domestic Abuse: immigration and nationality legal aid

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 17th June 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:00 pm, 17th June 2020

Before we adjourned for lunch, I was speaking about county lines gangs, to demonstrate how vulnerable people can continue to be manipulated and exploited for the aims and advantages of those who are doing the manipulation. When we talk about county lines gangs, most people think of boys and young men being recruited, but we are now getting stories about girls being recruited—not necessarily to do the drug running, although they can be used by the perpetrators to conceal weapons and drugs, but to launder the proceeds of crime.

The perpetrators, the gang leaders, are very deliberately recruiting young women because they want to use their bank accounts, and they do so on the basis that because someone is a girl or young woman, the authorities will not trace her, track her or be on the lookout for her as much as they would be—they say—for young men. They also tell the girls, as part of their manipulation, that even if they do get caught, the consequences, because they are girls, will not be so bad for them.

I say that because in the context of the argument about manipulation and how perpetrators can use and skew systems to their advantage, I am highly cynical when it comes to the ability of perpetrators to do that. That is one reason why, when we talk about how careful we have to be about how the system is constructed, so that it cannot be misused, I do so very much with those cynical perpetrators in mind.

I will return to the fundamental principle of providing support, on which we all agree. It is why, as part of our journey to discovering the scale and extent of the problem but also the most effective ways of helping migrant women or people with no recourse to public funds, we have allocated £1.5 million to a pilot project to support migrant victims to find safe accommodation and services. In addition to offering emergency support, the pilot will be designed to assess the gaps in existing provision and gather robust data that will help to inform future funding decisions. The review that we have been carrying out and are due to publish, or aim to publish, by Report stage, has highlighted that there are significant gaps in the evidence base for migrant victims who are not eligible for the destitution domestic violence concession.

Since 2017, we have provided more than £1 million from the tampon tax fund to support migrant victims with no recourse to public funds. That has helped to deliver much-needed support for a number of individuals, but regrettably the funding has not provided the necessary evidence base to enable us to take long-term decisions. The evidence is at best patchy as to the kinds of circumstance in which support is most needed, how long victims need support, what kind of support works best and how individuals can leave support to regain their independence. That demonstrates a need for further work to ensure that we have a strong evidence base from which we can make sound decisions, and that is what the pilot fund is for.