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Aaron Gates-Lincoln outlines how the Domestic Abuse Bill going through Parliament will make it difficult for some vulnerable mums to leave abusive situations.
After years of development and turmoil, the Domestic Abuse Bill returned to the House of Lords in the UK on the 8th March 2021 to complete its report stage, one of the final stages before being enshrined in law. The Bill could provide much needed safety for migrant mothers with children, who currently lack protection by current domestic abuse laws.
The Bill is expected to completely transform the effectiveness of current responses to domestic abuse amongst a variety of services. Its main features include placing safe accommodation service funding on a statutory footing and outlawing threats of non-fatal strangulation, post-separation abuse and sharing intimate images. It also intends to ban the direct cross-examination of survivors by their abusers in court and will importantly give the first ever legal definition of domestic abuse.
However, the Bill unjustly leaves women with insecure immigration status and No Recourse to Public Funds with little to no protection. Currently, those with No Recourse to Public Funds face barriers particularly in accessing refuge accommodation. This is because they are ineligible to claim benefits which many survivors rely on to financially support their stay in a refuge.
This can significantly impact migrant mothers, as it can put their children in danger of being left with abusers or even putting them at risk of becoming homeless along with their mother. Lack of access to government support can also reduce the chance of mothers being able to afford to go to court in custody battles, creating separations between mother and child.
Campaigners are also fighting to change the way benefits are paid to women fleeing abuse. Many argue that Universal Credit needs to be paid by default into separate accounts rather than joint ones, to prevent economic abuse. This would allow migrant mothers to escape domestic abuse and still have access to funds to care for their children. However, these issues remain and compound to make migrant women less likely to report domestic abuse, as they know they will struggle when leaving their abusive situation.
Explaining the issue whilst in the House of Lords, Baroness Meacher stated: “Migrant women with insecure immigration status are, in my view very understandably, reluctant to report domestic abuse to the statutory services”. This is primarily due to policy which allows the police to routinely share personal data about domestic abuse victims with the
Home Office for immigration control purposes. This puts migrant mothers at significant risk of being separated from their child.
Their fear to report is fully justified. The number of women being deported when reporting domestic abuse since such policies were enacted has risen from 12% to 30%. This worryingly reinforces a trend of criminalising the victim of domestic abuse for speaking up, rather than the perpetrator for their actions.
This week, two amendments to the Bill were voted on in the House of Lords. These amendments were both voted in favour of, meaning they will remain in the Bill unless removed before the final stages. The amendments mean that data sharing between police and the Home Office will no longer occur, and migrant women will be given temporary leave
to remain and access to the welfare system after reporting domestic abuse.
This is a significant win for all migrant women, but particularly migrant mothers. These amendments will reduce the risk of separation from their child. It will also make it easier for migrant women to gain custody of their children when escaping an abuser, and to be able to provide sufficient care for them in the aftermath.
However, the amendments do not cover other areas of concern, such as that of Universal Credit payments and other blanket issues such as budget cuts to refuge accommodations. Even if migrant women have the money to pay for refuge, this only works if there is a refuge nearby to pay for.
Awareness of the vulnerabilities that migrant women, and specifically migrant mothers, face needs to be spread. Campaigns must carry on ensuring that these amendments remain in the Bill through to the final stages. The UK government must also be pressured throughout their current dedication to women’s safety, to ensure that they acknowledge the risks that migrant mothers currently face when escaping domestic violence.
*Aaron Gates-Lincoln is a writer for Immigration News.