The conference motion “Tackling Violence Against Women” rightly highlighted the fact that only 10% of local authorities offer dedicated services for Black and Ethnic Minority Women many of whom are subjected to specific forms of violence such as female mutilation and forced marriage.
In areas like Rochdale with a large Pakistani/Kashmiri and Bangladeshi community, the need for such services and support is very real. This is particularly the case when the arranged marriage involves someone from the Indian sub-continent and the marriage breaks down within two years.
Under our current immigration system these women (and some men) are subject to the NRPF rule (No Recourse to Public Funds rule) that often leaves them destitute and on the street. Rejected by their husband’s family and unable to return home because of the shame attached to a failed marriage, their future is bleak.
A few years ago a trainee social worker carried out a survey for me and found 17 NRPF women sleeping rough in Rochdale.
The Southall Black Sisters for many years campaigned for the removal of this rule which left woman’s charities struggling to provide support with no public funding. In 2009, following a massive campaign, the last government introduced the Sojourner Project which provides up to 40 days funding for NRPF women subject to domestic violence. This period provides a breathing space allows the women to receive help and counselling and for an application for permanent residence to be made.
The project was extended on July 16th this year by the Home Secretary who announced that funding would continue until next April and a permanent solution found.
However with local council’s cutting back on mainstream grants to charities including women’s groups will the scheme have people on the ground? This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I attended my local ward forum and asked the Community Police officer about cuts to the police budget.
One of the cuts being put forward by Greater Manchester Police is to make several “Community Relations Officers” redundant. These are civilian posts and during my time as MP I worked very closely with the officer serving the Rochdale Constituency. When a girl who is the victim of a forced marriage seeks help Jan is the officer who deals with the matter, providing support for the girl and resisting the often intense pressure from the family to reveal where she is.
If GMP goes ahead with this cut then according to the officer these issues will be dealt with by beat officers with no training or understanding of the issues involved.
This is almost as bad as the other thing I head last week that the current Labour MP handling a similar issue had asked the local (male) Asian Councillor to deal with the matter!
There is already widespread concern that the cuts are affecting women and children disproportionately and these police cuts will only make matters worse.