Christine Jardine MP writes: We must support all survivors of domestic violence, regardless of their immigration status

It’s been three years since we were first promised the Domestic Violence Bill by Theresa May. Ever since then, the Bill has been dogged by delay.

I’m relieved that it’s finally making its way through the House of Commons, and honoured to be among the group of MPs entrusted with scrutinising the detail of the legislation as it goes through the Public Bill Committee.

It’s hugely important legislation, and in the current Covid-19 crisis, its need is acutely felt by those who might feel more trapped than ever. We need to get this right and leave no one to face this kind of abuse alone – no matter who they are, their gender, race, sexuality, age, religion or indeed their immigration status.

During the evidence session earlier this week, I was struck by the evidence given by migrant women who are survivors of domestic violence – and by how amazing brave they are. One woman moved to the UK from Brazil with her UK partner and two children. Eight months after she moved here, her partner turned violent. She fled from the house with her eldest child. But when she went to the Home Office for help to return to Brazil because her visa had run out, she was told she would have to wait for seven days. She was given no financial support or accommodation and had no choice but to sleep on the street. Her situation is still precarious – living from one short-term visa to the next. Because of her immigration status, she can’t access public funds.

That’s simply not good enough. And that’s why the Liberal Democrats are supporting a set of amendments proposed by Step Up Migrant Women – a campaign by and for migrant Black and Minority Ethnic women to support migrant women to access protection from abuse.

The first of the amendments would ensure that survivors of abuse can get access to the financial support they need by creating an exemption to the No Recourse to Public Funds rule. Currently, depending on your immigration status, you can’t receive help such as housing benefit, universal credit or child benefit. So if you’re a survivor of domestic violence and you are, for example, on a student visa or a spousal visa, there is no help for you. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this Government cares more about an individual’s immigration status than either their well-being or human rights. That is not acceptable.

At the moment, those on a spousal visa can get indefinite leave to remain thanks to the Domestic Violence Rule, so they don’t lose their right to remain in the UK by leaving their abuser. While they apply, they can also get access to public funds through the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession. Both of these provisions should be extended to all migrant women who are experiencing or are at risk of abuse, regardless of the type of visa they are on or if they have one at all.

We are also calling on the government to create a firewall between the police and the Home Office, so that survivors who report abuse do not have their information shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement. We should be doing everything we can to make it easier for anyone to get the help they need to survive domestic violence, instead of adding to their difficulties with threats of detention and deportation.

And finally, the Domestic Violence Bill must reflect the provisions made in the Istanbul Convention – a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe on violence against women and domestic violence. In particular, it should include article 4(3) from the Convention which enshrines the rights of victims to be protected without discrimination on any ground.

This legislation has been a long time coming, and I’ll be working hard with colleagues across the House to make sure that all survivors of domestic violence get the help they deserve.

* Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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3 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 5th Jun '20 - 12:55pm

    The tag “No recourse to public funds” has recently been raised at PMQ and Boris Al Johnson appears to be unsympathetic.
    He and his Home Secretary should also consider the circumstances of a victim where the perpetrator has been convicted in the UK and has been released on licence. Such victims may try asking the police for protection. If the Prison Service recommends that the relevant minister considers that the perpetrator serves some more of the sentence known as ‘life’. In that case the police must act to detain, but they are likely to wait until they have enough officers available so that they can go ‘mob handed’. The ex-prisoner gets a right of appeal.
    I remember telling one police officer that “We are not expecting him to resist arrest”, which I could tell he did not really believe until the following day. We were acting on information from the probation service. The ex-prisoner had spent all his money on alcohol and did not even have a bed to sleep on.

  • Thanks for explaining the salient points from what must be a complex piece of legislation. I hope the amendments get through. I really wonder if our current government ever tries to put themselves in other people’s shoes, rather than opinion-forming from their own (often privileged) life experience.

  • suzanne fletcher 6th Jun '20 - 11:13am

    Thank you Christine for putting the case so well. I have read the transcript of the committee, it was bad enough hearing the story, and then at the end you put the killer question – “would it have been different if you had been NRPF” and the answer was “yes”. In other words her terrible experience would have been even worse.
    This is the Hansard extract : https://www.theyworkforyou.com/pbc/2019-21/Domestic_Abuse_Bill/02-0_2020-06-04a.25.4?s=speaker%3A25675#g30.9
    and
    you can read more here https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18489641.virtual-parliament-ending-will-put-public-risk-mps-claim/
    and

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