Sarah Teather on “deeply upsetting” report on pregnant women in asylum system

Sarah Teather has been speaking in Parliament today about a new report by Maternity Action and the Refugee Council which highlights the treatment of pregnant women and their new babies in the asylum system. You can read her whole speech here, and I warn you it will make you upset and angry in equal and consuming measure. The description of a woman who had just given birth being made to carry her newborn baby home by foot in the snow was harrowing. There are many such similar stories in the report.

These vulnerable women suffer both poor physical and mental health and their pregnancies can be higher risk because they often don’t see a midwife until later in their pregnancies than is recommended.

I have referred to the deeply upsetting report, “When Maternity Doesn’t Matter”, which the Refugee Council and Maternity Action produced this week. They submitted evidence to our inquiry that the impact of dispersal on women’s lives is catastrophic if they are pregnant. The four weeks’ protected period that UKBA agreed to introduce is an advance, but still woefully inadequate. Women are moved away from their partners so they may have no one with them when they give birth and no one to look after their other children. A single mother in the study reported that she was separated from her partner so she had no one to look after her children and she considered leaving her children with a local shopkeeper before she went into labour because she had no other options for child care. Midwives told us that it makes their lives incredibly difficult because they are unable to provide continuity of care.

We would not expect any British woman to experience such conditions, but these women have specific extra difficulties and they should receive more support, not less. Many have suffered female genital mutilation and sexual violence in their own country as well as torture, which exacerbates the risk of flashbacks when giving birth. They have a much higher rate of maternal death than we expect in the general population. They make up 12% of all maternal deaths, but only 0.3% of the overall population. Those figures are staggering and worrying, and the Government must get to grips with them.

She went on to talk about the need to give people enough money for a basic standard of living:

Given the complexity of section 4 and section 95 support—it took us some considerable time to produce the spreadsheet to work out exactly what families in different circumstances would get—it beggars belief that someone in a situation of war, violence or persecution would spend a couple of days researching that on the internet before deciding which travel company to book their flight with. We need to get that into perspective. The answer must surely be to set levels in line with other benefits. Deducting accommodation costs if necessary, we should make a clear commitment to uprate benefits so that people who have fled war, persecution and violence can live—as the hon. Member for Scunthorpe said—a basic, dignified life.

I understand the political difficulties of raising benefit levels for asylum seekers, in particular when there is much debate about wider benefit levels—full stop. Surely it would be more sensible and take an awful lot of political grief away from the Minister if they were simply pegged to other benefit levels and automatically uprated each year. Ministers would then not have to go through the agony of having to work out on which full-news day to introduce a measure; they could simply get on with doing the right and humane thing.

The Minister said that he would look feed this report into the Government’s own review. Sarah Teather needs to ensure he lives up to his word.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Helen Dudden 27th Feb '13 - 7:43pm

    Very recently in the EU I saw and elderly woman curled up in a heap on a pavement area. I have just been writing on the bedroom tax, housing, and various other issues. Suicide is not uncommon in the EU as things get very tough. Yet on line here, there are comments on the behaviour of MPs, if they are guilty, they should know better. I do not judge because I do not know the true picture.

    For too long , not enough time has been given to the subjects that concern human misery, I am being homest tonight, I think time for honesty and a real effort to lesson the wrongs in our country as well as the EU. We do not forget others who are suffering too.

  • Helen Dudden 27th Feb '13 - 7:44pm

    It should have read honest, sorry touch typing.

  • Hellen you are right, of course. But do you think there is any merit in the following argument: the abuse of power suggested by the revelations of the last week have deterred women from advancing in the Party, hence we have far fewer women MPs than we should. If we had more women in Parliament, they would ensure that enough time was “given to the subjects that concern human misery” . So whilst in the short time it seems a distraction to be focusing on the behaviour of MPs and others, in a broader sense it’s quite a critical issue.

  • Tony Greaves 27th Feb '13 - 10:50pm

    Well done, Sarah. This is scandal of a very high order but will we see it on the front pages of the Mail, Telegraph, Times Independent and Guardian for the next five days?

    If we do see it, perhaps in the Express they will run a front page on the “scandal” of asylum seekers abusing the NHS by having babies here. Or perhaps they’ve done that already and I’ve missed it.

    Tony Greaves

  • The welfare of asylum seekers during this Government in particular has been one of the big untold stories which would upset anyone with a sense of human decency. They suffered a lot in the cuts to public expenditure.

    Some voluntary groups have stepped into the breach and provided aid and vital services. In this case for expectant mothers but also for children and those suffering mental health issues. The very worst of Government has brought out the very best in people in these charities. That should deserve our support.

  • Well done Sarah. I want to see more of our MPs working to alleviate suffering and doing the right and humane thing, to care about people.

    Thank you Caron for writing about this.

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