Following the tragic death of Sarah Everard, disproportionate use of force by Met police shutting down a peaceful vigil shocked the country. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a commitment to ‘drive out violence against women and girls’. Days later, the House of Lords voted on a set of amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to finally try to enforce better protections, especially for migrant women. With a police officer arrested on suspicion of murder, and a Policing Bill to increase their powers, where is the government’s commitment to end policies that fuel violence and abuse upon migrant women?
Tougher sentences for sexual and violent offenders have been the government’s response, in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. However, it will controversially reduce the freedom to protest and empower the police to take actions such as those at the Clapham Sarah Everard vigil.
Will the government’s newfound commitment to women and girls mean protecting those made so vulnerable by their own hostile environment for migrants?
Now is a pivotal time to campaign for the protection of women and further legislation to ensure their safety. However, it is also vital that this includes all women. Migrant women are too often given lower priority and left in positions of vulnerability.
The Domestic Abuse Bill
This week, peers voted on several amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill as it entered its report stage in the House of Lords. Some of these amendments aimed to protect migrant women from current vulnerabilities in domestic violence policy.
Migrant women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) face barriers in accessing refuge accommodation as they cannot claim benefits through the welfare system. Many survivors rely heavily on such payments to support their stay in a refuge.
To combat this, Amendment 70 was voted in favour, to create a pathway to temporary leave to remain for migrants escaping domestic abuse. It also would also mean that no services (such as accommodation, education, financial assistance) would be withheld from victims as a result of their immigration status.
Current policies allow police to routinely share personal data about domestic abuse victims with the Home Office for immigration control purposes. Last week in the House of Lords, Baroness Meacher discussed the problem of data sharing with the Home Office: ‘Migrant women with insecure immigration status are, in my view very understandably, reluctant to report domestic abuse to the statutory services.’
Their fears are well justified. Studies by White Ribbon, a domestic violence charity, found that since the policy of data sharing was enacted, the number of women deported after reporting domestic abuse has risen from 12% to 30%.
Amendment 70 was voted in favour, to create a pathway to temporary leave to remain for migrants escaping domestic abuse
Sadly, the Bill does not cover the issues of Universal Credit payments or even blanket issues such as budget cuts to domestic violence services. Organisations such as the Southall Black Sisters have campaigned for Universal Credit to be paid by default into separate accounts rather than joint ones, to avoid the risk of economic abuse.
Government Commitment to Women
When looking at the House of Lords votes this week, worryingly, only 2 Conservatives voted in favour of Amendment 67 and only 1 for Amendment 70. This seriously calls into question the dedication of the current government in providing protection and safety for all women.
This occurred the very same day that Boris Johnson spoke on the new commitment to ‘bringing in landmark legislation’ to ‘drive out violence against women and girls.’ The current response to the Sarah Everard case from the Conservatives seems to be to make it loud and clear that they aim to solidify women’s safety through law-making.
Policies that reinforce the trend of criminalising the victim of domestic abuse for speaking up, rather than the perpetrator for their crime, must become a part of the current government conversation surrounding women’s safety. Will the government support these amendments in its commitment to women through the Domestic Abuse Bill’s final stages?
The actions of the Conservative party in the House of Lords do not reflect this aim. The government dedication to hostile environment policies is putting migrant women at serious risk and means that they are not being supported enough in the current conversation surrounding safety as a result of their immigration status.
This seriously calls into question the devotion of the current government to securing sufficient protection for migrant women in the UK.
Rather than providing all women with the legislation they need to feel safe, the government is using this opportunity to pick and choose which laws they can fast track through Parliament. Their rushing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill with the argument that it will provide further protection for women seems convenient. It could be that the government is using the current debate as a scapegoat to expand police powers and ability to impede on the freedom to protest.
Johnson’s current carceral approach, of “more police on the streets” and making “every part of the criminal justice system work better to protect and defend” women is problematic. This may work for some women, but for those with intersectional vulnerabilities as a result of the welfare and immigration system, will not see full protection from this approach.
People must become aware of the vulnerabilities and discrimination that migrant women face when it comes to domestic violence policy. The passing of several amendments is not enough and the government must be pressured to produce and support legislation that will actually help and have the primary aim of protecting and defending all women in the UK.
Header Image [Source: Step Up Migrant Women UK]