Kirsty Blackman: We must protect women fleeing domestic abuse
Too many women are being forced to stay in, or return to, abusive homes. The Home Secretary must extend eligibility for the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession and protect migrant women, writes Kirsty Blackman
For many victims of domestic abuse, attempting to flee an abusive relationship takes a great deal of planning. Even with the help of Women’s Aid or Refuge organisations, there can be a worrying lack of certainty about the future, or even simply about where they’re going to be tomorrow.
If your immigration status means you don’t have leave to remain in the UK, your options may be even more limited.
Currently, the Government allows those who are in the UK on spousal visas to apply for something called the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC). This allows those fleeing domestic violence to access public funds for a three-month period. That window is desperately important. It allows victims the ability to go to a refuge, where they can be safe and receive expert support. Without the DDVC these women would not be able to claim housing benefit and without access to housing benefit, refuges struggle to provide accommodation, even for a short period of time.
Ultimately, if this concession was not in place, many people would be forced to continue to live with their abusers.
Unfortunately, the DDVC only applies to those who are in the UK on spousal visas. EEA nationals are not eligible to apply (as they are in the UK under freedom of movement rights). Neither does it apply to the partners of those on Student Visas.
Organisations who support women have been raising this issue for some time. They are faced with the reality of women coming to them and asking for support. They are faced with the reality of women being forced to stay in, or return to, abusive homes.
I have heard the story of a woman whose partner subjected her to severe emotional, physical and sexual abuse. He forced her into terminating pregnancies. She left with her young child to escape him and stay with family members. But they could not house her for long, and she was forced to return to her husband. If she had access to the DDVC she would have been able to claim public funds, including housing benefit.
I met a pregnant EU national seeking help to get away from an abusive man. She had expected to be eligible for housing benefit but, because of his financial control over her, she had not worked for long enough to have gained settled status. The DDVC would have allowed her a way out of this situation.
An EU national woman with a young child managed to escape an abusive home. She wished to return to her home country. But her partner obtained a court order preventing her from taking their child out of the UK. She is therefore forced to stay here but is refused access to public funds.
I have brought this to the attention of the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House. None of the replies I have received have offered any positive way forward. The Immigration Minister suggested that individuals in this position should simply go back to their home country. This is an unrealistic and unreasonable ask. Many of those fleeing would be ostracised by their communities of even at risk of physical injury.
My Ten Minute Rule Bill asks for the Secretary of State to bring back a report on extending the eligibility of the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession. The concession itself is definitely not perfect, even for those who are eligible, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
If bringing this bill to parliament provides the means to allow even one person permanent safety from their abuser then it will have been worth it. It’s vital that the UK Government steps up and ensures that it protects people.
Kirsty Blackman is MP for Aberdeen North and Depute Leader of the SNP Group at Westminster. Her Ten Minute Rule Bill is on Wednesday 20 March.