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Women with no recourse to public funds are being locked out of domestic violence support and trapped in abuse

3 min read

"I feel like we are invisible, we don’t matter,” Shani told me at a weekly zoom meeting of migrant women.

“What has happened to me is of no consequence, we have been forgotten.”

Having entered the UK on a student visa, Shani married a British man but very soon was subject to horrific sexual and domestic abuse from him and his family. Fleeing the property, she was then told by the police that she had no recourse to public funds and was unable access to safe refuge accommodation or money for food. With little English or knowledge about life in the UK, she was left destitute and street homeless.

At Safety4Sisters, a small Manchester based charity, we see many women in similar situations. Our specialist service provides critical support to access safe emergency accommodation to survivors of domestic, sexual, and other forms of gender-based violence who have no recourse to public funds. The women are from all walks of life, all survivors of horrific violence meted out by an array of abusers.  There is a way to support them through the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill – but only if MPs and peers are willing to act.

The pandemic has further shown why this matters: intensifying the precarity of these women and exposing the fracture lines on who is deserving of safety and protection and who is not. In our latest report, we found that 100 per cent of the women we supported during the first three months of lockdown were initially refused refuge accommodation when requested due to their immigration status.

Those like Shani, not on spousal visas, are unable to avail themselves of the destitute domestic violence (DDV) concession, which would offer a financial safety net for a limited period while they gain immigration advice to regularise their status and access refuge accommodation where available. Perpetrators know this and use this as part of the coercive control, locking women into abuse and out of safety.

Heralded as a once in a lifetime piece of legislation, the transformational Domestic Abuse Bill is at serious risk of promising very little for migrant women like Shani. Migrant and Black and minority ethnic women’s campaigning groups, including Southall Black Sisters and Latin American Women’s Rights Service, know this. They urge for an extension of the existing DDV concession length and remit to ensure all migrant survivors of abuse – not just those on spousal visas – are supported, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms when reporting to the police.

But the government response continues to be it still needs to collect more evidence through the forthcoming pilot scheme. The problem is there is already plenty of proof of the scale of the issue.  Women need equal protection in the law, full stop.

Shani has already endured so much. She spent two years desperately trying to stabilise her immigration status, unable to access the vital support she needed. She now is living in precarious charity accommodation for destitute women. Her health is poor, her mental health worse, having considered suicide many times. “My husband said no one would help me if I left, and he was right. How can I take on the violence from my abusers alone? I can’t go back but I don’t count in this country. I am a no one, a second-class citizen. I feel like this will never end.” Safety4Sisters offer what small lifeline we can for women like Shani. But outside the legal protections, they are hanging on by threads. Rather than the current two-tier discriminatory system, our hope lies in amendments to the bill so we can transform women’s rights and rightfully protect all women.

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