Protections for migrant women must be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill
Ministers must back the Lords amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure migrant women have access to the legal, financial and emotional support they need to escape abuse and rebuild their lives.
For all those concerned about violence against women, there is no doubt that the last few weeks have been hugely distressing. The horrifying circumstances of Sarah Everard’s death, and the subsequent clashes between police and mourners/protestors, have – for many people – thrown into sharp relief how far we have to go in ensuring that the state upholds women’s rights to live without fear of violence.
The government has responded to intensifying public concern, insisting that they are listening. They have reopened a consultation on tackling violence against women and girls, which has received an ‘unprecedented’ number of responses in the short time since its relaunch. But a tangible and immediate test of their commitment to ending violence against women is about to be put to them. With the Domestic Abuse Bill, the government has an opportunity to show that they are willing not only to listen, but act to save women’s lives.
The government has prioritised being tough on migrants over and above protecting women facing abuse
The Lords have made a number of substantial amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which the Commons are about to consider. These would see women with insecure immigration status afforded protections that, up to now, they have not had.
To date, victims of abuse have been left to the mercy of perpetrators. The government has prioritised being tough on migrants over and above protecting women facing abuse.
Research tells us that almost 6 in 10 migrant women receive threats of deportation from their abusers, and the very real risk of criminalisation stops them from leaving. Unable to report abuse to the police, resolve their immigration status, or gain economic independence, victims with insecure status are condemned to live in fear of their lives.
Indeed, for those working in the domestic abuse sector – particularly in organisations led by and for migrant and marginalised women - there has long been little doubt that protections for migrant women are wholly inadequate. But last week’s action in the Lords, offered a promising, if tentative, step forward.
Three amendments would considerably shift how migrant women are supported when they experience domestic abuse. The first amendment would ensure that women reporting abuse to the police would not have their data shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes – something that IPPR has called for in our recent hostile environment report. A ‘firewall’ that delinks public services from immigration enforcement is vital – and potentially lifesaving – for women with insecure immigration status.
The second, would extend the existing ‘destitute domestic violence’ (DDV) concession, currently available only to those on a spousal visa, to all migrant survivors. This would enable women the breathing space they need in order to flee abuse, access a refuge, secure their immigration status and, ultimately, rebuild their lives.
The final amendment passed would ensure all those that experiencing domestic abuse receive equally effective protections and support, regardless of their immigration status or any other protected characteristic.
We urgently need to see a step change in how migrant women are treated when they face domestic abuse – as with any other survivor they should be able to get the legal, financial and emotional support they need to escape abuse and rebuild their lives. These amendments pave the way to achieving this.
The challenge is now for the government. Listening is good, but action is better. As the bill returns to the Commons, it is time for ministers to walk the walk, and ensure that they do not collude in violence against women to score points on immigration.
Turning the tide on violence against women must include ensuring proper provisions for all domestic abuse survivors. By following the leadership shown in the House of Lords, they can truly make the most of this ‘once in a generation’ opportunity.
Lucy is a research fellow at IPPR.