Covid-19 And The Surge In Domestic Abuse In The UK

People who are undocumented are at real risk of being sucked into abusive relationships in order to survive, and once there, it is very very difficult to leave.

Women’s Aid: Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:

At this time of Covid-19, people subjected to domestic abuse are very isolated, and have fewer chances to leave the house, for example children are not at school, shopping is kept to a minimum; and tensions indoors mount.

We know that people subjected to such abuse are often frequently lied to about being believed, or they are told their children will be removed, that their whereabouts will be reported to the Home Office which will potentially lead to the risk of immigration detention and removal from UK in this hostile environment, and they now are fearful of breaking Covid lockdown rules.

The impact of the ‘toxic trio’ of drug abuse, mental health issues and alcohol is well-known to raise concerns about risk of domestic abuse. When undocumented status is added to this toxic mix, the potential for ongoing serious risk of harm is massively increased.

16 April 2021: Guardian: Anger as Tory MPs vote against register for stalkers and domestic abusers

Government rejects measures despite briefing they would support them after death of Sarah Everard

[…] The decision to exclude migrant women from protections offered under the new bill was “deeply troubling”, said Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, which is taking part in a government pilot project to support migrant women and address an “evidence gap” around the need for support. “Copious evidence already exists,” she said. “The pilot is no substitute to the need for meaningful, long-term measures of protection for some of the most vulnerable women in our society. We will not be celebrating the bill when it becomes law because it is not a bill for all women.”

[…] The decision to exclude migrant women from protections offered to other victims in the bill was “driven by ideology rather than reality”, she said, adding: “Foreign students, people working in our care system and across our country completely legally have been offered up a narrow system that will inevitably leave many with no choice but to return to violence and abuse.”

Lucy Hadley, the head of policy and campaigns at Women’s Aid, said it was “deeply disappointing” that the government had rejected the Lords’ amendments to give migrant women equal protection, adding that currently just 4% of refuges in England could accept a woman with no recourse to public funds due to immigration status. “All survivors must have the right to seek help and live a life free from abuse – regardless of their immigration status,” she said. “This law has been deemed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect all survivors, but there is much more to do.”

Read more here:

15 April 2021: Labour List: As a domestic abuse survivor, I know support for migrants would save lives by Apsana Begum

The ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition imposed on those subject to immigration control means that migrant victims face an increased risk of abuse, with limited support services to turn to. This is why I support amendments to the domestic abuse bill that provide support regardless of immigration status.  

The minister has today announced £1.5m of funds to an immediate support programme targeted to migrant women. She mentioned data collection of this programme to inform potentially, a more sustainable programme in the future. 

What many migrant victims will be asking today is: should they come forward to receive help from the government funded programme? What kind of data about the support they receive will be collected? And is the risk of immigration enforcement and deportation the same, if not higher?

Furthermore, questions remain as to what assurances there are that this pilot will see migrant women’s experiences of abuse believed. Whether they will not be seen through a lens of suspicion, where many are seen to be exaggerating their experiences of abuse, and even accused of lying to receive indefinite leave to remain. These factors sit against the backdrop of an increasingly inaccessible and restrictive immigration system.

If we can recognise that abusers threaten to inform authorities and exploit fears of deportation, why can’t we recognise the fear that victims have in coming forward to seek help when perpetrators use such systems to perpetuate their control? 

The HMIC-RFS, College of Policing and the IOPC said only last year that police forces should restrict the sharing of information about vulnerable victims of crime, such as in cases of domestic abuse, with immigration enforcement.

The current system has been causing significant harm to the public. The government needs to address this now, because addressing this means recognising migrant victims for the victims that they are.

Today, it is positive that there is now a recognition that the harm caused by domestic abuse is far-reaching, and that in order for us to fight against it, there must be a coordinated response across a variety of government departments. 

I do welcome the government accepting amendments on areas such as the prohibition of charging for GP letters. But these concessions must be seen in the context of the government continuing to strip away provision after provision, benefit after benefit, community space after community space. Support for those in need continues to weaken.

I would like to pay tribute to the tireless work of those that have gone before me, battling with such bravery and determination to stand up against abuse and injustice, empowering people who too long have had no voice with support and rights.

People like myself. As a survivor of domestic abuse, I cannot overemphasise how quite literally life-changing and life-saving this support and solidarity can be. We can never stop our work in this area, until no-one ever has to go through what I have and what many of us continue to suffer.

: Centre for Womens Justice:

Introduction: Countries across the globe battled the pandemic by introducing national lockdown, border closures, and remote working on a mass scale in order to curb the speed of transmission.[1] Alas, such measures also led to an increase in domestic abuse cases around the world. A high spike was seen in China, United States, Brazil, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.[2] Within the UK there was a rise of 49% in the number of calls to domestic abuse services,[3]  an estimate of 380 weekly calls to police,[4]  and 16 homicides related to domestic abuse in the first month after strict social distancing was enacted. The number of deaths had trebled compared to 2019 figures – the highest in at least 11 years.[5] Expert predicate that the figures are likely to be much higher than what is reported due to mass underreporting in domestic abuse cases generally and additional hurdles created by the lockdown.[6]   Indeed, women on average experience 50 incidents before they decide to report. 

Read more here:

Note this extract:

30 January 2021 BBC: Pandemic has made abuse ‘invisible’

For some children, the pandemic has had dire consequences with the numbers being harmed and abused on the rise.

Between April and September there were 285 reports by councils of child deaths and incidents of serious harm, which includes child sexual exploitation. This was a rise of more than a quarter on the same period the year before.

But children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is worried this is just the tip of the iceberg, arguing the lockdowns, closure of schools and stay-at-home orders have led to a generation of vulnerable children becoming “invisible” to social workers.

Referrals that would normally come in from a variety of sources, form health visitors to school nurses, dropped last year. This, she says, makes no sense given the impact of the pandemic on family life.

Figures show that before the pandemic there were already more than two million children in England and Wales living in households affected by one of the “toxic trio” – domestic abuse, parental drug and alcohol dependency or severe mental health issues. The fear is this will have risen significantly.

These are extracts from the Home Affairs Select Committee interviews regarding Home Office preparedness for Covid. 3 February 2021: Please feel free to read this session’s transcript here, however these extracts are of particular interest when considering the vulnerability of those without Indefinite Leave to Remain/settled status in UK:.

Rosie Lewis is the deputy director and violence against women and girls services manager at the Angelou Centre:

Q926       Stuart C. McDonald: Thanks to all our witnesses for your evidence. If I could start, please, with Rosie, you have touched on this issue already, but when we were looking into these issues earlier last year we heard that migrant women—particularly those with insecure immigration status—might be particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, given that they struggle to access state support. Could you just sort of update us? Where are we now in terms of migrant women, and, in particular, those with insecure status?

Rosie Lewis: Covid has had a devastating impact on those women. We provide one of the few services nationally that provides specific places for women without recourse to public funds, but, unfortunately, we have got a real issue around understanding of immigration abuse, and a lot of issues around assessment, support, safety and protection, and a proportional response where migrant women are concerned. So for the majority of women who manage to access our services—particularly our refuge services—I think I mentioned before, they have been to seven to nine other services before. I am talking about police, housing, as well as violence against women and girls or domestic abuse services. They have been told, because they have no recourse to public funds—or are perceived to have no recourse to public funds—they cannot access any safety support.

This isn’t just limited, unfortunately, to refuge or accommodation or housing support. It is also limited in terms of access to service and equitable assessment of their need. So we have seen women who have self-referred into our service, at a very high level of risk.  I am talking about women who have been stabbed; I am talking about women who have had noxious levels of unabated abuse that would put them in a high-risk category, but also other forms of harmful practices going on—for example, forced marriage, etc. So we have had women that we are supporting, who are accessing our services, who have not been even assessed by their local partnership arrangements and multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, even though they have disclosed to the police or they have disclosed to a domestic abuse service, because they are migrant women.

So we have a dual system going on, in terms of access to support, safety and protection, for women, that is based on a perception of their immigration status. I really want to bring in that perception, because it is so important.

Of all the women referred to our service for our refuges—we had 12 referrals for every one space that we had—70% of the women had no recourse to public funds. They had a right to support, either through the domestic violence concession or because they had not been properly assessed. Although they did not speak English, they actually had rights to benefits, but that had been part of the abuse that they had been through.

That really shocks us, because that means that women had been denied any kind of safety or protection support, or any refuge accommodation, based on a perception. Because of a lack of understanding about immigration abuse.

Q927       Stuart C. McDonald: So there are two issues: the issue of those who are in law excluded from support; and the issue of those who should have that support but are nevertheless, because of misapprehension, excluded from that by perception. Previous witnesses advocated for abandoning the no recourse to public funds rules for good, at least for the pandemic. I take it that you would be sympathetic to that point of view.

Rosie Lewis: Absolutely. It is inhumane what is happening. Also, we have to take a level of responsibility for the continued harm that migrant women face because they are excluded on those grounds.

Many of our services are coming together to put together a very strong case for how we think that such exclusion makes no social or economic sense. That woman has bounced around many services—she has probably been in and out of adult social care, in and out of bed-and-breakfast here and there, backwards and forwards to the police, and so on. We are really struggling to understand how that makes any social or economic sense, never mind thinking about the rights of the individual woman.

Q928       Stuart C. McDonald: Nicole, to come to you, previously you have advocated amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill that would have extended some of its protections to migrant women. Will you say a little more about what the benefits of those changes you were advocating would have been? What do you understand to be the resistance to those changes?

Nicole Jacobs: You read my mind. I was just thinking that there are a number of opportunities right in front of us in the Domestic Abuse Bill to address that. You are right to say that I and many others have been advocating those amendments throughout last year.

Some of the resistance could be in relation to a perceived need for data. I very much believe that Victoria Atkins and other Government Ministers really want to do right by all people who are subject to domestic abuse, and a fund has been put in place. I think it is due to be commissioned—there is decision making on the fund—this week or next week.

I think we would all agree, however, that that fund will be very limited in scope. Yes, we will learn something from it, but it is not necessarily more than what we might already know from people like Rosie and many services who are producing quite substantial information about the provision of the services that they provide and what the needs are. We have had a tampon tax-funded initiative running in the last two years, and will do up to March, and that has provided some insight into what demands for services are.

I would agree with Rosie. We have to have an emphasis on—this is what is so important in what she has just talked about—the community-based services that are trusted and that are able to have, and have, the capacity to give the kind of advice that Rosie’s organisation is giving. I think we can very obviously see the cost-effectiveness of that. We need to have that in place as well as much easier ways to access support.

Amendments to the Bill range from lifting “no recourse” to extending the concession from three to six months—from what is provided currently. There are provisions in relation to the firewall, which, again, are incredibly important for people who would think, “Should I come forward? Should I talk to anyone? What will be the implications of that?”, keeping in mind that if you are living with an abuser and you have, in some cases, more limited knowledge of what services will or will not do, it is incredibly important that there is a safeguard there in terms of the firewall. [Inaudible]—there are so many ways we can improve this, and we have these opportunities in front of us now.

Q929       Stuart C. McDonald: On the issue of the firewall, in December I think Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the IOPC and the College of Policing all made a recommendation that the police should not be sharing data on domestic abuse victims with immigration enforcement, pending a review and an equality impact assessment by the Home Office, which was going to design safe reporting mechanisms for migrant victims and witnesses. Is that a move that you welcome, and are you in discussions with the police service and Home Office about implementing those recommendations?

Nicole Jacobs: It is a move that I very much welcome, because I think one of the things that they found in that investigation—this is a good example of how the super-complaints are working relatively well—is that there is such a range of practice: some police areas adopt different practices from others, so there is no real assurance that we know that we could communicate and what actually happens. One of those recommendations was to stop sharing information immediately until there is a much clearer policy in place. That could be addressed in the Domestic Abuse Bill and I would prefer that, so that we have clarity as soon as possible. I am sure that there is some work going on; I have been invited to any specific meetings in relation to that yet, but I would hope to be.