Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Equality and Social Justice Committee16/05/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Altaf Hussain MS|
|Jane Dodds MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Ken Skates MS|
|Sarah Murphy MS|
|Sioned Williams MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez||Gwasanaethau Hawliau Menywod Lladin Americanaidd|
|Latin American Women's Rights Service|
|Ginger Wiegand||Y Comisiwn Cydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol|
|Equality and Human Rights Commission|
|Hannana Siddiqui||Chwiorydd Du Southall|
|Southall Black Sisters|
|Professor Jenny Phillimore||Athro Ymfudo ac Uwchamrywiaeth ym Mhrifysgol Birmingham|
|Professor of Migration and Superdiversity at Birmingham University|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Angharad Roche||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Rachael Davies||Ail Glerc|
|Sam Mason||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:30.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:30.
Prynhawn da. I'd like to welcome Members to the meeting of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. We are a bilingual Parliament, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available to all. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I don't see any. Finally, just to say that if I drop out of the meeting for technical reasons, Sarah Murphy will temporarily take on the chairing of the meeting while I try to rejoin.
This is our first public meeting of our inquiry into violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, so this is a very important meeting setting the scene for our deliberations. I'd very much like to welcome Jenny Phillimore, professor of migration and superdiversity at Birmingham University; Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, Latin American Women's Rights Service; Ginger Wiegand from the Equality and Human Rights Commission; and Hannana Siddiqui, from Southall Black Sisters. Thank you very much indeed, all of you, for joining us for this session.
I will just make a start on the questions we'd like to ask you. First of all, I wondered if you could outline what evidence there is to suggest that migrant women with insecure immigration status have higher rates of domestic abuse than the national average, and whether their additional problem is their immigration status rather than the level of violence they experience. Who would like to go first on this? Jenny Phillimore, would you like to start?
Hello, thank you. So, we've just completed a series of projects where we've been collecting evidence about the experience of migrant, and particularly forced migrant, women, including a project that we're launching next week in Wales, where we've interviewed 26 people in Wales. There's very clear evidence that an individual's migration status can make them more vulnerable to domestic violence, and make it more difficult for them to escape an abusive relationship.
So, in two key scenarios, when someone joins an individual as a spousal migrant, they're on a visa, they're dependent on them financially, and they can be denied access to information. There is no clear route to information about rights and entitlements. So, whilst there is a domestic violence law, albeit with a very high burden for evidence, the majority of women don't know about this. A further situation where they're at risk of increased domestic violence is when a man or a partner is the lead applicant in an asylum process. In both of these situations, a woman's access to food, to be able to remain in the UK and have a roof over her head is generally dependent on remaining in that relationship, and, in some cases, we are seeing examples where those spousal regulations, particular regulations, are leading to a situation where men are entering relationships with these visas knowing full well that they will be able to completely control women. In other cases, it's about a intensification of stress associated with asylum processes or with life in the UK. Either way, women have got few choices, so they tend to remain in these relationships. And abuse can get very serious. Often they don't leave until they feel that their life is at risk, they've been very seriously injured or the violence spreads to their children, who often witness it anyway.
Thank you. Thank you for that. Does anybody wish to add anything to that, before we move on? Hannana.
Yes, I think there is some evidence to suggest that migrant women may have higher rates of domestic homicide and suicide. There isn't a lot in terms of data, but there was some research done in London by the Mayor of London that showed a disproportionate rate amongst black and minority and migrant women of domestic homicide. Suicide rates, we know from previous research, are three times higher among south Asian women. Part of the risk factor is domestic abuse and their immigration status. And the evidence that we've collected at Southall Black Sisters, in our mental health work and in a lot of suicide cases as well, is that immigration status and having no recourse to public funds is a risk factor. So, I think migrant women tend to stay longer in abusive relationships because they cannot escape for fear of deportation and destitution, and therefore the risks of the escalation of abuse are higher, and therefore you have more serious outcomes or serious violence, and ultimately, in the more extreme cases, you get homicide or suicide.
Thank you for that. Jane Dodds, you wanted to come in.
Yes, thank you, Chair. I just wondered if I could follow up on that, please. We heard evidence last week that, actually—well, anecdotally—in terms of women's experiences, their view was that, actually, many of the countries that they come from, the level of violence and sexual violence is at a much higher level anyway, therefore, in terms of their thresholds and expectations coming here, they don't feel that they should be taking action or actually notifying the authorities. I just wondered if there was any evidence or if you had any information around that particular aspect as well. It was the first time I'd actually heard it, so I felt it was something I wanted to follow up. Thank you. I think Hannana has—
Sorry, it's really hard to say whether or not the level of domestic abuse is higher; there isn't enough research. In overseas countries, in countries like India and Pakistan, and in African communities, for example, there isn't any welfare state, so women find it hard, and there are greater barriers to escaping. So, the abuse is left to flourish and to escalate. So, it might look as if it is quite high in those communities, because there is nowhere to go. Now, in this country, there are also barriers, but they're maybe not as extensive as they are overseas. So, I think it's more of a question—. It's hard to say if they're more likely to experience abuse; it maybe just takes them longer to escape abuse because of the barriers, and then you have more serious consequences.
Sorry, could you start again? You don't need to unmute; the clerk will do it for you.
Okay, fantastic. Sorry about that. I think what I was going to mention is that one of the main forms of abuse that migrant women experience in the UK is the use of their immigration status to coerce and control them. So, this wouldn't have any relationship back home, where they are not migrants. So, I think this is something to take into consideration. There might be higher levels of different forms of violence. For instance, we work with Latin American women, and we know there are higher rates of feminicide back in Latin America. But I think, when thinking about policy and legislative change regarding migrant women, it's really important to remember that the main form of abuse they experience in comparison to other groups is immigration abuse. And this wouldn't be relevant when we speak about levels of violence in other countries. Thank you.
Just to say, another factor here is that they are separated from their friends and family once they've migrated, so any protection that might have existed at home is removed and they are completely isolated. So, they're completely dependent on this individual socially, and, of course, because of the visa situation. Many of the women we've spoken to have said to us that they didn't realise what they were experiencing was violence. So, they might understand physical violence as violence, but not sexual violence, not coercion, and not emotional violence, and there is nowhere they can pick up this information. So, a lot of the initiatives that have been successful in other countries, particularly Sweden and Turkey, are actually raising people's awareness about what constitutes violence, and what their rights and entitlements are. That's not present, currently, in Wales, or, indeed, in the rest of the UK.
Okay. That's very interesting. One of the witnesses some of us spoke to in private session last week said that they had experienced violence in the relationship before they arrived in this country, but that had ceased for a period of five or six months before it resumed. So, I suppose my next question is: to what extent do cultural norms and practices contribute to violence against women, including sexual violence? And, obviously, the most extreme elements of that being things like female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honour-based abuse. Does anybody want to lead us off on that? Hannana.
I think violence against black and minority women or migrant women has the same causes as other women, which is gender inequality. It's a cause and consequence of gender-based violence. But, there are different norms and values that might justify it in different communities. So, in migrant communities or many black and minority communities, there may be cultural norms such as notions of shame and honour that may be used, or religious and cultural laws that may be used to justify violence against women, because it's based on very conservative notions of gender roles. So, you do have certain forms of harmful practices that exist within minority communities that don't exist elsewhere. So, things like forced marriage, honour-based violence and FGM, but there are also high levels, like other communities, of domestic and sexual violence as well, which they share with other communities.
So, I think there are cultural norms that are specific to those communities, that are culturally specific that may justify violence against women, but I think violence against women is generally based, including for migrant women, on gender inequality, and this notion of women as property and patriarchal conservative notions around women in general, which is also shared with the majority community.
Okay. So, we've, to some extent, covered the insecurity of the immigration status of mainly the woman, or the victim, and the power and control that can be exerted as a result. How much is immigration abuse a central theme—I think, Jenny Phillimore, you picked it up earlier—and, I suppose more importantly, what more could we do to support victims of this type of abuse, bearing in mind that we don't have devolved powers over the criminal justice system?
Okay. Certainly, it was one of the key themes in the research that we've completed across seven different countries. Immigration abuse is a major problem. It renders women powerless if they are dependent on someone for a home, for a roof, and to not be deported and shame their entire family. This is not a small issue; this is a huge issue that impacts on probably tens or even hundreds of thousands of women each year, given the number of people who are displaced at the moment. So, this is not a tiny issue; it's one of several issues, and it's a structural issue because of the way that immigration legislation works.
It's also important to note that even those who don't arrive in a relationship often are forced into exploitative relationships by having a failed asylum claim, and being in and out of the asylum system, a failed claim or even bureaucratic errors that lead to people not receiving any support for three months for no particular reason other than a mistake. In those situations, women, particularly, and occasionally men, are in a position where they've got a choice of homelessness, where they will be racially and sexually harassed, or they enter a relationship. So, we have seen many instances of women who are entering relationship after relationship, just to have a roof over their head and some food, where they are sexually and physically exploited.
So, what do we do about these things? Well, I take the point that immigration's not devolved to Wales, but there is something around access to information and ensuring that people get good access to information in their own language and not making the assumption that everyone is literate as well. I've been asking the Home Office, when they issue visas, to inform every single person who's coming as a spouse of what their rights and entitlements are and what constitutes violence.
The other kinds of things that help, and we know this from extensive research, are grass-roots organisations, like Southall Black Sisters, like BAWSO in Wales, Refugee Women Connect and Baobab. Interventions by organisations can, firstly, support women to disclose what's happening to them, because many are very ashamed. Often, they feel that it's their fault somehow; they don't realise it's a big problem. These organisations will often inform them of their rights, once they know what's going on, and they'll help provide a roof over their heads and food, but it's very difficult. And what I'm hearing from organisation after organisation is that they access these women once they're in crisis, because there's so little funding and, of course, it's a bit of a postcode lottery as well, and what's really needed is services that women can access at a much earlier stage. I've heard good examples of the ways in which women are supported to engage in services that are seen by the wider community, particularly men and the community, as being culturally appropriate, and through those services they're gently informed of their rights and given options and so on. But it tends to be the grass-roots organisations that are doing all the good work, and not enough money—. And certainly in Wales we saw a real absence of services, apart from those provided by BAWSO—specialist services.
Thank you. And, Hannana.
Of course, we'd like to see a change in the law that would give women the right to stay in this country and access to benefits if they are a victim of gender-based violence, and obviously that's one of our campaign aims. And we have been discussing this with Government, and they have established—the Home Office established—a pilot scheme at Southall Black Sisters, which gives women access to financial support for a temporary period whilst they access some kind of safe accommodation and subsistence. Women generally find it very difficult to enter a refuge if they have no recourse to public funds, because they have no access to benefits, and, therefore, it is still quite difficult, despite this scheme, to get women into a refuge, because we don't have enough money to necessarily pay all the costs, but also there's a time limit to how long you can give the funding for. But despite all that, it's being evaluated independently, and the Government will then consider whether or not, as a long-term solution, they are going to implement it in order to deal with no recourse to public funds.
Women who are on spousal visas already have access to public funds, if they apply under the domestic violence rule to stay in the country, for a period of three months, and we want to extend that rule to those on non-spousal visas. I know that that is about changing the law, but there are interim measures that can be put in place, which are very similar to the pilot scheme that we are running. And we've been running a last resort no recourse fund for women, with money raised from various funders and donations, for about 10 years now, and it's like a lifeline to many women who are totally destitute and who do not have access to other support.
Even social services may turn women away who have children, or deter them from seeking help, because even though they are entitled to help under the Children Act 1989, they are often told that they may take the child into care and not support the mother with the child, or they want to send the child back to an abusive father, and as a result a lot of women don't want to use their services. And as an organisation, we are often having to argue with them to support women in that position.
So, there are problems with the current situation with the domestic violence rule and the destitution domestic violence concession, and the no recourse fund, and those are things we're trying to resolve; we're talking to Government about that. But I think what Wales could do in the interim—two things, of course—is to have some kind of national fund that will support victims to access safe housing like refuges, and to give them subsistence for themselves and their children; and, secondly, to improve practice from social services, for example, in assisting women and children who are entitled to help from them, as well as vulnerable adults. Sorry, the third point, which has been made by Jenny already, is about funding specialist refuges and bed space, as well as community-based services that are supporting women by giving them advocacy to access mainstream services—you know, organisations like ours that women identify with and do approach initially for help, before they go to mainstream services, because they're often frightened of being reported to the Home Office if they approach them, or they don't know where to go for help and they don't know their rights or where those services are. So, for that reason, community-based organisations and specialist refuges are critical for women with no recourse to public funds to access those mainstream services and support, which is usually their lifeline, because they have really very few rights to access other public funds. And I think that that could be done in Wales, whilst we await wider issues and the law itself and what central Government does in terms of long-term provision.
Okay, thank you for that very comprehensive answer. Altaf, did you want to pursue this as to how we could improve access?
Thank you very much. Well, talking about this whole subject there will be a lot of suppositions and repetitions, in both questions and answers. Now, let me to go to the barriers preventing married women and girls from seeking services. My question is: to what extent do married women and girls who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence face additional barriers when seeking support?
Elizabeth and then Ginger.
Yes, just very quickly, and, I think, connecting with the previous question. When we speak about immigration abuse, we always try to make the point about who is the most vulnerable amongst this group of victims with insecure immigration status, and we have come to the conclusion, because of the front-line work we do, of undocumented migrants being the most vulnerable. One of the main barriers they encounter is that many statutory services equate a lack of immigration status or not having access to public funds with not having any kind of rights. So, what we need to see in practice, linked to immigration abuse, is for these front-line professionals to have the professional curiosity to look at how immigration abuse led these women to become undocumented, because that's what we see at the front line in many cases: whole families with regular status apart from the mother. And we know this is part of the coercive and controlling behaviour. So, we need the statutory services to understand that the women who are coming forward have been told, for years in many cases, that no support is going to be available. So, when they come forward and seek support and they are told there is no support available, they are giving power to the perpetrator, and the risk is that these women, and children in many cases, are going back to perpetrators, at risk of further harm.
Thank you for that. Ginger Wiegand, would you like to come in now?
Yes. Just firstly to echo the statements that Hannana has just made about the importance of both community-based and refuge-based services that are available to every survivor on an equal basis. I'll just share a recommendation that EHRC made in our response to Welsh Government's refreshed violence against women and girls strategy: we think that it's very important to recognise the importance and expertise of the specialist 'by and for' services for survivors with protected characteristics, regardless of their migrant status. It's important to enable those organisations' ability to co-produce strategies in relation to Welsh Government strategies in relation to violence against women and girls, and we are arguing that, actually, there should be a commitment to sufficient sustainable long-term funding for these specialist services, with ring-fenced funding for 'by and for' services. We think that there should be a duty placed on commissioning authorities to provide community-based and accommodation-based services to victims, requiring commissioners to provide those services without discrimination and provide guidance on meeting that requirement. In addition to that duty, we think it would be helpful if Welsh Government did undertake some central co-ordination, and this is to address, I believe—. One of the panelists referred to a postcode lottery, and that is, sort of, perhaps a mechanism that could provide some assurance and get us out of the postcode lottery to ensure that people with protected characteristics and all types of migrant status are able to get these services.
Just really quickly to finish off here, I will just stress the importance that, under the public sector equality duty, local commissioners and service planners, as well as the Government more generally, are required to identify and meet the needs of survivors with different protected characteristics. The UK and Welsh devolved Governments are also under international legal obligations to ensure that gender-based-violence victims are provided with services without discrimination. The CEDAW committee—the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women—has confirmed that those services should be available irrespective of immigration status.
Thank you for that. Jenny Phillimore, you wanted to come in as well.
Yes, I just wanted to respond to Altaf's question about what is the difference here. I want to point out one really fundamental difference between those who are British citizens, mainly white British citizens, who experience domestic or sexual violence, and those who have got some kind of migrant status, particularly an undocumented or spousal one, which is the risk of arrest. We've spoken to many survivors who, at the hands of the abusive partner, have phoned up the Home Office and actually got their partner detained as a punishment, or they've tried to go into a police station and report an attack, and they've ended up being detained because of their immigration status. That is one really fundamental difference. If I experience domestic violence and walk into a police station, I'm not going to be arrested, I'm not going to be detained; I'm going to go into a specialist rape suite. It won't be perfect by any means, but nobody is going to detain me, and that is the reality. So, not only do they fear these things happening, they do happen. And we didn't look for people in our study who'd had those experiences. Unfortunately, it's something that happens, and that is a big difference we need to bear in mind.
Okay. Altaf, did you have anything further you wanted to ask?
That's fine, yes. We know that many people from black, Asian, minority ethnic communities do not access support from services when they need it. What barriers specifically get in the way, and are there examples of how these barriers are being overcome, if at all? Hannana.
I think the barriers that have been mentioned are things like isolation. So, a lot of women migrants come into this country and they have no family here and they have no friends, and often they're imprisoned within the home, so they're not necessarily going to get a chance to do that. Secondly, they're more likely to have language problems; they're unlikely to speak English, and therefore it's harder for them to access help in that language. Also, they're unlikely to know what their rights are. They don't know where to go for help, they don't know about services. And that's partly to do with isolation, but also it's because they're new in the country and they don't know these things. In many cases, we've found that even the fact that—. In some cases, they don't have the right to work and therefore they cannot be economically independent, and where they may have the right to work, they may not have the skills or the chances to enter work. That may be part of the abusive behaviour that they're experiencing, or, if they do work, their wages are taken from them by the abuser. So, that's part of the economic abuse. They may have young children that may mean that they can't go out to work, or they're not allowed to go out to work by their abusers.
The fact that they have that insecure immigration status and are economically dependent on their spouse because of no recourse to public funds is what makes a difference, as has been said, from black and minority women generally who have settled status, or generally from the wider community. And I think that is such a huge barrier that it drives women back to an abusive relationship, because they're facing destitution and the fear of being deported. They cannot go to most agencies—they're frightened of doing that, they're frightened of going to the police, they're frightened of going to social services, or telling anyone in case that information is shared with the Home Office, particularly if they're undocumented, but also if they have an insecure status, or they're not sure about their status, or they're being told that they'll be deported by the abuser. So, they are frightened of going and seeking help.
One of the things that we do to try to resolve that problem is asking for a firewall between the data sharing, between the agencies, like the police and the Home Office immigration enforcement. Because if you have that firewall, it will give confidence for women to come forward and seek help, and they'll find they won't necessarily be detained or deported as a result. So, I think, despite what the national Government's position is, which is that they do want to introduce protocol to help with victims, which we're very critical of because it's not a complete firewall and will not be effective, I think what the Welsh Government could do is to look at a firewall in Wales and implement your own firewall so that victims can come forward and feel confidence in the system to get help.
Sarah Murphy, I know you wanted to pursue this. Sarah.
Thank you so much for bringing this up, Hannana. As you said—I'm just going to summarise this just from the written evidence—public services, including safeguarding agencies like the police and social services, do share data with the Home Office, and there has been a number of cases that have proved that it has led to enforcement action. It's not just with migrant women; we've also seen this with people who have disabilities and other minority groups. This, of course, as you said, undermines trust for the victims in those agencies. And it's great to see you here today, Elizabeth, because, of course, Step Up Migrant Women did call for very basic, I think, safe and secure reporting mechanisms, and this firewall, which does separate policy and practice between immigration control and then reporting from support services for the victims of crime.
I'm very sad that the UK Government rejected both of these suggestions, and one of the reasons that they gave was that they say that data sharing with immigration enforcement is essential to protect victims. So, my question to you all today is: what is your response to this, and are you able as well—? I think it would be very helpful for the committee if you were able to give us any kind of tangible examples of the impact of this, and whether or not, for example, it has impacted on people accessing recourse to public funds. Elizabeth, I'm going to come to you first, if that's okay, because I know that you're here from the Step Up Migrant Women coalition today and you've submitted a lot of research on this.
Thank you very much, Sarah. This is an area that has caused many concerns amongst many organisations, and what I really want to mention is that, of course, this has an impact on victims of domestic abuse, but it has an impact on victims of crime in general. So, this is really important to bear in mind when we speak about the possibility of a firewall.
So, it has been mentioned how this fear of immigration enforcement prevents victims and survivors not only from reporting to the police, but also from accessing lifesaving support, as they are more afraid of the police, for instance, than of perpetrators, which is terrible. But this is not an unfounded fear; we know, for instance, it was confirmed by the Government in the review response to the super-complaint that was filed by Southall Black Sisters and Liberty that, between April 2020 and March 2021, police referred 211 migrant victims of domestic abuse to the Immigration Enforcement National Command and Control Unit. So, this is terrible.
And at the front line, what we see—. Let me just tell you a little bit of a recent case that we had, which has concerned us and has shaken the organisation really badly. What we have got with the Government is that they are removing safer spaces for women, and, for some of them, the only safe space they have is specialist organisations, and we were really afraid that this would impact the safety of these spaces. So, recently, we had a case of a woman who was experiencing a high-risk case of domestic abuse and stalking. She was undocumented, and she was undocumented as part of the abuse. So, she came terrified to our service, and after evaluating and assessing her case, her caseworker recommended reporting it to the police because of the high risk of the situation. They, together, reported to the police and eight days after they did an online report to the police, she received an immigration enforcement letter. What is worse is that the police officers came to her house and when they realised that she was undocumented, they called immigration enforcement in front of her. We are speaking of a really vulnerable victim of domestic abuse, and in eight days, as I mentioned already, she received this letter. What happened was that as this woman was completely distressed and terrified, she decided to disengage not only from the police report but from our support. We were the only means of support that she had, and in the end she decided not to engage anymore because she was really, really terrified.
And as you mentioned, Sarah, in 2019 we published 'The Right to be Believed' report, and what is really interesting about this report is that we found out that the biggest factor preventing migrant women from reporting VAWG to the police was the fear of deportation. So, amongst the data that we have in this report, it's really important to say that they were often unable to report because of deportation threats from abusers—more than 60 per cent of the women we surveyed received deportation threats from perpetrators. More than 50 per cent of these women didn't report because they feared that they wouldn't be believed, and that's something we see all the time at the front line. Migrant victims are not seen as victims, first and foremost, as the Government says, but as possible immigration offenders. And what we see when they report and they come in contact, not only with police but other statutory services, is that their immigration status takes precedence and all interventions are based on their immigration status.
So, having that firewall would have not only the positive result of allowing victims to report safely, but it would also take the burden from statutory services, including the police, to have to do immigration-related actions. Because they are not immigration bodies, they don't have this specialist knowledge, and it's really difficult for them to make these decisions. This is putting a burden on these statutory services.
Hannana mentioned that the Government, in responding to the super-complaint, not only rejected the possibility of having a firewall, but they are proposing something called 'immigration enforcement migrant victims protocol'. What we say is that this protocol is not a suitable solution not only because it's not a firewall, but because it's institutionalising the role of immigration enforcement in the reporting of a crime. So, it's institutionalising this co-operation between the police and immigration enforcement. We have a joint response that we wrote together with Southall Black Sisters and other organisations and we have said that there are many issues that we find in this protocol, but, just to be brief, the most important is that we insist that there's a conflict of interest. The Government says, as you mentioned, Sarah, that they're safeguarding data sharing. We have said, and we can show with evidence from the front line, that this is not true, because immigration enforcement has the main goal and the main task of enforcing immigration legislation and rules, not to protect victims of crime; this is the role of other statutory services and specialist online organisations that are part of the community, that are embedded in the community.
Elizabeth, thank you so much, because you summarise something that has been going on for a really long time, and it's sometimes so difficult, I know, to have those tangible examples when there is just a lack of transparency.
I just had two other quick questions. Hannana, you mentioned how, in Wales, we could have a firewall, because as I was going to say, this is sharing between mostly UK Government agencies. So, is there anything that Welsh Government can do, for example, looking to preventing our social services creating a firewall, so at least our social services in Wales aren't sharing this information with UK agencies like the Home Office and immigration enforcement?
I think it's possible, on the grounds of human rights and, indeed, to protect victims of violence, to have a firewall with all agencies in Wales. I think it's part of a wider model of the sanctuary city, isn't it, about migrants not being deported, migrants feeling safe to come forward and seek help. This is a particularly vulnerable group who are facing gender-based violence, and it's women and children who need to be protected. So, I think, on the firewall, legally, I'm sure it's possible to have due regard even to the Instanbul convention, where you could say, as a country, we feel that we have to comply with the convention, and with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women—that we feel that we can implement a firewall and work towards that. And secondly it's to have your national fund for those with no recourse to public funds, so they can access safe housing. It's a safety net. You know, it's a final safety net that women and children do need, because even refuges find it difficult to accept them, and I think that that's terrible, that women in that position can't even access a refuge. It's a totally discriminatory position. But also, the fact that it leaves a whole group of vulnerable people out on the streets and subject to abuse and exploitation, either at home or outside of the home. Because if you're destitute, you can be exploited, and we have cases where that has happened. So, I think both of those measures would really help migrant women.
Wonderful. Thank you. And just one more question, if I can, Chair, to Jenny. You mentioned earlier on that migrant women need to be made aware of their human rights. Do you think that this data collection and sharing is impacting these rights? In what way, and how do you think they should be informed?
I'm not sure I can draw a link between this legislation and their not knowing their rights. I guess making someone completely dependent on someone else, which is part of the system, is one way in which they don't have access to any information. But we should have a duty, when people are arriving to the UK, to inform them of their rights. There are many examples in our interviews in Australia and Turkey that where women are informed of their rights they actually leave their abusive partner much more quickly. They find things out, and they're getting this information from neighbours or from organisations. If every woman had this information, it's not going to resolve the problem, because the problem is the dependency that's associated with the visa, but it gives them at least a bit of a resource that they can do something with.
The other issue is organisations like Southall Black Sisters and Bawso that provide the mechanism, to give them the confidence to go to a police station or to take action. It's really a hard thing to do by yourself—completely alone with no friends and no family. So, in Wales, one of the things that can be done is greater investment in services. I know from the research that all the organisations we spoke to said, 'Bawso are the only ones with the specialism in this', and then you talk to Bawso, and they say, 'We are completely beyond capacity and we are only dealing with those people who are in the most dire situations.' We don't want people to get to that point, so I think that something that can be done is Wales is a greater level of investment.
Thank you. I suppose what I was getting at there, though, as well, is that women are having this data collected on them and shared on them. Are they being asked for permission to do that? Are they being made aware that this is going to happen to them? Because I would say that that is in conflict—[Inaudible.]
They're not aware. They're not told this, but they know, or at least one of the things the abusers will tell them is, 'If you report what's happening here, you will be deported, you will be detained.' And we have several examples where that's happened. There are a couple of examples of individuals who were trafficked into the UK as minors. They don't even know they're undocumented themselves. They manage to escape, they make it to a police station, and they are arrested and they are detained. They came as children. They're not literate because they came as children and they were denied access to education. So, that lack of information is extremely problematic, amongst everything else, really—the status, full stop. The tendency is to treat as a criminal rather than a victim.
Elizabeth, do you want to come in as well?
I think, Sarah, your question is really relevant. Something really quick I just wanted to mention is that we have discussed the idea of victims consenting to their data being shared, and we have had some conflicts in there, because informed consent amongst a group of really vulnerable people who might not be speaking English, who might be really scared in their first approach with the police—. We have come to the conclusion that we don't think there's a possibility of speaking of real consenting there. But, just in practice, as you ask, no, these women don't know their data is going to be shared. They fear, and they have been told by perpetrators, as I mentioned in the case I put as an example, that there are consequences. But it's not that there's like a proper process in which they are informed why their data is shared. The Government keeps insisting that this is safeguarding. We have said, with many examples, that this is not true. But, yes, on the idea of consent, we evaluated this around our work with the domestic abuse Bill campaign, and we came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be possible with such a vulnerable group of victims.
Thank you very much. If we could move on to Jane Dodds, who has some questions.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Dwi jest eisiau canolbwyntio ar fenywod sydd â dim hawl i arian cyhoeddus. Rydym ni wedi clywed tipyn bach am y rhain yn barod, ond jest un cwestion oddi wrtha i, os gwelwch yn dda: pa fath o gama fyddech chi'n eu gweld sy'n cael effaith gwell ar y grŵp yma, yn y Deyrnas Unedig a hefyd yma yng Nghymru? Jest yr un cwestiwn—dwi'n gweld yr amser, Gadeirydd. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Pwy sydd eisiau mynd?
Thank you, Chair. I just want to focus on women who have no recourse to public funds. We've heard a little about this already, but just one question from me, if I may: what kind of steps do you belive would have a positive impact on this group in the UK, but also here in Wales? I do see that time is against us, so I'll just ask that one question, Chair. Thank you. Who'd like to go first?
Sorry, I just missed the beginning of that question because I didn't put my translation on quick enough.
I'll do it in English, just because we've got less time, and I'm conscious of that. We just want to look at the group of women in the category of no recourse to public funds, and we've heard a little bit about this group already in the evidence. But what sort of steps do you think need to be taken, both from the UK Government perspective and the Welsh Government perspective as well? Obviously, we know it's not a devolved policy area, so we don't have the powers. You have said something about this already, but I'm just interested, specifically, around that particular group of women.
I think for national Government, we want them to extend the destitution and domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rules that currently exist for those on spousal visas to everyone who has gone through domestic abuse, whether they're undocumented or not. I think that will protect and give basic rights to a very vulnerable group of women who, at the moment, cannot access refuge accommodation and other types of support. I think it's important to give them status as well as support, because that gives them the confidence to come forward and seek help, because if they feel they're not going to get status, that will prevent them from coming forward to seek help. So, for any kind of reform to be effective, they need to have some status, but even if that wasn't introduced for all victims, there is an essential need to give them access to benefits so that they can escape abusive relationships more effectively. And it does make a difference—in fact, even with our pilot, the evidence shows it makes a big difference to enable women to escape, despite all its problems and limitations. Also, I would say that even if you had a fund, it should really reach the universal benefit rate. At the moment. We're paying at a lower rate, and that's still not enough. It's not enough for subsistence and it doesn't cover all the rent, and so the universal credit rates, and the actual rents, should be reflected in those kinds of benefits systems.
As you said, this is an issue where you cannot change the law, but you can introduce a fund, you can look at interim measures, and so you can look at a national fund in Wales that will provide subsistence and accommodation costs for all victims who are going through gender-based violence who have no recourse to public funds. Secondly, you could also, like has been said, invest in specialist services. A better investment in these services will mean that women will then have the confidence to come forward to seek help, because again, even with the fund, they might be worried, if they have to go to social services or elsewhere, that they'll get reported to the Home Office, because it's not necessarily tied to status. So, then being able to go to an agency in a community that they trust, who can then access safe housing for them, and to have bed space for women with no recourse to public funds—we do that in some of our projects in London, where bed spaces are funded for those with no recourse to public funds. So, you could look at the accommodation, refuges, the services and support element, and the advocacy element. One of the things we're trying to do is provide a holistic service so you help women with wraparound support that is far more effective than just putting them in bed and breakfasts and forgetting about them.
You need to be able to give them the support to make that permanent break, to get legal advice, to have advocacy, to have counselling, because a lot of these women have gone through trauma, and are traumatised and need counselling. And they need peer-group support and educational activities to help them to become more independent. That holistic support should be funded by or for specialist organisations—they are the experts, they have a track record, they exist in the community, and they're the ones who women trust to come forward. Again and again through our research and our own experience we've found that they would prefer to go to these organisations before they go to anyone else. So I think in terms of no recourse to public funds, we need to have those two things in the system, but we also need to have a firewall, because even those kind of provisions may not be as effective as we'd like, because without a firewall women feel that they can't go even to social services. They may have rights from social services, but the social services would check their status with the Home Office. They have to, because otherwise they won't give them any support, they won't see them as being destitute—they'll just tell them to go and claim benefits.
The other issue, which I did want to mention earlier, is that, in some areas, immigration officials are being embedded into agencies like social services, which then reduces the confidence of women to go even to social services when they're very desperate, and that's usually their final safety net. Again, that situation needs to be changed with the firewall, so you need to give women confidence to come forward, to get help. Even if they don't get status as a result of all of this, you need to put all these other measures in place to give them confidence and access to support.
Could I just—? Sorry, Jenny.
That's okay. I know Altaf wants to come in as well, but did you have a follow-up question on what Hannana said?
Thank you very much, Chair. I just want to ask two points. One is: what impact did the pandemic have for those facing these barriers, and the chances they had for accessing support? And about asylum seekers—are the barriers the same for them? Which organisation is best to look after them and how can we help that organisation in seeking it if they need additional help? Thank you.
Yes, I just wanted to add to Hannana's response. One of the things to come through is the need for training. So, I completely agree, 'by and for' services are the best way forward, but when women are entering other services who don't know about the specific situation of migrant women, and particularly forced migrant women, they're making mistakes that are—sometimes they're not referring them on to services and they're ignoring the fact that they're experiencing abuse because they don't know what to do; other times, they're putting them at risk of being detained. This is something that came through the Welsh research.
In terms of asylum seekers, they too are struggling to access services and remaining in relationships particularly where they are attached to a partner who is the lead applicant. So, one of the things we need to do more generally is to ensure that every asylum seeker in the country is claiming in their own right, or at least has their own right to remain and is not dependent on another.
I also wanted to add, just so that you know, that migrant women do not just experience domestic violence. It's an important factor, but many of them have experienced many years of violence as they are heading towards what they hope is safety—many years, 20, 30 years in some cases, in many forms, at the hands of many different perpetrators. And the thing that's really, really lacking, amongst all these others, is mental health support, addressing women's isolation, because they feel so ashamed of what's happened to them, and this really adds to the suicide ideation, and a complete lack of PTSD services available to forced migrants in Wales. So, please, let's not—. Domestic violence is important, but there are many other forms of sexual and gender-based violence that asylum seekers and other forced migrant women have experienced.
Okay. I'll take questions from Jane Dodds and then Sarah Murphy, and then I'll call Ginger and Elizabeth, who want to respond. Jane.
Thank you. I just really want to stay with the no recourse to public funds situation, NRPF, and the issue as well there for me is about the children involved, because my understanding is that they could access section 20 funds from the local authority under the Children Act 1989. I just really wondered what we need to do. Were there any thoughts that you had, outside of what you've said, because you've said a lot, and I think we don't want to be repeating it all, because I think we're all taking that in, really. But is there anything specific for that group of women that really looks at their particular situation and their children's situation and how that interfaces with local authorities and their duties under the Children Act?
Okay. So, hold the idea about the Children Act. Sarah Murphy, what was your additional point?
I don't have one, Chair. Thank you.
Okay, fine. Sorry, I thought you wanted to come in. I'll just add in this, which is: no recourse to public funds is what it says on the tin, that's what somebody has signed up to when they've come to this country under that provision. So, really, what success do you have as organisations to get private or voluntary funds so you're not dependent on the state in this regard? Okay, shall I go to Ginger first, then Elizabeth? Is that all right? I don't quite know exactly what you'll want to say, but—.
Okay. Just speaking to the general question about no recourse to public funds, I would just reiterate that the commission has recommended that the UK Government lift the restrictions on no recourse to public funds so that all gender-based violence survivors can access appropriate support. We've also recommended to UK—well, on a slightly different tack, we've also recommended to UK and Welsh Governments that UK and Welsh Governments establish a national mechanism for reporting on the implementation and follow-up of UN recommendations relating to human rights. So, just looking at this more as a human rights issue. And what Welsh Government could do is come up with a mechanism for really monitoring that and showing the impact of people having their rights restricted. I'll leave it at that. Thanks.
Thank you. Elizabeth.
Thank you. I was going to be speaking about training, which I think is really important. Something to mention about training is that this training needs to be developed in partnership with the specialist organisations. Otherwise, we're going to be missing this expertise and the need to plan this training to respond to these specific needs.
And then, just going back to the question on the pandemic—I think this has been said many times, but it's always good to say this because we're still dealing with the consequences of the pandemic—the pandemic exacerbated a situation that was already happening. It wasn't a new situation. It was a new situation to the extent that we had to close our offices, and it connects back to the chronic underfunding to the sector, and how difficult it is for us, especially as 'by and for' organisations, to adapt to the new reality, so dealing with and supporting women in lockdown with the office closed, with very limited resources. So, there needs to be learning out of how organisations organise themselves to best respond to the emergency situation that women were experiencing, for those to see how difficult these barriers that we have already spoken about became, in the context of no recourse to public funds and the lack of safe reporting mechanisms.
Okay, thank you very much. We're now going to take a short break, and I'd be grateful if you were able to come back at 2.39 p.m. so that we can start promptly at 2.40 p.m. in public. Okay? And we'll start with questions from Ken Skates.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:31 ac 14:40.
The meeting adjourned between 14:31 and 14:40.
Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee's deliberations and our inquiry into violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, in particular focusing on migrant women. So, Ken Skates, you were going to start us off.
Thanks, Chair. Studies suggest that the needs of migrant women and girls who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence are best met through the provision of specialist or 'by and for' services. In what ways do you think that they provide the best possible support? Elizabeth.
Thank you. I think it comes from something that Hannana mentioned before, and it's this holistic way, it's this holistic wraparound support, that it's not focused on one intervention but thinking about the different needs that someone has when accessing the service. So, if I give you an example, when someone accesses support in law as a victim of gender-based violence, she would be assessed and referred to the counselling service if she wanted to access it. She would be then referred to the general advice teams in case, for instance, she can apply for benefits, in case she has access and recourse to public funds, otherwise she won't. But there's immigration advice at the front line of the interventions to support migrant women, and, of course, it has to do with this culturally and linguistically appropriate support that is provided by the organisations.
So, Hannana and then Jenny.
Thank you. The other thing, of course, to support what Elizabeth has said, is that they also provide long-term support, so it's not just crisis intervention where it can be over several months or even years in many cases, because women with immigration problems or with no recourse to public funds need that long-term support. You can't resolve some immigration applications quickly, particularly if there are non-spousal visas or they're undocumented. You need to get them legal advice, they have to think about their options, they need to make the applications to stay in the country, they may get refused and then they have to go to appeal. So, it can go on for quite some time, and women need support throughout that process in order to access the full help that they need, which prevents deportation, isolation and destitution.
One thing I just want to say in terms of the policy of local authorities is that specialist organisations are the kind of in between. They help women to access services, the mainstream services, because of this in the community and women feel that they can approach them, that they're culturally competent, that the linguistic services are there, they understand their background, they understand their immigration problems, and they will not get reported to the Home Office—the fact that there is a firewall, there's trust and there's confidence to do so. So, then they're able to access those services based on informed choices and decisions and the advice that we give, and that is expert advice—it's built over years of work and experience, working with women in the community.
Just to come back to a quick question about social services—'How do you improve them?'—it's our organisations that help to improve the response to social services and other agencies, so those specialist services need the funding in order to improve, for women to get the right services and their entitlements. But having said that, I think there is more that can be done with social services by local authorities in terms of giving stronger guidance or a policy statement about how they should be providing support for those with no recourse to public funds; that they shouldn't be looking at options like returning the children to an abusive parent; that they should not be threatening to take the children into care, but keeping the mother and the child together; that they will be implementing their legal duties, and obviously that needs providing training as well and support for the staff for them to implement that; but also that they will have some kind of firewall as well. They may have to, obviously, as part of the assessment, check somebody's immigration status, but they also can team up with the specialist agencies, so they can get the support and the legal advice they need before there's any contact with the Home Office. That's how we do it. We have to find out women's immigration status if they don't know what it is or if they want to resolve it. We don't necessarily contact the Home Office, we get the solicitor to contact the Home Office, when the woman is ready for that, and if she's not ready for that, she has a choice to withdraw. So, I think we need to just have those basic systems in place: good practice, standards, guidance, policy statements from local authorities, training. All those systems need to be in place for women to have a better experience and confidence in those services.
Jenny Phillimore, did you want to add something?
Very quickly. On the issue of trust, that's absolutely critical if people are going to disclose. This goes beyond domestic violence into long-term experiences of rape and sex trafficking. 'By and for' organisations are often run by people who are themselves survivors, so they're able to work in a gender and trauma-sensitive way and are able to build up a strong sense of trust through that. And whilst I agree with Hannana that long-term support is necessary and really important—and bear in mind that our work has covered all of the UK, apart from Northern Ireland—what we find with some of the small organisations, and also Bawso, is that whilst the support that they provide is excellent, they cannot continue to provide long-term support. They say that they must move people on or away so that they can deal with the next batch of urgent situations. So, there is a need for a funding model that deals with both emergencies and the longer term, and that's not in place in much of the UK at the moment.
Ginger, do you want to add something?
Just very quickly. What 'by and for' services and organisations can also add is they can also be skilled at identifying specific forms of gender-based violence, which might be missed in mainstream settings. An Equality and Human Rights Commission report from 2020 found indications that access to those services could increase reporting to and progress through the criminal justice system.
Okay. Back to you, Ken.
I think Hannana—.
Yes. Sorry. I just wanted to add that when I talk about long-term support provided by the services, it doesn't mean it's funded; it just basically means that those organisations are dedicated and committed. We work long hours to help women, which is totally not funded. So, that's why you'd need to provide funding for the services. It's historically been underfunded; it needs a great investment, and the Government only gave about £2 million for the whole of the country for specialist services in the last round of funding. That's just totally tokenistic. It needs proper funding in order to provide that holistic short-term and long-term support that victims need.
That's really helpful, because I was going to ask about the financial constraints and how they should be overcome. But what other constraints are there and how should they be dealt with? What are the practical constraints limiting the provision of support? I don't know whether anyone has a view on this.
Funding is the biggest issue.
Sorry, was that Jenny?
Yes. Sorry. Funding is the biggest issue by far in all the organisations we've spoken to.
Are there any other practical constraints at all?
There can be constraints attached to funding as well for a certain project or a certain group of people. Some organisations are very clever about how they move the money around and how they make a little bit go a long way, but it can be quite constrained.
There was a question earlier about how do you fund through voluntary and private means a 'no recourse' fund like we're doing, and really some of it just depends on donations, but it's not consistent, and it cannot be provided at universal credit rates, and then really you can only give small amounts of money for a short period of time. I think that is quite difficult to sustain for most organisations. Most organisations don't run a fund; we're kind of unique in doing that. And I think that Government should be providing that funding in a fund. Practically, for most organisations, they literally don't have the money to pay women's rent and subsistence as well as run a service themselves.
Just to add quickly to all that, I know that Wales Audit Office did a report in 2019 on progress in implementing the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, and I think what they did find was that despite the idea that there is supposed to be joined-up commissioning and more unified standards across Wales, that's not exactly the case all across Wales. That means that organisations are reporting, perhaps, on different outcomes for different statutory funding streams, and it would be much more helpful if there was a unified set of service standards and a unified method of reporting, and applying for the grant. It's actually in the applications and the reporting that I think Wales Audit Office found that organisations thought that it was overly complicated.
Elizabeth, you wanted to add something.
I think a good example of that was how difficult, during COVID, it was to apply for certain funding, because deadlines were really short. Specialist organisations tend to have smaller teams and their directors are doing the fundraising at the same time as running a service that they had to close really quickly due to COVID. So, what we need, and we have spoken about this, is ring-fenced funding for specialist organisations that is flexible. And I think speaking about service delivery is also really important here, connected to what Hannana mentioned with regard to long-term support, because targets and reporting cannot be the same for specialist organisations, because the experiences of abuse and the difficulties in accessing support for those with no recourse to public funds would involve more advocacy from front-line workers, who often would need to make the case to social services and police. The needs of these particular victims are different. So, it's really important to consider that this model of support from mainstream organisations doesn't really work for specialist 'by and for' services.
Ken, I think Hannana wants to add something.
Yes, just coming back to the model of funding. Applying for, commissioning and competing in tender bids is very, very difficult for small and black and minority organisations. They can't compete with the larger service providers, who are not specialists, who don't have the track record or the expertise in dealing with these issues. So, the funding model that we would prefer and that has in the past worked really well is not commissioning and tendering but grant-based provision, so a much simpler, easier process of making applications for funding through the grant-based system.
And just to say long-term funding. Some of the organisations are tied up with constantly putting in more and more proposals and it distracts from service delivery. So, moving away from that bureaucracy.
Thanks for that. That was pretty comprehensive. I am conscious of time; I won't take up too much more, Chair. You've already given evidence in regard to training, but what further support or training do you think could be provided by non-specialist violence against women organisations? Jenny.
It's more a case that there is training needed for those organisations, because they lack the specialism and the expertise to deal with this. As somebody else said earlier, that should be developed in conjunction with the specialised organisations. So, it's not that they can provide training, those non-specialist organisations, because they just don't understand the immigration system, they don't understand what it's like to be a forced migrant, or a spousal migrant. So, it's kind of flipping it; it's the other way round.
So, the specialist organisations should be funded to provide, or at least advise on, the training, so that they're not having to do it as extra work on top of everything.
I think it was the domestic violence commissioner for England and Wales who mentioned that many of these specialist bodies like Bawso are not represented on multi-agency risk assessment conferences, which is obviously where these profound discussions take place around individual cases. How common is that? Because if that was happening in Wales, we'd certainly want to rectify that. Hannana.
I'm not sure about Wales, but I know smaller organisations find it difficult to get to MARAC meetings. And again, it's a capacity issue and a funding issue that needs to be resolved.
Okay. Thanks, Chair; that's everything from me.
Okay. Very good. Sioned Williams, would you like to come in at this point, please?
Diolch, Gadeirydd. I'm going to be speaking in Welsh, if you want to make sure your translation is working. My Wi-Fi is awful as well, so I apologise if I glitch.
Rŷn ni wedi siarad tipyn am effaith polisi Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol. Wrth gwrs, roedd y Ddeddf Cam-drin Domestig 2021 wedi cael ei disgrifio fel cyfle unwaith-mewn-cenhedlaeth i fynd i’r afael â cham-drin domestig, ond rŷn ni'n gwybod bod yna ymateb negyddol wedi bod iddi hi, a'r glymblaid Step Up Migrant Women yn dweud bod menywod mudol yn parhau i gael eu heithrio o ddiogelwch ac amddiffyniad. Felly, wrth feddwl yn benodol am y Ddeddf honno, beth yw'r bylchau sy'n parhau i fod, ac ydych chi'n meddwl bod yna gyfleon i Lywodraeth Cymru lenwi rhai o'r bylchau yna mewn rhyw fodd? Yn amlwg, dŷn ni'n methu newid y ddeddfwriaeth, ond oes yna gyfleon?
We've already discussed the impact of UK Government policy in this area. Of course, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 had been described as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address domestic abuse, but we know that there has been a negative response, with the Step Up Migrant Women coalition saying, for example, that migrant women continue to be excluded from safety and protection. So, thinking particularly about the Domestic Abuse Act, what are the gaps that continue to exist, and do you think that there are opportunities for the Welsh Government to fill some of those gaps in one way or another? Clearly, we can't change the legislation, but are there opportunities for us there?
We campaigned alongside Southall Black Sisters and the End Violence Against Women coalition, leading three different amendments that responded to the specific needs of migrant victims of gender-based abuse. And as you mentioned, there's a huge gap there, because despite the fact that the Act was welcome because there are new provisions that we as organisations were welcoming, this doesn't apply to this specific vulnerable group of victims. So, we wrote a blog recently on how there's no 'before and after' for migrant women as the Act marks one year of passing. I think what the Welsh Government can do, and there have been already conversations around this—. In terms of best practice, I know from from the super-complaint on data sharing that there was specific good practice between north Wales police and Bawso, who actually have this partnership in which victims with insecure immigration status are referred to the organisation. So, we have spoken about the possibility of exploring a local firewall, and that doesn't mean changing legislation, because there is no legal obligation to share data with the Home Office, and the National Police Chiefs Council on this specific area opens to the discretion of police officers. So, what we would like to see is more partnership between the police and the specialist organisations when encountering victims with insecure immigration status, because as we have said already, we will provide this holistic support, and we would be able to work alongside the police for the best outcome for victims. So, this would be specifically on data sharing.
I want to point to two things. Firstly, there's the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which is going to make things an awful lot worse for asylum-seeking women, and I think Wales have got an opportunity, as they have done in the past, to push back around things like accommodation centres. So, just refusing to implement that policy is a step forward. Secondly, there's an opportunity ahead, which is the victims Bill, which is going to be going through the First Reading this side of the summer recess. That starts with the term 'all victims', okay, and I'm arguing for 'all victims' meaning all victims regardless of immigration status. There are many measures in there that could work very, very well for forced migrant women, for migrant women who have experienced domestic violence. And I think we should be pushing—Wales should be pushing—for the inclusion of all women, and also to ensure that the different groups that are going to be introduced, and networks, around implementing the measures of the victims Bill, actually include some of the grass-roots organisations that we've been talking about, so that they actually feed into policy as its made, and feed into practice. Otherwise, it'll just come from the top down. So, I think there's a real opportunity with the victims Bill, and it does cover Wales.
I think the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, as Elizabeth has said, didn't really help migrant women, but I think the opportunities are under the duty for accommodation, where you could look at accommodation for those with no recourse to public funds and fund refuge spaces for them in Wales. I think you need to look at how that could work out in practice.
The other thing that did come out of the debates around the Bill, although they didn't accept our amendments, was the pilot scheme itself. We want, obviously, the support of everyone, including the Welsh Government, to have the outcome of that to be a system that gives all migrant women and victims the right to benefits to prevent destitution. So, again, that's a follow on and it's linked to the domestic abuse Bill and what happened there.
The other thing was that—. There was a lot of debate around ratifying the Istanbul convention, and the Government were saying, 'Well, we can't ratify it because we haven't—not compliant on migrant women.' It was a circular argument. But, you know, the fact is that they don't have to, first of all, be fully compliant to ratify, so you could still argue that there should be ratification. But also, the fact that there is—. The pilot scheme is a way of meeting the obligations of the Istanbul convention. So that can still be pushed for in terms of reforming the law so they have access to benefits. And also to introduce the firewall. Now, if you set the examples in Wales with your fund, with your firewall, with your specialist investment in special services, you're setting a standard for the whole of the UK and you're giving it direction in terms of where the central Government should be heading as a next step from the Domestic Abuse Act. Because, yes, a lot of it just doesn't really help migrant women enough, but there was enough debate there to raise awareness and to take things forward.
Okay. Altaf, is there anything further you wanted to ask around the Nationality and Borders Act?
Yes. What are the perceived implications of the Nationality and Borders Bill on migrant women? And what effects will the Nationality and Borders Bill have on people smugglers who exploit women and children? Yes, Elizabeth. Thank you.
Just very quickly, as you might be aware, it was Women for Refugee Women who were the organisation leading on this specific issue. But last year, in light of the 25 November—. It's—. I forgot the name in English, I'm really sorry, but it's—.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Thank you, Hannana. Women for Refugee Women published a legal opinion, which they sought with some solicitors and barristers, and it was really clear coming from there that the Act—Bill in that moment—will
'disproportionately adversely disadvantage women and girls'
creating additional obstacles to them seeking international protection in the UK. And I think two things that—. There are many issues with the Nationality and Borders Act now, but two things that are really concerning are the creation of this new status for asylum seekers who come through irregular routes, which will likely increase the number of people under no recourse to public funds, and we have spoken about this up to now, their vulnerabilities around no recourse to public funds. And also, Women for Refugee Women, we're speaking a lot about how women will be denied a fair hearing, as any late submission of evidence will damage the claimant's credibility and will have minimal weight. So, it shows that there's a lack of understanding of how trauma works and how difficult it is for someone to disclose the violence and the abuse that they have experienced, in many cases, for really long, expecting to them disclose this in one first hearing and that's it. So, it doesn't really understand the nature of abuse. So, it's really concerning what is coming with the Nationality and Borders Act.
Hannana, do you have—
Yes, I think—. Sorry. I think the other thing is that Women for Refugee Women have argued that the Act will make the test to prove gender-related persecution much harder, because it's going to complicate the test. You have to have a two-step—. I don't know the details, but there's a two-step process now that will make it harder to claim gender-related persecution. And most of the women we deal with can't go back to their country of origin, because they're facing gender-related persecution, and often are single or separated and divorced women, who are going to face things like honour-based violence and sexual harassment and domestic abuse and so forth. So that, I think, is problematic for the future in terms of getting international protection for women.
The other area that's developing is the whole policies around dispersal and detention. Now, more women are going to be put into detention. They got rid of that policy because it was inhumane and now it's coming back. So, again, in terms of the system, it's a hostile environment and I think it reinforces the hostile environment and makes it far more oppressive and much more difficult for women who are facing gender-based violence within that context to get adequate help, particularly if they're undocumented. I'm not sure how far they would also be sent to Rwanda—I don't know the detail—and, you know, how is that going to protect them from gender-based violence and give them any kind of stability or security? It just doesn't—you know, it doesn't make sense. It's going in the total opposite direction and not protecting vulnerable victims.
Just to say that I completely agree with all of that, but the new asylum processing centres that are proposed, which are not the same as detention, but will be mixed gender, as much initial accommodation and now hotels are for asylum seekers. And we've got endless evidence from our work with Doctors of the World and on the SEREDA project that, in mixed housing, women who are uncoupled, including women with small children and occasionally unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, are constantly sexually harassed by other residents and sometimes by staff. So, I think we have to be really careful and push for single-gender accommodation. That's really important. It's just not very safe.
My last question I'll ask, Chair, is: by now clamping down on people smugglers, does the United Kingdom stand in a better place to fulfil our international obligation to resettle refugees who come to the UK? And won't the new Bill encourage refugees in France to seek out official routes at Britain-France border crossings? Thank you.
I don't think that the new Bill is going to stop people smugglers; they're going to continue. They exploit people's vulnerable position, and they will continue to come. And in terms of processing applications on the borders, you know from the Ukrainian situation that it's so badly done, and even though most people in this country want them to come into this country, they're hardly getting the visas and the support. And you don't even have to have a visa to be an asylum seeker, so why is it so difficult to come into the country? And I think that kind of attitude just displays a much bigger attitude to asylum seekers, which is not going to—. You know, it's very hard to get into this country in a legal route as an asylum seeker, or on other visas, to be honest, and therefore people who are vulnerable will use illegal routes and therefore people smugglers are going to take advantage of that. Sending people to Rwanda is not going to stop the desperation that goes behind people coming here, and people smugglers will continue. They don't care if people die or are exploited, they just want the money. It's going to continue.
And there is an assumption that asylum seekers crossing to be here have perfect information about the asylum system, which is just not the case. So, it's not going to work. It's just going to cause more stress, more distress.
Thank you. I think that's probably enough of that for now. Sioned, would you like to pick up on the final section of learning from best practice?
Ie. Diolch, Cadeirydd, a dwi eisiau diolch i chi. Rŷch chi wedi, nifer ohonoch chi, sôn yn barod—[Anghlywadwy.]
Yes. Thank you, Chair, and I'd like to thank our witnesses too. Many of you have already mentioned—[Inaudible.]
Okay, Sioned has frozen. [Interruption.] You froze for a bit, Sioned, so if you could just repeat your question.
Ie. Sori, mae'r we yn ofnadwy. Ie, mae nifer ohonoch chi wedi sôn yn barod am y cyfleoedd sydd gan Lywodraeth Cymru i gefnogi menywod mudol ac i ddysgu o rai o'r pethau sy'n digwydd ar hyn o bryd, pethau y gallwn ni eu gwneud i lenwi'r bylchau yna. Ond eisiau gofyn oeddwn i—. Dwi'n credu bod Jenny wedi sôn am rai o'r pethau sy'n digwydd yn rhyngwladol, yn Twrci, Awstralia, ac rŷch chi wedi sôn eich bod chi wedi gwneud ymchwil dros y Deyrnas Gyfunol, ar wahân i Ogledd Iwerddon, felly allwch chi roi unrhyw enghreifftiau eraill o arfer gorau sy'n digwydd y tu hwnt i Gymru o ran cefnogi menywod mudol—y pethau y dylai Llywodraeth Cymru ddysgu ohonyn nhw, pa wersi sydd i'w dysgu, efallai, o rai o'r cynlluniau peilot sydd wedi bod, beth yw'r pwyntiau allweddol mae'n rhaid i Lywodraeth Cymru gymryd arnyn nhw o'r pethau hyn? Yn rhyngwladol, felly, ac o fewn Prydain.
Yes. Sorry, the Wi-Fi's terrible. Yes, many of you have already mentioned the opportunities available to the Welsh Government to support migrant women and to learn from what happens elsewhere, things that we can do to fill some of those gaps. But I wanted to ask—. I think Jenny mentioned some of the things happening internationally, in Turkey, Australia, and you've mentioned that you've carried out research across the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland, so can you give us any other examples of best practice happening outwith Wales in terms of supporting migrant women—things that the Welsh Government should be learning from, what lessons can be learnt from some of the pilot programmes that have existed, and what are the key points that the Welsh Government needs to take note of and take forward? So, I'm looking for international examples and examples within the UK.
Okay. A lot of the things that have already been mentioned about 'by and for' organisations stand up globally; this is a model that works. I can point to some good things that are happening in Scotland, because we're slightly behind with our Scottish report, but that should be out in two or three weeks. There's a dedicated legal support fund in Scotland, which is funded by the Scottish Government and enables women who are in the asylum system to get additional legal support and increases their chance of asylum. And there are various pathways there for access to service and specialist services for those who are survivors of modern slavery and for those who are survivors of human trafficking and sex trafficking that they can access with—this is the really good bit—built-in counselling services. So, no need to refer to an NHS that's completely overwhelmed; those services are contracted by those organisations, with the resources from the Scottish Government.
What we've seen working elsewhere are, again, 'by and for', but very much about empowering women. Often, women are isolated. I do a lot of work with asylum seekers. So, they're extremely isolated, they may have experienced sexual and violent assaults over a period of many, many years. They feel deeply ashamed, and they feel it's something they've done wrong. Sometimes they blame—or think they must have done something wrong, so God has brought that to them. There are quite a lot of examples in Sweden, Turkey and, to a lesser extent, Australia of peer support groups. Isolation is a big problem, and in COVID we did a separate study, and women said, 'I spend too much time overthinking things because I'm unable to connect with others.' Again, that self-blaming—thinking too much about the things that one would, of course, think about. But, actually, these kinds of mechanisms, these peer support groups, across ethnic groups—it's more about experience rather than ethnicity—are a reasonably inexpensive way to provide initial support to people. And sometimes, people join peer support groups, then they hear what's happened to others, and then finally they might talk about what's happened to them. So, there are some initial suggestions.153
Of course, Turkey had a very large sum of money from the European Commission, so they actually have trialled lots of different things. The work being done by colleagues here, like Southall Black Sisters, who have a long, long history—these guys know what works. Unfortunately, they're only in London, and we need more organisations like that across the UK and better resourced.
I have two examples with regard to safe reporting. I think the first one is an international one that we have used to lobby and influence the Government, and it's a Dutch model. It's a policy called 'safe in, safe out', in which migrants with insecure immigration status can come to police stations and report crime with the certainty that their immigration status won't take precedence or won't be shared with immigration enforcement officers. It works like a firewall. It's really interesting, because they started this with a pilot project in Amsterdam, and then, as they realised it worked, they extended it as a national policy. So, it's really interesting to check this out. In fact, this year we launch a guide I can share with you later on—best practice around safe reporting and secure reporting. We have some examples from the area of gender-based abuse, but also labour rights, because, as I mentioned, this is an issue that affects not only victims of gender-based violence, but other types of crime, such as labour exploitation.
The second one comes from the UK. We have had some chats with the Angelou Centre. They are based in Newcastle, and it seems that they are doing fantastic work around data sharing and safe reporting. So, they've been meeting with their local police and police and crime commissioner to develop a guidance on how to best support someone who has insecure immigration status, including reporting to the police. They are doing something similar to what was mentioned as good practice with BAWSO, and it's how the specialist organisation plays a key role in terms of police contacting them instead of contacting immigration enforcement. And I think this is a really important point because, up to now, with the narrative of the Government saying that data sharing is safeguarding, what happens is that people at the front think this happens. At the front, I mean police officers, social services and children's social services. But when they do this partnership with organisations and they understand the reality and how negative it is for these women and how harmful it is for these women's data to be shared with the Home Office, they create these partnerships in which women can access support without the fear of immigration enforcement. So, it would be good to check with Northumbria Police and PCC what they are doing, and the key role of doing this alongside a specialist organisation that has the trust of the community because they are part of the community.
Yes, I mean, just going back to the pilot scheme that we're running on no recourse to public funds, which is funded by the Home Office—. I can't give you the details of the evaluations, but it does show the positive impact of providing a no-recourse fund that gives women access to safe housing, pays their rent and pays their subsistence, and then the holistic support around them. It does prove that. And that's a UK-wide service that BAWSO is part of. But, as you know, that's temporary.
We did another pilot before this current pilot, which was funded under the tampon tax, so again it was funded by the Government. That was for about two years and it was an England-wide pilot. We've done a report on that—there was an independent evaluation—which again had this no recourse fund and this holistic provision. I think I can send you that report, because again it shows the value of paying women subsistence and rental costs, which makes a difference in terms of escaping abuse.
Diolch. Ie, os gallwch chi anfon hynny, byddai hynny'n ddefnyddiol iawn inni fedru ystyried wrth lunio ein hadroddiad ni. Rŷn ni wedi sôn tipyn bach am drawma a gwasanaethau i fenywod sy'n dioddef o PTSD, ac roeddwn i'n darllen yn The Guardian dim ond yr wythnos yma am y rhestrau aros hir o ran y menywod sy'n dod yma o Wcráin. Mae yna restr aros o ddwy flynedd neu rywbeth, roedd The Guardian yn adrodd. Felly, dwi eisiau gofyn i chi—. Yn amlwg, yng Nghymru, rŷn ni'n dyheu i fod yn genedl noddfa sy'n blaenoriaethu cefnogi ac integreiddio ffoaduriaid a cheiswyr lloches. Felly, pa gamau ddylai Llywodraeth Cymru eu cymryd i wneud hyn, o ran y bobl sydd â phrofiad o ddioddef trais rhywiol neu drais o ran rhywedd?
Thank you very much. Yes, if you could send that through that would be most useful for us as we draw up our report. We have mentioned trauma and services for women suffering PTSD, and I read in The Guardian just this week about the lengthy waiting lists in terms of those coming here from Ukraine. There is a two-year waiting list, reported in The Guardian. So, clearly, in Wales we seek to be a nation of sanctuary that prioritises the support and integration of refugees and asylum seekers. So, what steps should the Welsh Government take to support those who have experience of sexual or gender-based violence?
Are you talking from a psychological perspective, in terms of mental health?
Ie, wel, y ddau, mewn gwirionedd, ond dwi'n meddwl, o ran, yn amlwg mae'r—. Ie, mae'r gwasanaethau—
Yes, well, both, but I think, in terms of, obviously—. Yes, the services—
The model in Scotland where organisations themselves contract the kinds of services that are needed—. We've done many years of research on refugees and access to mental health services, and even when you do access the service it's not designed for someone who's experienced forced migration, and certainly one of the issues with a lot of the women we interviewed was that they'd had so many different experiences of sexual and gender-based violence in different places at the hands of different perpetrators. Some had been kidnapped or sex trafficked. So, this goes beyond anything that your standard trained councillor can deal with, so it is better if you can work with organisations and actually provide them with the funding to contract their own therapists, rather than trying to slot it into the NHS. Also, I think there have been concerns expressed that if you provide—. There's such a shortage of mental health treatment for the entire population, if you start providing a separate stream within the NHS for migrant women, then of course other people will start saying, 'Well, that's not fair, because—.' So, to actually fund the organisations themselves is politically more palatable, but you can actually make it more tailored to the needs of migrant women.
You also need to train more specialist councillors who understand these issues and can then provide a bilingual service as well, and have them in the community—easy access—through specialist services, but there needs to be a lot more training and investment in counselling services. It's very hard to get a counsellor with that kind of specialism as well.
Roeddwn i eisiau gofyn am iaith, a dweud y gwir, achos yn y sesiynau gawsom ni yn siarad â dioddefwyr yr wythnos diwethaf, daeth hynny lan lot—oherwydd y diffyg Saesneg ei bod hi'n anodd iddyn nhw fedru cael mynediad at y gwasanaethau full stop, ond roedd yna rwystr arall o ran yr iaith. Felly, o'ch profiad chi, mae hynny yn wir yn nhermau cwnsela ac yn y blaen, a'r gefnogaeth yna.
I was going to move to the issue of language, because in the sessions that we had speaking to victims last week, that was an issue that was raised a lot—because of people not having English it was very difficult for them to access services full stop, and there was also the language barrier, which made things even worse. So, that's true of your experience, I assume, in terms of counselling and so on, and that support.
Yes. Counselling in your own language makes a big difference. It's difficult to talk about so many personal issues through an interpreter, so I think bilingual counselling is really important.
Elizabeth, you wanted to add something.
We have raised a lot of concerns around language barriers. For instance, it was really clear to us during the start of the first lockdown how it seems that interpreters were just sent home and there were no interpreters available to do any work in terms of communicating with first responders, for instance the police, and how difficult it is to do it. During the first lockdown, it was terrible, and something that happened that it might be worth mentioning is how the lack of interpretation support of course affects victims but also impacts on services, because we, as a specialist 'by and for' service, are seen as interpretation providers, and this of course increases the workload of already stretched services.
I think another area around language barrier is it's also looked through the—. How a structural—. Yes, how, for instance, austerity has this impact on cutting English for speakers of other languages classes. We need to look at the impacts on that and the access that migrants in general, not only victims, have to that. We work with the Latin American community, and the Latin American community in the UK work in very precarious jobs and that means they don't have a lot of time to attend ESOL classes in the morning, because they might be working in cleaning, for instance. So, they don't have the availability to do that. So, we need to think about ESOL classes from the perspective of accessibility for those who are really marginalised.
Diolch yn fawr. Oes yna unrhyw beth arall dŷn ni ddim wedi clywed wrthoch chi o ran awgrymiadau? Mae hwn yn gyflym, mewn gwirionedd—cwestiwn olaf—awgrymiadau eraill y byddech chi eisiau eu gwneud i Lywodraeth Cymru o ran darparu cymorth i fenywod mudol. Hannana.
Thank you very much. Is there anything else that you'd like to tell us, in terms of suggestions that you'd like to make to the Welsh Government in terms of providing support for migrant women? Hannana.
I think legal advice is critical for women to realise the state doesn't get access to their lives generally, and I think that it was suggested what's happening in Scotland, that you have a legal aid fund—if you could invest in that as well, it would be really very useful for many women.
I've already mentioned most of the things and the report's coming out next week. I think you might have already had a copy anyway; I don't know if the funders sent it to you. But just to say that with the development of an integration strategy and integration indicators in Wales at the moment, I think it's really important that gender and violence are actually considered within that integration strategy. So, it should be embedded there, it should be out in the open that this is something that needs to be a priority in Wales, and of course everywhere else.
We've got two minutes. I just want to come back to the current proposals by the UK Government to transfer asylum seekers to a part of Africa, to Rwanda. This is obviously a threat—well, that's how it's regarded by large chunks of civil society. Is it also an opportunity to get civil society to step up to the plate financially? Large numbers of private companies don't share that view of Priti Patel, and obviously they're all worried about their own business, whatever it might be, and the cost-of-living crisis affects large numbers of households. But nevertheless, is it a way of, if you like, generating additional funds, if there was anybody out there who had the energy and the capacity to do it?
Potentially, and also the crisis in Ukraine has brought the reality of what it means to be a refugee into the homes of everyone, really, in Britain, and sexual and gender-based violence in the context of Ukraine are beginning to be spoken about quite extensively. So, I think there needs to be some work, actually, telling the British population that this isn't just Ukrainians, this is all asylum seekers, refugees and, indeed, migrant women. So, I think we're at a moment of opportunity with both of those issues—but it takes energy.
I think although we didn't get the same response to the Afghan crisis, but people were saying, 'We need to get them out of the country', and people were angry with the Foreign Office for not doing more. So, I think there is this sense of injustice and humanitarian reaction that people having in this country, which I think is an opportunity to also turn to business and elsewhere for support and investment in this issue, yes.
Thank you very much. We've come to the end of our allotted time. All your contributions have been extremely valuable. We will send you a transcript of your contribution, which it's important that you read, if you could, to ensure that we have captured what you were saying as opposed to having been misheard. So, I thank you very much indeed for your participation, and we'll obviously send you a copy of our report in due course. If you could, obviously, send the additional reports that were mentioned, I think in your discourse with Sioned Williams, that would be extremely useful. Thank you very much indeed. That ends that part of the meeting.
We just have a couple of papers to note about the powers of the Children's Commissioner for Wales, and the correspondence between me and the Chair of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee about the scrutiny of commissioners. Are you content to note those before we go into private session? Okay.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I wonder if we can now move to exclude the public from the remainder of today's meeting. Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:31.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:31.