Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Equality and Social Justice Committee06/06/2022
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
|Andrea Cleaver||Cyngor Ffoaduriaid Cymru|
|Welsh Refugee Council|
|Joanne Hopkins||Iechyd Cyhoeddus Cymru|
|Public Health Wales|
|Kirsty Thomson||JustRight Scotland|
|Naomi Alleyne||Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Welsh Local Government Association|
|Sara Kirkpatrick||Cymorth i Ferched Cymru|
|Welsh Women’s Aid|
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 and members of the public as well as our witnesses to the meeting of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. This is a bilingual meeting, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I see there are none. Finally, if I drop out of the meeting for any reason, then Sarah Murphy will temporarily chair the meeting while I try to rejoin.
So, I'm very pleased today to welcome Wanjiku Mbugua-Ngotho from BAWSO, Sara Kirkpatrick from Welsh Women's Aid, and Andrea Cleaver, the chief executive of the Welsh Refugee Council, to our first evidence session in our inquiry into violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and how it affects migrant women. So, welcome, all of you.
If I could just start by asking you—. In the evidence that Welsh Women's Aid and BAWSO have submitted, you highlight that there has been an increase in the number of survivors who were refused a refuge space due to a lack of resourcing in the last financial year, 2020-21, and so 18 people were turned away. And I just wondered what happens to such people if they can't be accommodated by one or other of the organisations who provide refuge spaces. Who would like to—? Sara, do you want to go first? No.
I'll go first. Thank you, Jenny. Can you hear me?
Yes, we can, thank you very much. Welcome.
Thank you so much for that question. Yes, indeed, there have been women who have been turned away from the refuges, and that's a safe space for them, because, normally, when domestic abuse takes place, police are called because an incident has taken place. They go into the house and, in normal circumstances, they'll come and find a victim of domestic abuse and move her to a place of safety. That's the right way of doing things.
But when it comes to a migrant woman who has no recourse to public funds, it means that police may not be able to move her to a place of refuge because refuges depend on housing benefit and, if a woman is not entitled to benefits, she's not entitled to housing benefit, so she's not able to access a safe place. So, when this happens, what has happened in the worst-case scenario is that police have left women in the same place with the perpetrator. So, abuse has continued. In some instances the women have just walked out of the house and just gone away to wherever. Everyone knows they have no friends and they have no family in the country. So, some of them sleep rough in towns, in cars, and really I can't say that there is any safety. Once this safe place is not provided for them at the point where their abuse is intercepted, there is no other place for them.
Okay. In your evidence you do provide some examples from other parts, particularly England, where there has been funding from the police or from the local authority to ensure that some people with no recourse to public funds can be accommodated. So, is that not happening in Wales?
It is happening in Wales now. Since 2021, April, we received funding from the Home Office for victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds. Unfortunately, this money was very limited, whereby it only paid a maximum of £180 per family per week, while in actual fact a space in a refuge, in a safe house, costs around £300 to £400 per person. So, even when we had that funding from the Home Office, it was not enough to place women in the refuge.
The other alternative was to get hotel places for these women. Again, there's no hotel that would take somebody into a hotel room for a whole week at the rate of £150 a week, and because of that—and also, these were time-limited resources, where we were only allowed to fund these people for six weeks or 12 weeks—what refuges were saying to us was that they couldn't work with that because they wouldn't know where to take the women after the expiry of that date. So, we had women that were turned away from refuges, women that were turned away from hotels.
And in the context of your support workers understanding that there may be women and children who have no recourse to public funds, or indeed a man who's the victim of abuse, is that a major reason for gaps in research data—because maybe some support workers are reluctant to ask people what their status is in relation to public funds or, indeed, immigration?
People do ask for people's immigration status, and when they do and find out that they don't have indefinite leave to remain or British citizenship, immediately they assume the people to be illegal, and the way they treat them after that is different from how they would treat other people. So, the question is asked, but the outcome of it is that people assume, 'You don't have the right immigration status, so we can't help you—you're illegally in the country.'
So, there's a lot of misunderstanding, and especially in statutory agencies where people have not understood what different immigration statuses mean. But also, even though we have DDVC, which is the destitution domestic violence concession, which allows for women on spousal visas to access a place in the refuge, at the time when domestic abuse is taking place and they're going into a refuge, that has not been confirmed by the Home Office, and funding has not been granted to the women because they have to wait for universal credit for six weeks. Again, within these six weeks, no refuge is willing to take on a woman, because at the point when she is going into the refuge she hasn't got any funding. So, there is that, where support workers may not understand the woman's—. They may understand, but they are saying, 'There's no assurance that you're going to get these DDV concessions, so we're not going to give you a place in the refuge', and that has happened a lot.
Thank you for explaining that so clearly. Before we move on to other members of the committee's questions, Andrea or Sara, do you wish to add anything on what—? Sara. Sara Kirkpatrick, would you like—?
Thank you. I think the one thing I would add is that, as well as an uncertainty about the situation for support workers, we have to recognise that some perpetrators will misrepresent the situation. So, where there is a lack of clarity, or where there is a gap in the system, apparently benign actors will step in and offer help and support, informal help and support, and there are no guarantees that that is actually a benign actor because it is an exploitable vulnerability. So, it is exposing survivors to additional risk at that point when they are desperate and in need, where they're being turned away from a safe house, from specialist supported accommodation. The question is raised: who will step in and help? And someone who is apparently a benign actor can exploit that vulnerability and take someone into an even more risky place, and can misrepresent the situation and weaponise our structures. So, someone who would actually be eligible for DDVC, for example, is told that they wouldn't be, is told that they have no options, and that is not the fault of the state, but when our systems are unclear, it is a vulnerability that can be exploited, weaponised and cause further harm to women and men and children who are already in a difficult situation. So, I would just add that to everything that Wanjiku has said.
Thank you, that's a very important point. If we can now move on to Jane Dodds.
Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr iawn. I'm going to ask about support, about funding, and it would be great to hear from all of you about this, if that's possible. It's about specialist support and funding from the Welsh Government. And I guess the opening question is: do you think it is sufficient? Do you think there are other things that the Welsh Government could do in terms of supporting victims and survivors? And I'd also be interested to hear from you as well about whether you know of any work that's being done with perpetrators or, indeed, men's groups as well. Thank you. I wonder who would like to go first on this. Sara, you'd like to start. Thank you.
I wasn't actually offering to start. I will hand to Wanjiku, but I'd be very happy to talk about the little that is happening around perpetrators in a moment.
Okay. Thank you. Wanjiku, perhaps over to you, and Andrea, if you want to as well. Thank you.
Thank you very much. We are very grateful that the Welsh Government has funded BAWSO now for quite some years to support victims of domestic abuse from migrant communities. We, indeed, have been receiving our core funding from the Welsh Government. We have run projects in north Wales, where we have an outreach project supporting victims of domestic abuse. We've also got core funding for our work across Wales, and we're very grateful for this, and it has helped us a lot, especially in north Wales, to work with victims of domestic abuse from migrant communities. While this help is very welcome and we are grateful for it within BAWSO, I believe that it's not enough, especially when it comes to the category of women that we've talked about who have no recourse to public funds.
So, if I give an example of the work that takes place in north Wales within that fund, it's support for victims of domestic abuse from migrant communities who find themselves in situations of domestic abuse. In the first instance, when a police officer goes into a home where there is an issue with domestic abuse, if they come across a victim from the BME community, they will ring up BAWSO and say, 'We've got this victim here and they will need ongoing support to do with their domestic abuse issue.' And from that, a worker will go in and will talk to the client. In most cases, there is a language barrier. Again, BAWSO has that access to language support and would be able to speak to the woman in whatever language it is that they speak, and then we check to see what their support needs are. Do they need a space in the refuge; do they need to go to a safe place? In instances where the police have taken the perpetrator out because he may have been arrested, then we look to support that woman so that she is able to continue thriving in that house, in her own space.
But there are things that you cannot pay for. If the woman needs to go into a refuge, have we got the money to send her into a refuge? For example, as I said, if she has no recourse to public funds, we may not be able to place her in a refuge. So, we would need the Welsh Government to support that. If she is living in that accommodation and, because of childcare issues, she has been the housewife in the house while he has been working—she is not able to work because of childcare issues—then she won't be able to pay the rent and the outgoings of that house. How would we support that woman? We haven't got the facilities or the resources to support her, to pay for her rent, not even to pay for childcare so that she can go out and seek work. So, again, it just goes down to the no recourse to public funds issue. We're not just talking of women going into a refuge, we're talking about helping women to be independent in their own homes, so that they are not dependent on the perpetrator.
The Welsh Government also, I feel, should fund work to raise awareness. The prevention agenda is not there, because we're funded to work when the issue has already happened, when domestic abuse has taken place. We're supporting people who are already going through domestic abuse, but what about capturing them long before it happens? The work on prevention is not there, and I think that's something that the Welsh Government could fund.
To talk very quickly on perpetrators, before Sara comes in, just to say that the kind of perpetrator work that BAWSO does with migrant perpetrators, it's not just that male-to-female abuse that we're looking at. We're looking at whole forms of societal and cultural abuses, like forced marriage, female genital mutilation, honour-based violence. So, if we're going to address the perpetrators of those kinds of abuse, they are not the male—these are societal, these are communities. We need to be working with communities. We need to be raising awareness with whole communities and saying, 'Female genital mutilation has no place in this world; forced marriage is wrong.' So, we're not just talking about male or female perpetrators, and I think that's lacking when we are looking towards working with male perpetrators.
Can I just quickly ask a quick follow up on that, then, Wanjiku? So, are you saying that there's funding available to BAWSO to work on domestic violence with men, but you're saying that it needs to be widened, or is the funding there?
It's not there at all, and I could even go further to say, with the perpetrator sessions that take place, a lot of the perpetrators from migrant communities do not attend those because there's a language barrier. There isn't that support to allow them to attend.
Thank you so much. I'm going to move to Sara and then to Andrea. Thank you.
Thank you. Wanjiku has made a lot of the points that I would have made. I think the broader point about those who are using harmful behaviour, Welsh Government has made a commitment within its strategy to looking at perpetrator interventions, and the Home Office has also recently been showing much more commitment to addressing those who use harmful behaviours, and investing in perpetrator interventions. But, they are most typically intimate partner violence perpetrators who are partners, so, coercive control and power and control-based domestic abuse. Those interventions are—. You know, they show very positive signs, but they aren't going to fit that broader category of abusive and oppressive behaviour that is culturally embedded.
It needs to be really linked to prevention agendas and community approaches, and also recognising that for those who are using harmful behaviour in that context, it needs to be trauma informed and needs led, because quite often the cultural context means that those who are using and replicating harmful behaviour are also experiencing and part of a system of oppression. So, it needs to be a different offer and a different approach, and it's one that is not currently on offer. It is one that's being researched and contributed to, but, for that to be done, it needs to be properly resourced for it to be safe and effective, rather than demonising or marginalising further those who are engaged in those practices. So, I think that's all I would add. Thank you.
Thank you so much, and finishing off with Andrea as well. Thank you.
Thank you. We're really grateful to Welsh Government for giving us funding for the Wales sanctuary service, and through that partnership, we give funding to BAWSO to deliver training. But that funding is not enough, and that programme has had the same budget for the last eight years, which means that year upon year, essentially, the funding has gone down, not up, and hasn't stayed the same in terms of need. And there are a couple of things that have already been mentioned, but we also know that there is a gap in legal provision, so when people do need help around their immigration status, that also isn't there in Wales—we know that there's a desert. And so, that's an added layer to the reason that people may not leave perpetrators of abuse.
In addition to that, there isn't enough funding at the behavioural change level, and certainly there isn't enough funding at that early intervention level as well. We know that female asylum seekers are less likely to register with a GP, and where their partner is the main applicant, they're also less likely to register with a GP. So, that just means that those early signs of abuse are not likely to get picked up until something much more serious happens, and those are real causes for concern for us.
In addition, we think there should be more money available, because the widening of dispersal areas will mean that it'll be harder for local authorities and harder for practitioners to understand immigration status right across Wales as well, and that is a concern for us. So, I completely agree with my colleagues that there isn't enough funding. The budget has stayed the same for eight years just in the funding stream that we get. It isn't meeting demands and it's not going to be meeting our future demands with the widening of dispersal areas, and with the huge amount of safeguarding and trafficking issues that we're likely to see around the Ukraine crisis as well.
Thank you. Chair, do I have an opportunity to ask about no recourse to public funds as well?
Thank you. Just really briefly, you, I'm sure, are aware of the Scottish Government's programme for funding around no recourse to public funds, and we're actually taking evidence later from colleagues in Scotland. Could you just give us your views on that—very quickly, because we haven't got much time here—and what your thoughts are around that being here in Wales, because we've heard a lot about this gap around funding for NRPF, people who find themselves in that situation. Thanks. Wanjiku, if you want to start—very quickly, if you don't mind. Thank you.
No recourse to public funds is really an issue in Wales. As you're going to hear with the Scottish Government, nobody's turned away just because of no recourse to public funds, and that's the way we'd like it to be in Wales. We would like the Welsh Government to provide ring-fenced funding for victims of domestic abuse or VAWDASV who have no recourse to public funds. This would ensure that if any woman turned up to anywhere—to a statutory agency, to voluntary agencies anywhere, if they went to the NHS—and said, 'I'm a victim of domestic abuse', support would be provided to her immediately without thinking about her immigration status. As it is now, your support depends on what your immigration status is, and the reason is there's no funding for that. So, we would like what we're calling a 'last resort fund' from the Welsh Government, where they're saying, 'This money is for victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds.'
We're also saying that the Welsh Government needs to help us work with social services to provide the support that social services should provide to victims of domestic abuse. At the moment, it's a postcode lottery where one service or one local authority will pick up a duty on a family that is going through domestic abuse—they'll pick up the woman, they'll place her in a refuge, and they'll make sure that she is supported until the end. Another local authority will say, 'We'll only support the child, and we have nothing to do with the mother', and they'll only support the children. And another local authority won't do anything; they'll say, 'We have no funds to do that.' So, again, if that could be made in such a way that everybody that needs that support gets it, that would be really helpful.
Thank you. Sara and Andrea, I'd love to hear from you, but only if it's additional points, given that there are time limits. Is there anything you'd like to add that hasn't been said?
One of the main differences in Scotland is that the Scottish Refugee Council is a strategic partner of the Scottish Government, and that means that it's able to move a lot faster on migrant issues. It's something for Welsh Government to consider.
The only thing I would add very briefly is that by having a last resort fund for no-recourse survivors, this would not be giving public funds directly to survivors, which would be problematic for their immigration status. It would support specialist services, but it would also enable local authorities who are currently stepping back and saying, 'We cannot provide this because we don't have the funds.' It would ensure that proportionate support was offered to someone, it would remove that postcode lottery, it would allow the proper provision, and it would also reduce the ability to further exploit a vulnerability for migrant survivors in some areas.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you very much, everybody.
Thanks very much indeed. Moving on now to Sarah Murphy. Would you like to come in, please?
Thank you very much. Thank you all for being here today. I wanted to ask some questions to you about immigration status and data sharing. As you know, we've been out and we've been talking and getting views on this. Anecdotally, we have heard stories about how women are advised sometimes to go to front-line services like the police. You've already mentioned it would be best if they did sign up to the GP. Sometimes they come into contact with social services, especially if they have children. But we have heard of stories then where it appears that that information and that data on them has been shared with UK Visas and Immigration and the Home Office. And there are even stories of women then being deported. So, I just wanted to ask if any of you had any idea, had seen any of this, had heard of any of this, and what you think the impact this data sharing is having on women and also, I suppose, your relationship with them. Is there anybody who would like to go first?
I don't mind going first, because very recently I've had an experience where we've been running a survey with SEREDA Wales, with Birmingham University. What we wanted to do was to talk to a few asylum seekers who are also victims of domestic abuse, and one of the things that we encountered was that nobody wanted to talk to anyone. They said, 'I'm not sharing my information with anyone; it's going to go to the Home Office and I'm not ready to do that.' So, there's already that barrier where victims feel, 'Whatever information I give is going to end up in the Home Office and I'll be deported.'
We have to remember that with our immigration services, and especially the interviewers, the first interview that asylum seekers attend is very hostile. They are very hostile and they keep reminding you that you're lying, you're not telling the truth. In fact, they don't look at you as the victim. We've supported so many women through these sessions where we take them to the Home Office in Cardiff and in Croydon, and women come out broken. They are broken. So, if you're going to say to that same woman that she's going to talk to the Home Office about anything, about the abuse, they're not going to talk to them, because of that initial experience they have with them—that these people don't trust them, that these people have no time for them, and they make you feel so small. That's what women have said to us.
So, that immigration status, how does it then translate to people talking about their issues? It means that even if a woman is going through domestic abuse, she does not want to talk to the police, because as far as she is concerned, the police officers are the same as the people from the Home Office; they are these people that don't trust you, that don't listen to what you're saying. So, there's that barrier, and we have to be very careful when we're talking to women, when we're holding focus groups, when we're asking them to complete questionnaires, because there is that fear. What we say to the women with the SEREDA Wales survey is, 'Don't give them your name. Don't tell them anything. Just tell them your story so that they don't know who you are.' And that's the only way they could trust the process. So, there's that, and we have to protect women. We have to make sure that we protect them.
One of the things that has happened within DDVC is that if the perpetrator gets to the Home Office before the victim, if the perpetrator gets to the Home Office before the woman has contacted the Home Office to say that they're going through domestic abuse, they're able to change the story and say that the woman is no longer with them and that she should be deported out of the country. So, all this creates fear with women, and I think that we should be able to help these women maintain their confidence—whatever it is they have—with us. There is a need to create something between the statutory agencies especially and the Home Office, so that women can be reassured that their information is not going to be shared with the Home Office. There needs to be that firewall that is created between especially statutory agencies, because I think voluntary agencies get it and they try as much as possible to protect them, but that's one of the issues that happens. Your immigration status is so crucial, such that women just see a police car passing by and are so frightened and hide away. We have to take that into account every time we're dealing with victims.
Thank you so much. Andrea, if I can bring you in. Also, it would be helpful for us if you are aware of any of that data sharing, if you have seen an example of that and an outcome of that. Is there anything that you would be able to tell us about?
I'll get back to you, if I can, on that one.
On the point that Wanjiku made, the fear thing is only set to get worse. The day that the Home Office announced the Rwanda scheme, we saw our phone lines and calls go through the roof, and it just sets that fear at a higher level. Everything that's coming out of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 is increasing that fear even more. We've also got the fact that immigration status will become more unsettled in the future as everyone has to apply for their status every two and a half years. All of those things create this really hostile environment where fear is one of the overriding factors why people wouldn't necessarily go and get support or trust authorities, particularly when they've fled regimes in the past.
Thank you, Andrea. Sara, would you like to come in?
I agree with everything my colleagues have just said. I think what I would add to this is that we are repeatedly calling for disaggregated data from state agencies; we're saying, 'Who is missing, what is being missed?' And that environment of concern and fear for survivors means that we're running at cross purposes; we're trying to achieve disaggregated data at the same time as people are gravely concerned about sharing their information or even approaching state agencies. We have to work more closely with 'by and for' organisations, with specialist support services and with spaces and places that survivors trust in order to be able to collect and collate that data, because, at the moment, there are parts of the picture we do not have clear enough evidence of, we only have it anecdotally. And that is compounded by the fear of those survivors, so that those people who are hiding can't be counted, but you sort of understand why they're hiding. So, I think we have to think about building more effective collaborations. I think what Andrea said about having a strategic partner who is able to straddle those two worlds is helpful for survivors, and actually, what we're here and talking about is people experiencing abuse and oppression, and how we make those routes easier for them.
Sara, thank you so much. Wanjiku, you mentioned the firewall; this is something that has been suggested as a potential solution in the written evidence, and we've also heard this when we've done the engagement sessions. With the Senedd, we wouldn't necessarily have the powers here to be able to do that, to have a firewall, but what is a potential is that with the agencies that are in Wales, like social services, like the police and things like this, there could be a kind of request, I suppose, to them to not necessarily provide it, and more education around that. What do you think of that?
I think that would be a very good idea, because currently what happens is that, if a woman has no recourse to public funds or her immigration status is unconfirmed, she seeks support from social services, and the first thing they do is to contact the Home Office. That's how we know that data is being shared with the Home Office. The first thing they do is to share that information. And then, she's very unhappy with that: 'Why did you refer me to social services? The Home Office knows that I'm here now.' So, something needs to be done if we're going to get the trust of the victims. She would say that to her friend, and she'll say, 'If you ever have a problem, don't go to BAWSO, don't go to social services, the information will be shared with the Home Office.' So, we really need to work on that.
With the pilot project with the Home Office, the Home Office were expecting us to give all the information about the victims that we're supporting, but we managed to bargain a deal where we said, 'We're not sharing any dates of birth, any names, we're not sharing anything with you other than the category of the victim that we're supporting. We're not sharing any information.' And we were lucky that they agreed to that, but we still have the problem with especially social services and local authorities that are dealing with victims who are under immigration laws.
That's very interesting. Thank you. And then my final question, if any of you would like to answer it, is just something I've been thinking about. We talk a lot about migrant women and people coming to this country needing to understand the laws that we have here and the rights that they have here in this country, and I would argue that, under human rights, they do have a right to privacy, they do have a right to protection, to safety. But the reason that the data is able to be shared is because, at some point, they give their consent that their data can be shared. But I heard at the engagement session that we did recently that people question if they really understand what they're giving consent for, and, if they don't understand what they're giving consent for, is it really consent? So, really, should that data even be being collected on them if they can't actually give—you know, they can't say that they want that to happen and they don't really understand the consequences of that and they're not being told what the potential consequences are? So, I'd be interested to get your thoughts on that, please.
A lot of the women, and especially asylum seekers, do not have—. They do not understand. At the point when they're going for that interview that is so hostile, where somebody is kind of saying to them, 'You have to listen to me' and 'I'm not listening to you', they'll sign up to anything; they're not aware that their data will be shared. And even if they're told it will be shared, they don't understand the extent to which their data is being shared. So, I think there is a need to educate and inform people. I don't know at what point, because there was a time when we talked about working with countries where people are coming from, countries of origin, and maybe it's a role for the embassies in those home countries, when people are seeking to come to the UK, for example, on a spousal visa—just educating these people on what their rights are before they arrive here.
There is also a lot—. On another note, a lot of the people who go out to get wives from abroad, they're already known perpetrators. And there is no information on them, and they come here and domestic abuse takes place and we go back and we find, 'Oh, he's a perpetual perpetrator; he's very well known.' There's a need for information to be shared with people, maybe immediately, as soon as they've arrived in the UK. There should be those citizenship classes, where people are being advised, and that's again on the prevention agenda, where we're advising people, 'If this was to happen to you, this is where you go', 'If you're not happy for this information to go, don't sign this and don't say this.' I don't know at what point, but that's on the prevention agenda and it's something that can be looked into.
Thank you so much. You've started going into an area that I think my colleagues are going to talk to you a bit more about later on. So, I'll hand back to you, Chair, because I know that we're short on time. But thank you, all, so much.
Thanks. Yes, just to remind us that we've only got 23 minutes left for the next three sections, so if everybody could be brief. Ken Skates.
Yes, thanks, Chair. It's already been raised, the role of public bodies, but it'd be helpful just to have the views of you today with regard to the way in which public bodies—local authorities, obviously, but police, social services, health and education providers—are supporting migrant women and girls who are victims and also survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Are there ways that this could be enhanced and do you think that social services are complying with the duties that are placed on them to meet the needs of migrant communities, as set out in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014? I'm not sure who to begin with first. Perhaps, Andrea, do you want to begin with this?
Yes, thank you. We still do see people who fall through the cracks and we see case studies where people have turned up to see their GP and they get turned away by reception staff. We did a training session with the Royal College of Physicians just before lockdown over two years ago, and it was a brilliant afternoon, but what we found was that at least 50 per cent of people in the room had never heard of the nation of sanctuary, let alone all the rules around immigration. So, there's still a lot of work to be done. And of course, then there's the revolving door of staff that every organisation faces, so, as soon as you train up one cohort, another cohort needs training, so it's an ongoing thing that needs more investment and support right across Wales. And as I mentioned, because of the widening of dispersal areas, there'll be even more that will need to be done in the non four main cities as well.
Okay. Sara, yes.
I'm going to be very brief. I think that it's a bit of a postcode lottery; I think we hear accounts of some social services departments that actually are complying with their duties. But Wanjiku has already made reference to occasions where that's not the case. I do think that Welsh Government has a role to play here in terms of reviewing what is done, looking at existing data of what's being done, looking at complaints and appeals. And I think one of the things that I wanted to highlight is to look at how often appeals are made, and how often they are successful, to decisions, and just to remind ourselves that the vast majority of people who receive an answer assume that is the correct answer. So, most people don't appeal. So, if you look at your appeals and are seeing a high percentage of success, you can reasonably assume that that means a vast number of people are actually being underserved. And I think that Welsh Government has a tremendous opportunity to scrutinise that more carefully and to hold—certainly devolved authorities, but also to work closely with non-devolved authorities to improve that. I will hand over to Wanjiku.
Thanks, Sara. Thanks, Ken, for that question. As my colleagues have said, it's very important that there's more training and that the Welsh Government takes a role in this. I'll just give a few examples of actual things that have happened. As I said, in most cases, in instances of domestic abuse, police are the first point of call, and we've seen real malpractice around this, where, a few months ago, we had a situation where an asylum-seeking family was going through really horrible domestic abuse, where the perpetrator—mostly due to his post-traumatic stress disorder issues, real bad mental health there—threatened to kill the family. And he meant it; he was going to do it. And the police turned up and they said, 'Oh, so they are asylum seekers. What do we do with them?' They left. They left them there and nobody did anything until BAWSO was called in the following day. The family had slept out of the house, because they couldn't stay in the house with him, but police didn't know. So, that training, and it's not just a one-off; it is continuous training, because we have police officers changing all the time. With local authorities, and we had this from—[Inaudible.]—the study they carried out in Wales, they said all local authorities are sending all their referrals for migrant women and girls with VAWDASV issues to BAWSO. But are the local authorities funding BAWSO to carry out this work? Again, it's an issue.
We have had instances where women have not been taken into refuge because of a language barrier, and refuges have said, 'Oh, we're not able to support them through their language barrier; we can't give them support on a daily basis because of that language barrier.' What's supposed to be done? We think that local authorities should fund BAME refuges in every county, or more refuges—BAME-specific refuges—across Wales. We're looking at social services—again, I gave that example before; I'm not going to repeat it again—a postcode lottery. It's to ask what people want to do at the time of the incident. So, a lot of work needs to be done, but raising awareness, training, is very crucial for a lot of the local authorities and other public bodies.
Okay. Thanks for that. It's pretty obvious, then, what the Welsh Government perhaps could be doing, or should be doing, in terms of support: training, obviously, the review that Sara talked about concerning appeals, staff training, supporting staff, particularly issues around turnover. Are there any—? Just finally from me, are there any other areas in which the Welsh Government could be applying greater support? Sara.
I guess I would circle back to that last resort fund. I think sometimes bad decisions are made because of lack of knowledge and lack of training or poor information sharing. I think sometimes those decisions are being impacted by resources. I think the idea that a refuge is turning someone away because they aren't able to provide translation services, in some ways, that's a responsible choice, because they know that somebody needs proper translation services, but that question comes down to resourcing.
Okay, thank you.
And central resourcing.
Lovely. Thanks very much. That's all from me, Chair.
Very good. Thank you very much. Altaf Hussain, do you want to ask the questions you wanted to?
With regard to awareness and the support these communities have, how much awareness is among them and what support do they have? Is there a way both awareness and support could be enhanced? I know you have answered many of the questions already there. There is so much overlap in them. I know there's a funding problem, language is a problem, but, talking to the communities, through the communities' heads—have you been doing that as well? What other things are there that can enhance the awareness and could be seen as you supporting them?
Thank you, Altaf. I talked about awareness raising before and how important it is to the various migrant communities, raising awareness in the communities. But, again, that is very difficult to run, because you're talking about migrant communities where are people either working as bank workers, where they are called to work at all different times, a lot of them in homes where they're not allowed to get out, to talk to people. The reason they are victims of domestic abuse, first and foremost, is because they are under the control of other people, and, unfortunately, for migrant victims of domestic abuse, sometimes it's whole families that have put them under this control, it's not just the one perpetrator; sometimes, it's a whole community.
So, if we're going to look for a way of raising awareness—this is again on the prevention agenda—we're going to go to spaces where these people attend, where people are allowed to go to regularly. We go to mosques, we go into churches, we go into markets and places where we're going to meet these people. But we are not going to call them to focus group meetings and to coffee mornings; they will not attend. So, we have to innovate ways of reaching out to them, and, again, sometimes, through this prevention agenda, support is realised, because somebody will be raising awareness at a certain spot and somebody will raise an issue about something that they're going through that they did not know was abuse. Because that's the other issue with migrant people; sometimes they may not know that they are going through domestic abuse or VAWDASV until somebody talks to them about it. So, again, it's looking for ways of how this awareness raising can be carried out.
Andrea, do you want to add anything?
Just to flag we're coming to the end of a project we're running in partnership with BAWSO and Race Council Cymru at the moment, where we're giving out grants to black, Asian, minority and ethnic community groups to enable them to deal with the effects of the pandemic, and, as Wanjiku was saying, sometimes it's about having avenues into those communities where you're discussing other things and then you use it as a side route in for more difficult conversations. That grant programme is coming to an end, but funding programmes like that, which are specific and targeted, will help to provide more equity across the field.
I think, for me, VAWDASV people seek support from the places that they trust first, and so the prevention agenda and awareness raising have to get into those spaces, not wait until people reach out of those spaces, and that has to be done at a grass-roots level. So, I would support everything my colleagues have said.
Thank you very much. Now, with regard to the current strategies, are you satisfied with them, especially with regard to preventative measures, and do you think the Welsh Government should be doing more about this, and, if they are, what are those preventative measures you'd like to see?
Wanjiku, did you want to go first?
I'm unclear who wants to go first.
I think we all agree that we think Welsh Government is doing quite a bit already, and we're thankful for that, in comparison to what's happening in some parts of England, specifically around asylum seekers and refugees. Wales is doing a whole lot more, and we're really grateful, but we still think there is more to be done, particularly around asylum seekers and refugees. From my avenue of everything that I'm seeing, people are just still falling through the cracks, and we can't wait, we need to take action now, particularly in light of the things that we've talked about, the Nationality and Borders Act, the hostile practices, the Ukraine crisis, the widening of dispersal areas—all of that means it's going to get worse. So, if we wait any longer, we're storing up many more issues for the future.
I would agree with all of that. I would say that the Welsh Government have recently published, last week or the week before, the VAWDASV strategy. The question has to constantly be: how are we embedding, not adding? It shouldn't be something that we check and add on afterwards. Addressing the needs of migrant women and migrant survivors is central. We need equality impact assessments done at the beginning, and we need to design in and take a margins-to-the-centre approach, because if we cover the needs of the few, we will successfully cover the needs of the many. If we cover the needs of the many, the few will get left out. So, taking a margins-to-the-centre approach is always the way to go. And the way to do that is to ensure that every strand of the VAWDASV strategy is truly reflective of the needs of all of the citizens, even the migrant survivors who've not yet gained citizenship in Wales.
Can I very quickly just add on to what my colleagues have said? Again, for the Welsh Government, and through that strategy, not to look at migrant women as a homogeneous group, because they are not. But it's to break down the various groups of people that are said to be migrants. We are looking at women who are on spousal visas; we are looking at asylum-seeking families and women; we are looking at eastern European victims of domestic abuse, especially after Brexit and everything that has thrown on to us; we are looking at people on student visas; we are looking at victims of forced marriage; we are looking at victims of honour-based violence; we are look at victims of female genital mutilation. What are we doing for each one of those groups? How are they represented within that strategy? I think one of the recommendations for us within the strategy was that when you're talking about black and minoritised women, who are we talking about? Are the eastern European people there, for example? Who are they? Who are we talking about? But I think there should be a breakdown of what we are looking to do to support each one of those groups because their needs are so different and varied, depending on what background or visa they're coming here with.
Great. Thank you very much, Chair.
Can I just follow up? It's a racing certainty that somebody who's coming to this country to seek asylum and fleeing persecution elsewhere will not be familiar with the law in this country. They just won't. Why should they be? So, is it at all part of the basic information provided to an asylum seeker, or indeed somebody who's granted a work permit, that this is the basics of the law in this country around not being violent in our relationships?
Thank you. That would be very helpful if that information was included there, because one of the things we find from working with people from different communities is that there are countries and places where abuse is accepted. Indeed, we are told there are some parts of Africa where women think if their husbands are not beating them up, physically, they don't love them as much as they should love them. So, there should be that and just people spelling out this is what is allowed in this country, this is what is not allowed. And it's that cultural conflict that is so important and should be addressed at the point where people are getting their visa to come into the county, their work permit, when they've been admitted as asylum seekers—that information should be spelt out and it would help a lot in dealing with perpetrators, because a lot of them act in ignorance. They do not know that some of the things are not allowed.
Okay. Thank you for that. Sioned Williams, would you like to come in, please?
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Prynhawn da. Rŷch chi wedi dechrau cyffwrdd ar hyn yn barod yn yr ateb diwethaf i Altaf Hussain, ond, Sara, mi wnaethoch chi sôn am gyhoeddi diweddar y strategaeth newydd VAWDASV ar gyfer 2022-26. Felly, eisiau cael eich barn chi yn gyffredinol ar hynny. Rŷn ni wedi sôn yn barod am ddiffygion o ran yr agenda ymyrraeth ac ataliaeth. Rŷn ni wedi siarad am y rhwystrau o ran iaith. Rŷn ni wedi siarad am ddiffygion o ran cyllid ar gyfer rhai o'r pethau hynny, ac yn y blaen, ac efallai'r angen yma am ryw fath o gronfa i helpu'r rheini sydd ddim yn medru cael—wel, y rhai sydd â no recourse to public funds. Felly, beth yw'r bylchau? Rŷch chi wedi gweld y strategaeth, ac rwy'n siwr wedi bwydo mewn iddi hi, gobeithio, hefyd. Felly, beth yw'r bylchau, yn eich barn chi, o weld y strategaeth newydd?
Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon. You've already touched on this in your previous response to Altaf Hussain's question and, Sara, you mentioned the recent publication of the new VAWDASV strategy for 2022-26. So, I wanted your general views first of all on the strategy. Now, we've already mentioned some gaps in terms of the intervention and prevention agenda. We've already mentioned language barriers. We've also mentioned some deficiencies in terms of funding in certain areas, and perhaps this need for some kind of fund to assist those who have no recourse to public funds. So, what are the gaps? You will have seen the strategy, and I'm sure you will have fed into it also, hopefully. So, what are the gaps in your view, having read that new strategy?
So, could you indicate who wants to go first?
Felly, am wn i, y pethau rŷn ni wedi'u trafod y prynhawn yma rŷch chi'n moyn gweld Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu gwneud, ydych chi ddim yn ffyddiog bod hynny wedi cael ei gyfro yn y strategaeth newydd?
So, I suppose, the issues that we've already discussed this afternoon, the things you want to see the Welsh Government doing, are you not confident that that's been covered in this strategy?
Wanjiku, are you getting the translation?
Yes, I understood that. So, with the strategy, the thing that we have said, as I've mentioned, there's some information that we had mentioned through the strategy that was left out. First and foremost, it left out the specific support for women with no recourse to public funds—we've mentioned that. It's still not very clear. The strategy is still not very clear on the support that we give to victims of VAWDASV. So, if a woman comes to us and she's fleeing forced marriage, for example, what makes her case urgent? Because she's likely to be a victim of honour-based violence, so what do you do differently to make sure that we safeguard that victim? Such things are not clear.
We also felt that there was a lot left out on children, and when you talk about children, and especially when you're talking about children from migrant backgrounds, we talk about them being victims of witnessing domestic abuse that has happened between the parents. We talk about them as being victims of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, honour-based violence—how do we support them? How do we support children? Again, that's not very clear within the strategy, because those children that are going through that culturally specific abuse, they need to be supported differently. Children that are from asylum-seeking families: again, how do we support them? Children that have sought asylum in their own right, under-age, minors who have come into the country in their own right as asylum seekers and are placed in host families where they're abused—again, all this is lacking in the strategy.
So, we feel that the strategy was very general and left out things that we would have wanted to see. We fed back, but that didn't seem to change when the strategy was finalised. Also, to do with—. I've just lost the point; can I come back? Can somebody develop it and I'll come back to it, something that—?
Wrth gwrs, jest codwch eich llaw. Sara.
Of course, just raise your hand. Sara.
For me, the strategy, I would concur with Wanjiku, is imperfect. But the big thing is going to be about checking, getting disaggregated data, following up on the commitments within the strategy. As an example from the last strategy, we had commissioning guidance that was developed, but then, was the follow-up done to ensure that that commissioning guidance was used, by whom was it used, whether it was useful, effective, how it could be improved? One of the things for me about the strategy is that it has to be intention to action, it has to follow, and that check has to be made. So, there are some bits missing, and I think that's going to be developed within the blueprint approach, but it is the thing about that we have to check what is happening, and hold to account, and celebrate where it is happening so that we can build on good practice. There is some outstanding practice in Wales and there could be more outstanding practice if we could build on what is already being done well. If we were to take as first principles that idea of no women left behind, of a nation of sanctuary that is looking after those who are hurt and harmed, and providing proper support, and checking that that's happening and learning when it's not, we would be making great progress.
Ar hynny, roeddwn i yn mynd i ofyn, a dweud y gwir, a oes yna enghreifftiau o arfer gorau yng Nghymru neu du hwnt. Gwnaethon ni siarad yn gyflym am yr Alban, wrth gwrs. A oes pethau penodol y gallech chi bwyntio atyn nhw y dylem ni fod yn dysgu ohonyn nhw ac yn eu lledaenu?
On that, I was actually going to ask about this: are there any examples of best practice in Wales or beyond Wales? We did mention Scotland earlier, of course. But are there specifics that you could point to that we should be learning from?
I'll bring Andrea—.
Gwnaf i ddod ag Andrea mewn yn gyntaf ac wedyn fe ddof fi atoch chi, Wanjiku. Andrea.
I'll being Andrea in first and then I'll come to you, Wanjiku. Andrea.
Thank you. One of the things we've talked about is how do we get to those who may not feel a part of a community or who may be isolated. So, one of our projects is called 'asylum guides', which we run. It's funded by Refugee Action, and I think it was funded by Comic Relief originally. Essentially, we fund people who are in the asylum system to guide others going through the asylum system. So, it's that peer-to-peer coaching, mentoring and support. And that helps to break down those trust barriers and to help people to integrate quicker. It's a fairly small project, but we'd be happy to share how well it's going with you.
Diolch. Wanjiku, ydych chi'n moyn dod i mewn?
Thank you. Wanjiku, do you want to come in?
Thank you. I was going to talk about the pilot that we're currently running that is funded by the Home Office, which is funding for migrant victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds. And while I would say that it's very limited and restricted in the way that it only pays so much and it's not paying for their in-cost, it's not paying for all the support that a victim of domestic abuse who has no recourse to public funds needs, but also it's a big step towards their support. Indeed, we supported 85 women from that funding last year. If that could be improved on, it's a really good example of how a good fund can work and the difference that it can make to support women.
Within that, I supported one young person who was a young girl who would not have been picked up by social services, because she was only 18 with no children; a single girl who had to leave home because she was being abused by her own father. But, because she had no recourse to public funds, being an asylum seeker, there was no fund in the country to support her and she was turned away by refuges and other places of support that she went to. We managed to support the girl and put her in a safe place and also help her with her immigration case. And that's one of the things that this project is doing is to support people through their immigration legal cases. And again that's not funded but, for the project, we're doing it in-kind to support them through that. But if such a project is well funded, and from a Welsh perspective, it would really be helpful.
Un cwestiwn bach i gloi. Dwi'n gwybod ein bod ni mas o amser, mwy neu lai, ond dwi'n meddwl bod hwn yn bwysig iawn. Dwi'n gwybod mai rhywbeth sydd wedi ein taro ni i gyd fel aelodau o'r pwyllgor yma yw clywed gan y bobl sy'n cael eu heffeithio gan y trais yma, ac roeddwn i jest eisiau gofyn i chi yn benodol i ba raddau ydych chi'n teimlo bod menywod a merched yn y gymuned fudol wedi cymryd rhan yn y gwaith o ddatblygu'r strategaeth trais newydd, yn enwedig o gofio am yr hyn rydyn ni wedi ei drafod o ran y materion o ran eisiau cuddio a ddim eisiau rhannu data, ac yn y blaen. Ydych chi'n fodlon bod y lleisiau yna wedi cael eu clywed y tu hwnt, fel roeddech chi'n sôn, i'r grwpiau ffocws rydyn ni'n gwybod dyw'r merched yma'n aml ddim eisiau bod yn rhan ohonyn nhw?
Just one final question. I know that we're almost out of time, but I do think this is very important. I think it's something that has struck us all as members of this committee in hearing from those people affected by this violence, and I just wanted to ask you specifically to what extent you feel that migrant women and girls have been involved in the development of the VAWDASV strategy, particularly given what we've discussed in terms of issues around not wanting to share data and so on. Are you content that those voices have been heard beyond the focus groups that we know these women and girls often don't want to be involved with?
If I could answer that and say that, within BAWSO, we've tried our best to involve women who are service users, people we've supported, and we've tried as much as possible to get them onto our board once they're able to be confident enough to do that. We've allowed them to come in as support workers themselves. We work with them in different ways. We include them in our interview groups. So, we try our best to do that, and that's really helpful, but the actual people who are going through these incidents now, the people who are victims right now, who are afraid to give information for fear of their data being shared, there are still a lot who have been left out.
Sara, oeddech chi eisiau dod i mewn fanna?
Sara, did you want to come in there?
I think that point has already been captured, and for those people who are left out, we must make great efforts, and particularly bearing in mind that there is an intention to have a survivor scrutiny panel that sits alongside the implementation of the strategy. We cannot possibly succeed, but we must make best efforts to get the voices of current experience, to get those voices in there. Thank you.
Thank you very much indeed. Andrea, we look forward to seeing that asylum guide, the peer-to-peer asylum guide that you mentioned, as well as any specific evidence you have of inappropriate data sharing, where the person has not given informed consent. Other than that, I'd like to thank all of you for your really useful evidence this afternoon. And I just want to emphasise the importance of you reading the transcript of your evidence to make sure that we've captured your information correctly, and, obviously, you can correct it. And otherwise, I thank you very much indeed for your participation in this session. So, thank you, Andrea Cleaver, Sara Kirkpatrick and Wanjiku Mbugua-Ngotho. Thank you so much indeed for everything you're doing for people who need your help. Thank you very much.
So, we're now going to take a short break, and we will resume the evidence session at 14:50, just to give people time to turnaround. Okay.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:36 a 14:50.
The meeting adjourned between 14:36 and 14:50.
Welcome back, to our second evidence assessment on domestic violence, violence against women and sexual violence in the migrant community. This is our second session. I'm very pleased to welcome Joanne Hopkins from Public Health Wales and Naomi Alleyne from the Welsh Local Government Association.
In our informal, private sessions with asylum seekers and other people who have no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status, we heard some very good examples of people dealing with situations appropriately, and then, obviously, we also hear about situations that are not dealt with appropriately. So, I wondered if you could just sum up what are the main challenges for public services when faced by migrant women and girls who present as victims or survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and what are the gaps as far as public services are concerned. So, which one of you would like to go first? Jo, do you want to make a start?
I will do. Thank you, Jenny. So, I think, for me, in terms of some of the research that we've done in Public Health Wales and the ACE support hub, the outstanding challenge through all of this is the barrier of language and the barrier of not understanding perhaps the meaning of how things are communicated, both in terms of how it's done visually, but also the use of language. So, when you have somebody who's translating, that literal meaning might not be communicating what they're intending to say, in terms of the use of the language. And I think we see that as coming up over and over again in terms of accessing any services, but particularly difficult when it comes to accessing services around domestic abuse and sexual violence, because there is also, I think, in many cultures a real difficulty in trying to articulate what that actually has been in terms of an experience, and also around some of the bits that are linked to that, so that the actual act of violence itself might be something that can be communicated. But the experience of it, including the impacts on mental health, may not be recognised by the people who've experienced it in the first place, because we know that there is a large amount of stigma still in the UK around mental health, let alone in countries where it's not even discussed in any sort of public services. But then, secondly, if there is a recognition that there is an ill-health consequence of the violence that they may have suffered, often that is described as something that manifests in a physical form. So, people will describe pain, people will describe more physical health impacts, without necessarily describing mental health because they don't understand that that's the consequence of it. So, I think there's a huge issue there around being able to communicate in a way that not only explains what's happened to that individual, but also in a way that gets them the help that they actually need, because being unable to articulate, for whatever reason, what exactly is going on, I think is one of the big challenges.
Then it comes to the challenges of public service in accessing interpreters to enable that discussion, accessing interpreters that perhaps need to be of a specific gender. So, we often talk, particularly over the years in the 'Uncharted Territory' reports, which I'm sure Naomi will mention in a minute, around the need to have some choice and empowerment within this process for women in particular to be able to say that they would prefer to have a female interpreter or a female interviewer, or however they're engaging with public services, and even if that's available, sometimes it can only be made available if possible. So, there is always every chance to try and subscribe to this, but actually, in reality, are there enough interpreters? Are there enough people who are able to facilitate that conversation in that way? So, I think that, for me, is the second element of this.
And actually, what was really interesting around some of the work that we did when we just started—and when I say 'we', it's in partnership with the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership, public health, the Home Office and the Welsh Government—thinking about what we could do to better facilitate access, in particular to healthcare, and making assumptions around, 'Well, all Syrian people will want to have a Syrian interpreter to speak Arabic,' well, that's not the case. And actually, in some cases it became a real challenge because people were quite frightened about who might be the person that had been brought into that conversation and where their allegiances might be. So, I think the other thing is around perhaps not having enough understanding and cultural depth to our understanding so that we make those assumptions, perhaps, without realising, basically, the consequences of them. So, there's that lack of understanding at that sort of level of depth about people's experience.
And then I think the last thing on barriers and gaps—it's a bit intertwined here, I'm afraid; sorry, I've just realised—but one of the last things I wanted to say on this as well, I think, is that something that's come out particularly in the 'Uncharted Territory' reports, but also in some of the more recent work around whether the experience of sexual violence in particular has taken place in conflict, in another country, actually there are no real justice outcomes that are being sought in this country, in Wales. So, actually getting access to support is quite difficult when it's just the experience you're talking about, which has happened somewhere else, and there's no justice outcome that can be met. So, here is a group of people who are asking for help for something that hasn't happened in the UK, and I think that in itself is quite difficult for lots of services to get their heads around, actually, in terms of, 'Well, it's not here, it hasn't happened here. So, we understand that there might be an impact in terms of your health or in terms of sexual health or something like that, but the proximity of it is different', and I think, for me, that's something that we haven't really engaged with properly in terms of how public services understand the experiences that people have had before they've come to the UK, perhaps on the way to the UK, and then compounded perhaps by being in relationships in the UK that are still where they are being abused or subject to violence. I'll pause there.
Thank you. You both represent the everyday front-line services that somebody might be accessing—things like school, the education service, the public transport service, housing, health. How prepared are people to pick up hidden signs or key indicators that this individual, who you may never see again otherwise, is somebody where there needs to be a further conversation to establish the extent of the vulnerability of that person? Naomi, do you want to—? If you could just summarise how—. It's a difficult subject, regardless of immigration status. How well do you think people are aware of the vulnerability of people who have a complicated immigration status?
Thank you, and good afternoon to all of you. In short, I think the response to that is varied, but let me come back to that, if you like.
Firstly, I'd like to give the apologies of Anne Hubbard, who couldn't be here this afternoon. Jo has already mentioned 'Uncharted Territory' a couple of times, and Anne was the instigator of that and has been a huge advocate for addressing issues affecting migrant women around violence against women. Anne's on leave, but I know that she has submitted some written evidence to the committee.
I think one of the biggest challenges, and it does come back to your question as well, Jenny, around the indicators, and one of the biggest barriers is the complexity of the issue that we're dealing with here. There are different groups of women with different immigration statuses that have come to our attention for different reasons, and each of those is complex because each of those cases, as you all know, will be down to an individual, but it's not always easy to understand different immigration statuses and then what the entitlements are for public services. So, I think there is that difficulty there, and then we're also talking about many different forms of violence against women in this setting. I was lucky enough to catch the end of the last session that you had, so I won't repeat all the forms of violence that I know were identified, but being able to look at that as a whole and address that does need much more focused attention. The point was made in the last group that migrant women are not a homogenous group and understanding the differences and then the entitlements and what people can access and what those services are I think is complex. It's not easy, particularly for some of the areas across Wales that don't deal with these issues on a regular basis.
Being able to understand where the support services are—not only what's available, but how you access that—is also a concern. I think that does bring us back to the point that Jo was talking about around the indicators. If you look at some of the individual issues or forms of violence that can occur, there are different levels of awareness. If you look at issues around modern slavery or trafficking, there is more awareness, and there have been sessions done—a lot of that around what those indicators are that people need to look at and be able to investigate. Whether the same has been done in some of the other specific areas at the same level of awareness across all public services is probably not as well trailed, I guess, as you would want. I know we'll come on to things like the national training framework, but covering these issues as part of a broader session doesn't give the depth of understanding I think that is required, given the complexity of the issues.
I think those indicators are there, as Jo was saying. I do remember from many moons ago that how people will vocalise or communicate the issues isn't always as upfront as where people will pick up on those, so I think there is a lot more awareness that is needed, but also some support, because in some instances, you can do training, you can do awareness raising, but staff move on. It's not a one-off event; it needs to be something that's much more ongoing in terms of not only built into existing programmes, but specialist programmes as well, I think, for those that require it. So, I think there is still some more work to be done across the range of the violence that can appear and the different immigration status so that people can identify those indicators. Sorry, that was a bit long.
No, it was a really interesting answer. We'll now go and explore—. Oh, Jane Dodds, before I move to Sarah Murphy.
Just a real quickie. Jo, you mentioned about access to translators, and we heard a lot about this in our evidence to date. What resources are available to health bodies and health authorities to provide their own translators and interpreters?
As I understand it, we still have the Wales Interpretation and Translation Service, where we can access a group of interpreters that are part of almost like a bank of interpreters, but there are also things like LanguageLine, things that you can dial up and speak to people that translate it almost on the phone. I should confess I used to work in the Home Office, and that's certainly what we used in the Home Office for that sort of interaction. But I think that the trouble with all of this—and particularly COVID hasn't helped, I have to say—is that a lot of translation is not just about the words; it's about how you communicate, it's about how sometimes you can use visual cues for that sort of thing. Translators will be looking for that in someone's face and their eyes and their interaction around that. And even if you don't understand the language, I think there's a lot that can be picked up from seeing how someone expresses it. So, that's where the nuance of it is lost.
I'm not saying that there isn't interpretation available at all; what I'm saying is that when it's done in the best way that we can, there are still barriers for people to be able to communicate exactly what their requirements are so their needs are absolutely met. But I think we've come a long way, and I think there's been a lot of understanding now about the need for being more trauma informed in the way that we are engaging with people and asking them what they would like, what they need: 'Do you need a male interpreter? Do you need a female interpreter? Do you need a particular dialect? Would it be better if it was somebody who came from your own country, or perhaps a different one?' It follows from what I just said about nervousness sometimes, about who interpreters are employed by, and what information will be used for. And that can go much wider than the interpretation service. I think there's a lot of mistrust within migrant communities around public services full stop—in the health service, but wider than that they're mistrusted, they're seen as agents of the state. Therefore, it's very difficult for people to step back from that and start to trust suddenly people who previously they wouldn't have done. So, all of this added together creates a very difficult environment for somebody, I think, to be able to talk about something so personal, when, actually, it's layered on with personal shame, plus community shame, and everything else that might impact on that at the same time.
Would it be all right if I just mentioned quickly, because you mentioned schools, Jenny, that I went to visit—and I'm not just calling out this school because it's the only school that does this; I'm sure there are many examples—Pillgwenlly Primary School a year or so ago? Here is an example of how those indicators are picked up. You have engagement, not only with the child in front of you, but with the family. I had a really good discussion about some middle-eastern families and some eastern European families who were all in the classroom and had very different needs, had very different experiences, and yet that was being well thought through and they were working with the family as a whole. So, I think there are some really, really strong examples in schools in Wales, particularly in those dispersal areas that have had a lot of experience in this. As Naomi says, perhaps there are other areas that haven't had to engage in this way but could learn a lot from the really good examples that we've got across Wales of how this works well.
Thank you. I know Sarah Murphy wants to pick up on some of the complexities and challenges of this area.
Thank you very much. Thank you both for being here today. I wanted to ask some questions about immigration status and data sharing. Like you said, you watched earlier on some sessions, so it's kind of a follow-on from that to get an understanding from you to what extent you were aware of data sharing between front-line services, like local authorities, police, social services and health and the Home Office, and what you think the impact of that is potentially. Who would like to go first? Jo.
Thank you. Naomi's nodding at me. I better qualify my experience in this before we start. So, for 20 years I worked for the Home Office, and for the last 10 years of that in Wales, so I do have experience of working in immigration for a very, very long time from that side of the fence, and then for the last three years I've been working at Public Health Wales. So, I'll try not to conflate the two experiences and be very clear on which one I'm talking about.
I think, to start with, there is an improved set of data now than perhaps we had 10, 15 years ago. It is complex. We talk about section 95, 98, 4—all these different kinds of bits of language and not necessarily what does that mean. However, I think we certainly have a better picture across Wales of who people are and, as far as we can, where they are, because people move. Even if they are in a dispersal area, they can still leave. So, as far as we know, as far as we can do that, I think we do have a picture.
In terms of data sharing, I think that's where it gets more difficult, because people, as Naomi has already said, have a complex immigration status, and you can change status. So, one minute you've got no rights and entitlements, perhaps if you're in the asylum system, the next minute you have a whole load of them, and that change can happen very quickly, and it's very difficult for people to understand themselves, perhaps, what's happened and how they need to adjust to that, let alone everybody else who's trying to work out what bit of paper they should have that makes them suddenly this and then another.
I think the other problem with data sharing as well is that those agencies that need to know about the status of somebody in order to work out what they're entitled to will be looking very much for those sorts of sets of data that say what they are—they are either an asylum seeker or they're a refugee or they're a migrant or whatever. But that's not how they necessarily might see themselves. So, when they're accessing services, they may not describe themselves as coming from that sub-section of this area. And actually, data on ethnicity and nationality is quite patchy as well. It's not to say it's not there, but it's not consistently collected in a way that perhaps we can really understand how people are accessing services and how they're moving between them.
I think, from my perspective, there's a lot being done to improve data collection; how we then synthesise that and understand how people move through different systems is where this is more complicated. And it's not just related to migrants, I don't think. We have this issue in public health where we say, 'Make every contact count', don't we, but we can only do that if we know where in the system people are and what contacts they're having. I think that that's where the difficulty comes in here. So, it's laying data over data, synthesising and analysing that data and understanding what it's telling us. I think, for me, that's where the challenge lies. We're better at collecting it, we're just not so good at collectively analysing it.
Just to focus a bit on what people have said about that fear, from your perspective, is there a legal duty for those front-line services to share that data with the Home Office?
From what I recall, and I'm no longer an expert in this, when we were thinking about what the most important thing is for people—is it to access healthcare, is it to make sure that if they have COVID, they come forward and are able to access the support that they need and that we're able to treat them, or is it that we then give information to the Home Office about who they are and where they are? I think, in certain circumstances, there is a legal obligation, and it's quite complex, all of this, but I also think that, in terms of humanity, we need to think about the person who is presenting in front of us and how does that weigh up in terms of that legality. So, we have what you absolutely have to do and then we have the decisions that we've made based on those greater risks, I guess, to public health where we've said, 'Actually, it's more important that you come forward and you have a vaccination, or you come forward and you're able to access the support that you need and we will not be sharing that data'.
The fear element of it is that lack of understanding about what that data will then be used for. So, we still have a real concern, I think, particularly hearing from third sector services, around any form of data, even personal data, names and that sort of thing. Where is that going to go? They have a real fear that it will go to immigration and therefore they're going to end up being deported, or whatever. But I think that there is also a bigger piece of work that's needed here to really communicate what actually happens versus that overarching fear of what might happen. As I say, I'm not an expert in this, but I did have a look at where there are elements of legal duty and all the rest of it—if you think somebody is working who shouldn't be working and that sort of angle to it—and I think it needs to be much, much clearer. Because if you're able to understand what the data is there for and where it's going, it won't support everybody, but—. I think it's just really difficult for someone like me to try and go and have a look and see if I can find out exactly where it says there is this legal duty. I found it difficult at the time. I think that that lack of transparency is really key.
Thank you so much. I hadn't even considered what you said about needing people to come forward for vaccines, for example, so that's really interesting. I wonder if, afterwards, you could follow up with our team. It would be really interesting to know if there is a clear policy on whether or not you can refuse, and also if there is, as you said, a process in place where that decision is made and how that decision is made. That would be really interesting, I think, for us to do that.
We may need to go to the Home Office for clarity on the legality question, I think, because as far as I remember—and Naomi may correct me—it does sit in their policy and legislation. However, I can send the committee a leaflet that we produced in collaboration with the strategic migration partnership and others, which was produced during COVID and given to all families—all people, actually—who were accommodated by Clearsprings Ready Homes during the COVID pandemic, when we were in the first round of restrictions. It said very, very clearly, 'Your information will not be given to immigration; you can come forward and you can access healthcare'. I think that's an example of that.
That would be really good. Obviously, as a committee, we can ask the Home Office that. I suppose what's helpful for our committee to know is about Welsh public bodies and agencies. We need to know if you believe that you can refuse it, if you have refused and why you've refused, and if that's something that our—. Because if they're not, that's something we need to know about. Thank you so much. Naomi, is there anything that you just wanted to add to any of that?
Naomi's on mute.
I was waiting to come off mute. Just picking up on that point, I think that lack of clarity around the requirements—. So, sometimes people share the information because they think they need to, but there's not necessarily that lack of clarity as to when and where. So, I think that would be helpful to confirm that.
In terms of some of the data, I think even in terms of the collection of monitoring data, we don't ask for immigration status, so there's a lack of information, if you like. So, you may know the number of black and minority ethnic people within an area, but you won't necessarily know immigration status, and, again, some of that referral information may not pick that up. But that fear of what could happen, should their information get into the hands of people who can make decisions around whether they stay in the UK or not, and a view that being a victim will actually work against them rather than not affect their status, I think is a real concern.
I think one of the things that I did want to mention when I was looking at this is actually just understanding that the cohort of people who might be caught by being migrants will continue to grow. So, you'll be aware—obviously we've talked about refugees an asylum seekers within that—there will be an increase in the number of asylum seekers in Wales, as the Home Office has made a decision to move to full dispersal. So, all areas of Wales will have asylum seekers who don't necessarily have asylum seekers now, and I think that leads in to us needing to get some of this information and the data sharing right at the beginning, if you like. And as you were talking I was thinking, one of the processes that does work well around data sharing is the national referral mechanism for modern slavery, and maybe we do need some of the very clear frameworks and pathways of where that data and information sharing should go. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but whether there is something as effective as the NRM is an issue. It's just, again, how we can learn from things that are working in practice here, so that we can address the issues and support people.
Thank you so much. That's a wonderful idea as well. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. Moving on, then, to Jane Dodds.
Thank you very much. I'd like to ask you specifically around whether you feel the services in Wales meet the needs of women and girls who have experienced violence and need support. Thank you.
I'll pick up on this, but Jo's just done some recent research. I thought I'd take that one first, Jo. I think one of the issues is, obviously, the particular concern around those who are presenting with no recourse to public funds, and the ability of services to provide appropriate support to people in that circumstance. And while some of the guidance is clearer, obviously there's still some hesitation or lack of confidence around applying some of that legislation within the circumstances. So, I think that probably leads on to the issues around awareness raising. And again, as I said earlier, it's not just the awareness raising, it's the ongoing support that we are providing to people to be able to provide the ongoing support. So, I don't think there's enough specialist services across Wales in terms of meeting the needs of migrant women. At the moment, even in terms of the Women's Aid groups—they will do as best as they can in terms of linking up those services, but BAWSO is really only that real service that can provide an all-Wales basis. But, again, the resources that it has as an organisation does need to be looked at in terms of being able to provide services to areas that may not have been its usual cohort in the past.
So, I think some of the work that's supported by organisations like Barnardo's and other third sector bodies—. So people will provide what support they can, but in terms of having clear referral mechanisms, support specialists, and often, when Jo was talking around the interpreters—it is needed 24/7. So, one of the issues around the interpreters—and we found recently with people from Ukraine—is making sure that you have enough interpreters that can provide the vast variety of services that are required at the time that you need it. So, there are useful feedbacks. But also, then, people sometimes wanting interpreters outside of Wales—making sure that there's that distinction with any link back in communities. So, there are a lot of those kinds of tips, if you like, that we need to make sure that those services meet the needs of the individuals at the time. But I think, generally, there is a need for further investment in some of those specialist services across Wales—not expecting them in all local authority areas, but knowing where they can access that support and that there will be enough support for them. So, I'm sure Jo can pick up on that as well.
[Inaudible.]—Naomi. I was going to mention—I'm sure you've heard it mentioned before, but if you haven't, you will hear it mentioned—the report that was launched on 24 May, the Birmingham university report, which was Professor Jenny Phillimore's, and what that puts really starkly, I think, is what we already knew, which is that there is a huge reliance on BAWSO in Wales to provide services for this group. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing in terms of BAWSO as an organisation, but I think what we do need is, certainly, more sustainable funding for this, but not just relying on one organisation to deliver it in a national programme. There are others that might do it more locally, but I think every organisation that they spoke to as part of that piece of work said, 'Well, we just refer to BAWSO. We don't do it ourselves, we have to refer on.' So, that's an enormous amount of pressure on one organisation.
I think, more generally, there is also—. It goes back to that we shouldn't put everybody into one homogenous group—the needs of people who have experienced any form of violence, sexual violence, whatever it is, are usually quite diverse and quite complex. So, this is not about saying, 'We just have an organisation that deals with migrants.' This is more about saying, 'Where are the opportunities to look at how people who have a migrant background or displaced people—whatever you might want to call them, whatever they might call themselves—can access the support that they need?' It may be that that's mental health support, it may be that that's perhaps support around parenting, it may be support to leave their abusive partner, or it may be something that they might need many years down the line from the event actually happening. All of those things I think need to be really thought about.
There's a lot of work going on at the moment with Traumatic Stress Wales, which Anne Hubbard is also leading, to think about that more acute response to what migrant women might need where they are presenting with some symptoms that put them in that sort of area where we're talking about maybe complex post-traumatic stress disorder or something like that. So, there's some real work going on there at the moment.
But my concern now, and if we just talk about Ukraine for a second, is people are coming here who are still in shock. They have just experienced something or are still experiencing something. We may not see the consequences of that and they may not understand the needs that they might have until many months down the line. We know, often, that in any circumstance, a survivor of domestic abuse will not ask for help immediately. We're talking 33—I think that's the stat, I'll see if I can find it for you from Safelives—33 average incidents before anybody even says that something's happening to them. So, if you add in the additional barriers that migrant women face, then we're talking about services that might need to pick up the pieces a lot further down the line. So, for me it's a more holistic issue.
Thank you so much. I'm still a little bit unclear, Jo, from your response. So, do you actually feel that there need to be more resources, more support services for migrant women in particular experiencing violence, which is what this committee is looking at?
You do. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Yes, I do, because I think to have it just with one is not enough.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Very good. Thank you very much. Ken Skates, would you like to come in and have a look at the policy and legislative framework that we're all operating under?
Thank you for attending. How can the policy and funding framework be amended or changed in Wales to improve the availability and provision of specialist services for migrant women and girls?
Shall I jump in, Jo, if it's okay?
Go on then.
Obviously, the Welsh Government have recently launched their refreshed violence against women and sexual violence strategy, and reviewing that this morning, in light of the conversation that we were having today, I think that a lot of the strategies and the plans are there for tackling violence against women and sexual violence, but if you look through the lens of migrant women, do they cover them in that range of issues? So, when I was reviewing the objectives of the strategy this morning, each of them needs to be looked at through the lens of migrant women, and as Jo said, not talking about the homogenous group, but being able to break down some of the different experiences there as well.
There's the nation of sanctuary plan as well, so it's how these interact, and I think very shortly Welsh Government will also launch their race equality plan for Wales. So, there are a lot of strategies and plans that do have an impact or an input into this area. I think one of the issues for me is around the implementation gap. We often talk about, in Wales, the strategies and the plans, and the direction of travel is very clear, but actually, in terms of implementing, there does need to be increased training on an ongoing basis, different services that people can report to, awareness raising with migrant women themselves, but public services as well. So, I think the strategies and plans are there, it's now how we turn some of that into reality but also ensure that the needs of migrant women are addressed, because often we're talking about generic strategies and plans and expecting those strategies and plans to pick up all the different issues that affect different groups of people within that. So, I think there is still some more to be done.
I think what I would say is that coming out of this, and it's often the dual track, we do need to mainstream the issues affecting migrant women into our existing plans, our existing strategies, our existing implementation plans. But we also need to look at where those gaps are at the moment. So, you'll need a dual line to look at some of those specific steps that are required to inform people, if you like, and make sure that migrant women receive the same quality of service that we expect other women to receive when they are reporting such issues. So, I think some of that work does need to be looked at through the lens of migrant women and the issues affecting migrant women, which might lead us, then, to some different actions that do need to take place to specifically meet the objectives, then, of those strategies and plans.
Great, thank you. Jo.
Can I come in?
Thank you. So, I think this really is the crux of the Public Health Wales consultation feedback, actually, towards the strategy consultation. We were very concerned that we didn't see upfront reference to displaced people in the broad sense—migrant women, refugees or asylum seekers—and we were very clear that we felt that that was an important thing that still hasn't been included in the way that we had hoped, and the reason for that, I think, is that a number of the reports that we've done have highlighted the fact that in the nation of sanctuary plan there is a section that talks about VAWDASV, but those sorts of recommendations and actions are actually quite old now, they're a couple of years old. There isn't real reference in the new strategy to this group, although it does mention, I think, in one line, the nation of sanctuary plan—we'll pick that up. I think there is a risk here that migrant women will fall down the cracks of all these plans—there isn't that bit that brings this all together. I completely understand, having worked in Government, how difficult it is to break down those policy silos, but here is a group that is falling between those silos because, as Naomi said, there's such an opportunity to look at this from a number of different angles, a number of different plans, a number of different policies, and yet each one refers to the other without really taking ownership of this.
I wondered whether—. It's an ongoing conversation, but I did wonder whether that point I made earlier about whether, because this violence has often happened outside of the UK or on the journey to the UK, that kind of separates this group slightly from us thinking, as we should do, that nobody should ever experience this form of violence. I just think there's probably a little bit more work to do, as evidenced in a number of these reports, to join that up and then join up with the UK Government as well in terms of how does this—. Because it's quite interesting that there was a whole section on migrant refugee women in the VAWG strategy, the one before last, and it completely disappeared, and we can see the political change of view and why that's happened, but we shouldn't in Wales, I don't think, follow suit. There's an opportunity here to think about the legislation that already exists, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and how we can use that to facilitate perhaps more support for people who are NRPF, for example. So, I think there's a real opportunity here that we could choose to take by thinking more in that joined-up way across the strategies and plans.
Great, thank you. I'm conscious of time. Just one question to both of you regarding Welsh Government support: to what extent do you think that Welsh Government could support those who have no recourse to public funds? And what are the key challenges and barriers? And then, specifically to Naomi: to what extent do you think social services across Wales have complied with the duties placed on them to meet the needs of migrant communities, as set out in the social services and well-being Act? And what more could Welsh Government do to help social services?
Shall I start, Naomi, because I've got quite a quick response on this—?
Please, thank you.
Thanks. So, Welsh Women's Aid produced a really helpful paper that they've put to Welsh Government, commending that we take forward some real thinking around the opportunities within the social services and well-being Act to provide services to people that are within the power of Welsh Government, and perhaps not to immediately push back and say, 'Well, it's not in our power.' And I think what that paper was testing was whether we are absolutely sure that there aren't areas of devolved power that we could use to support, particularly women in this group.
I think there are examples across the UK of where there have been specific organisations or activities or pilots to test how we could do things differently. And I think the ask is: could we do that here? Could we think about perhaps funding for specific places, and really just see if we can test those boundaries? I do think that the conversations at the steering group that was set up were trying to do that, were trying to think about where the red lines are for the UK Government, and could we ask them what would be the things that we absolutely couldn't do, but where are the areas that we could test a bit more? And, for me, I think that would be a real groundbreaking area for us to have a look at, because, yes, there are things that are red lines, of course there are, but I don't think we're clear enough yet about what opportunities we might have to do more for this group. And I think Anne, through the network—the NRPF network—and other areas, would be able to help us to think more about that with that steer. So, I'm hopeful, from the steering group, that there is that opportunity to take this forward, but I'm just keen, because it comes up in every report, as I've mentioned before, that this is the group that's a real concern, that have no access to anything. Naomi.
Thank you. Naomi.
Thank you. Picking up the first question around what support Welsh Government provide, I think there is a very clear vision for asylum and migration in Wales, which is around making sure Wales is seen as a nation of sanctuary and we provide that welcome and support, and, obviously, similar around violence against women. I think, again, it just comes back to where some of this meshes and what support and guidance and funding to make it happen, I think, happens at the local level. So, I think that there's a lot that we can build on here in terms of those commitments and areas. Welsh Government have a taskforce around refugee and migration issues, where this kind of conversation should be able to be vocalised and seen.
In terms of social services and the duties in terms of the Act, Welsh Government provided some detailed guidance around no recourse to public funds and the interaction with the social services Act. Sorry, I can't remember if it was pre pandemic or during the pandemic—my timing has gone over the last two years—but there is some guidance out there that was developed in conjunction with social services and the third sector to ensure that it was very clear in terms of what those duties are.
I think it is a work in progress, in terms of further work being required, which is supported by the No Recourse to Public Funds Network, and again it does come back to, in some local authorities areas, this not being something they're dealing with on a regular basis, so it's something that's newer to them and they will require that guidance and support from elsewhere to just help them through the system, but, again, following those duties. But I do understand, particularly because I've read around this subject, that it was Welsh Women's Aid that were saying that, sometimes, those duties are still not taken forward in the way that they would like to see, or that somebody says, 'Oh, it's domestic abuse; it doesn't fall within the Act.' So, again, I think that there are some bits that we can do further in terms of raising that awareness, making sure that people are understating and, obviously, you'll still be aware of what Welsh Government did under no recourse, or the change in the no recourse to public funds, with homelessness. So, what are the opportunities there? And I do understand that they launched a fund, Welsh Government, that would ask people to donate funding, which again could support other bodies, like third sector bodies, who are providing that support to no recourse to public funds.
One of the issues of concern that I know shouldn't be the way, but you'll be aware that, for funding, money that's spent by local authorities to support people with no recourse to public funds, we don't get that back. There's never been a real opportunity to put a figure on what that is in Wales. There's some similar work that's been done in England. So, I think we do need, as governments, if you like, at all levels, to be very clear around that no recourse to public funds, but being able to look at the kind of support we should and we are able to provide, and to make sure that that's provided. So, I think it is a work in progress. I think, in short, Ken, there's still further work to be done, and some of that is in train, but that doesn't mean not having continual awareness sessions and newsletters that go out that remind staff around that, particularly for those areas that don't deal with these issues on a more regular basis.
Okay, thanks for that. And, Altaf, you wanted to come in on this area of awareness about what people's entitlement is.
I think we have covered a lot of things there, but let's go through them again.
Altaf, at the moment you're breaking up, so I don't know if you could perhaps get a little closer to the microphone and hopefully that will help.
It's about awareness of the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and the support amongst migrant communities—is there any demand for improvement, and how could this be enhanced, to help these migrant communities? I know you have answered many of these, but let's go through it again.
I think Jo was saying earlier some of the issues for women in the migrant community, and how we do raise awareness that not only domestic abuse but the violence that people can experience is wrong, but also what is available. So, I think there is more work to be done with the migrant communities themselves in terms of acceptable forms of behaviour. But how to challenge that, and how to challenge it in a safe way, or where to go for that safety? But I think the awareness raising does need to be made with public bodies as well, as I said earlier, because violence against women, sexual violence as an issue, has raised its profile over the last year, and it's increased significantly, and there's been much more work to tackle that, but not necessarily in terms of some of the other experiences that women can have at different times. So, I would support that need to make more awareness of it. But, also, we haven't talked about children and young people. You'll have more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in Wales, and, again, often people's journeys to the UK, their immigration status, does make them more vulnerable to that victimisation, in terms of the journeys of people coming. So, we know that some women who would have arrived as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children may have been assaulted through their journeys, so there are different ways that we do need to raise awareness so that we can ensure that public services can be sensitive to the needs of those groups.
Joanne, do you want to add anything?
Thank you. I missed the beginning of the question, but I think Naomi's coloured that in for me now in terms of what you might have asked, so hopefully I've picked it up. But what I was going to say was we've been doing quite a lot of work in the ACE support hub recently to try and understand better the engagement with communities. So, someone like me should not go barrelling into a community saying, 'You should do this, that and the other'. That's not going to work. So, how do we work with communities themselves to have that conversation about what is it that's needed? How do we work with people, whether it's community leaders or whether it's with people who feel disempowered? And when I say 'we', it's all of us, not me, not somebody over there, so communities don't feel that they're being threatened by yet another person from a public service coming in and telling them what to do. We had a really, really interesting conversation with a lady from Butetown who was telling me, 'Stop talking about us as if we're over there. You need to come down and visit. You need to come down', which was another sign that, 'Well, here's me barrelling in now'. 'No, no, you're coming to talk with me and I can help you and we can talk about this and then I will go forward with the message if I understand it.' So, it's just a really different way of engaging, isn't it, rather than just saying, 'Right, we'll give you a leaflet', or 'Come down and hope that you've understood everything that you've been told and go away again.' It's got to be done over time, and it's got to be done in a very careful and collaborative way, which actually would mean someone like me, I think, stepping out of the way and letting others come into that space and say, 'This is how we should do it.'
One of the big learning points, I think, from the COVID experience was that the people who were even more marginalised than they were before were the ones who needed more of a community-led response. It's more of an oral history, it's more of, 'We need to talk about this. We don't want a leaflet; we don't understand a leaflet. That's not anything that we're interested in. Actually, we want to access services by having a conversation about it.' And I think that, for me, when people weren't able to do that, was marginalising groups of people who used that form of expression, that form of communication, that form of engagement. We've got to do that better.
And I think one of the things that's really struck me in some of the work that we've been doing, particularly around the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community, is that if there is a lack of literacy in generations of a family, if there is a mistrust of public services, sending them a letter saying, 'You're entitled to this, and you need to come to this appointment' is not going to get through to people who need help. And it was really, really striking, I thought, that the moment there was a conversation with somebody from the community who said, 'No, no, this is okay, you are entitled to this, you can have this. People will come and help you', that changed everything. So, I think we just need to think a little differently about building that trust, working with people, rather than seeming like we're coming in as the experts and telling them what to do. But that's a very personal view, I should add.
On the effectiveness of current strategies that aim to prevent violence before it occurs—that is, preventative measures—the challenges are in delivering these preventative measures. Is there a way these strategies could be enhanced?
I didn't catch that, Naomi. Did you?
Yes, a bit, Jo, you'll probably gather from my answer. I think one of the issues is always the difficulty of evidencing the impact of preventative work. But it doesn't mean that we can't start there. So, just picking up on what Jo was saying earlier about working with communities and, again, having somebody that people trust, so it's not people in suits who turn up to do this, one of the examples was around the arrival of Afghan refugees within some of the Urdd centres, for example. So, one of the things that became clear quite early on was that the women and girls wanted an opportunity to talk amongst themselves. So, yes, the arrival was very good and it was much supported, but that opportunity for women and girls to have their own little group to talk about some of their experiences, to have people in to talk to them, again gives that opportunity to raise those issues as a preventative measure in terms of being able to highlight some of the risks that can appear but also the standards that we expect and the support services that would be available at that time.
I also heard BAWSO talking about some of the pilot work that they're undertaking, funded by the Home Office, but a lot of that seemed to be more reactive, rather than proactive. And, again, it's around which organisations would take this sort of responsibility forward in being able to address some of those steps. So, I certainly know, in some of the asylum dispersal areas that we would have, some of those sessions are held with women through the third sector groups. They come together and they talk not just because of that; it can appear as different conversations. But I think the prevention and early intervention does require us to develop those positive relationships with communities, to rely on people those communities trust to be able to have those conversations, as Jo was saying. But also, then, if we know that people—. There are some risk factors that we can identify, and so if we've identified those risk factors, what steps are we taking to ensure that we can actually provide appropriate support or guidance along the way. So, I think there is more to be done around some of that prevention and early intervention, but particularly starting through the schools as well and using all avenues that we have to communicate these important messages.
Thank you. I think we need to move on, because I know Sioned still has some questions she wants to ask. Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Ie, eisiau edrych ymlaen ydw i, mewn gwirionedd, i'r dyfodol. Rydyn ni wedi trafod tipyn ynglŷn â'r hyn sydd heb weithio yn y gorffennol, ac yn y blaen, a rhai o'r camau sydd wedi digwydd yn ddiweddar, ac eisiau gofyn am eich barn chi yn benodol. Fe wnaethoch chi gyfeirio ato fe, Naomi, dwi'n meddwl, at y strategaeth, y refresh newydd—y strategaeth VAWDASV newydd. Beth yw'r bylchau? Beth yw'ch barn chi arni hi? Jo, dwi'n meddwl wnaethoch chi sôn tipyn bach am y ffaith roeddech chi'n teimlo efallai bod edrych trwy'r lens yna o safbwynt profiadau menywod mudol ar goll. Ac efallai hefyd y gallwch chi sôn tipyn bach am y ffaith y gwnaethoch chi gyffwrdd arno o ran y diffyg yna o ran yr ymateb acíwt sydd yna ar gyfer profiadau trawmatig. Felly, unrhyw beth rydych chi'n teimlo sydd efallai ar goll neu heb ei gyfro yn ddigonol yn y strategaeth newydd.
Thank you, Chair. I want to look to the future, if I may. We've discussed what, perhaps, hasn't worked in the past, and some of the steps that have been taken more recently, and I wanted to ask specifically about your view. I think, Naomi, you made reference to the new refreshed strategy—the VAWDASV strategy. So, what are the gaps in that strategy? What are your views on it? Jo, I think you mentioned that that looking at it through the lens of migrant women was, perhaps, missing. And also, perhaps, if you could mention an issue that you touched on in terms of that deficiency in terms of the acute response to traumatic experiences. So, anything that you feel is perhaps missing or hasn't been adequately covered in that new strategy.
Thank you, I'll go first. Thank you, Sioned. Yes, I think I expressed our dismay—if that's not too strong a word—despite extensive feedback, I felt, not just from Public Health Wales but from others who had responded to the consultation, not expecting there to be mention of migrant women in every line, but at least an acknowledgement that there is a specific lens that needs to be applied here. So, we are trying, obviously, to stop all forms of violence against women, against anyone. This isn't about saying, 'This group here is more deserving', or, 'This group here needs to have more attention', but it's about equality and access to services.
And here is a group of women who have had an experience that is different. They may have the same experience in terms of being in a domestic abuse situation—I understand that—they may have the same sorts of experiences, perhaps, of being at risk of sexual violence in the community, et cetera, but they have come here, in many cases, having experienced different cultural acceptance of violence, perhaps, in the country that they've left. Even if we're not talking about refugees, people who have migrated here may have come from a different experience of acceptance of domestic abuse.
And then, we know that there are extensive experiences through trafficking, through living in refugee camps, through lots of other things that form part of that migration journey, which may be as quick as a couple of weeks, or it may be years. So, here is a group of women who have had experiences that are different, regardless of whether you want to look at this in a holistic way, so we must recognise that. And I think we were disappointed that that wasn't clearer in the VAWDASV strategy, because, as I said, I am not clear where that sits. I am not clear where we are picking this up in terms of Welsh Government policy and process.
The work that's going on at the moment to look at, particularly, the more acute impacts, I would say, or the outcomes of having experienced these forms of violence, some of which might be impact on mental health, I think there is some really, really good work under way at the moment to look at how we ensure that we are inclusive in our approaches to put together packages or training around complex post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. That's great. What's interesting, though, and what I'm hearing is that whilst that's a real need and a gap, there is a bigger need for people to just be able to understand what they do if someone presents in front of them who've had this experience. Where do they signpost them to for support?
So, it's less in the acute space, because I think people get there over time if they don't have access to the sorts of services they might need to prevent that from happening. And what we were hearing from practitioners and those working with, particularly, refugees and asylum seekers, was that those waiting lists are still very, very long. What do we do here and now to help people cope with the experiences that they are trying to deal with? So, how can we, as professionals or as members of the public or members of the community, access the kinds of tools or training, or anything that might support that?
So, that's why I think—and it's a forthcoming thing—that the work we're doing on the national trauma framework will be a helpful thing, because what we're trying to do is say there is a continuum here, from a universal response of everyone being more aware, right up to that acute lens. But, we really, really need to consider these experiences within that, so we don't get really quickly into that homogenous, 'Well, everybody's had the same sort of experience', because this group has had a different experience. So, I think my key point here is that there are some really good pockets of good work, but I just think that, overall, we are still further marginalising this group by just making them more invisible, by not including them overtly in strategies and plans that are there to support everyone.
And just to pick up on that quickly, because I know we're short of time, just building on that, I think what would be helpful—because, as Jo said, this group of people are not specifically mentioned—there used to be a strategy in Welsh Government around FGM, but that's way out of date now. So, is there an opportunity to be able to develop, I know not strategies, per se, but, plans or specific actions that will address some of these issues, so you're addressing that gap, if you like? Because I think it does need more investment in this area, as I think we said earlier, but it's about sustainable investment. What you might need is an injection of some of that work so that we can bring everything up to speed. So, I think it does need a bit of a planned approach. As Jo said, there are pockets of good work, but how do we bring this together so that it's seen as a planned approach to addressing this in a holistic way? It would look at guidance, it would have materials available, you'd have training. But, as Jo said, it's also being able to know where to refer people to. So, we do need some of those other specialist services delivered by probably our third sector partners across Wales in different ways, to be able to have that confidence, and then ensuring that the support mechanisms we have in place—so, for example, refuges—are culturally appropriate, so that when people arrive there, they are welcome. Because obviously refuges and other places just reflect society, so if people experience racism within that, that's going to actually re-traumatise and reinforce some of those negative perceptions. So, again, making sure that our existing services are respectful, based on equality and respect for people. As I said—I think I said this earlier—we need to mainstream what we're doing to make sure that standard services are right, but in the meantime, while bringing people up to speed, we might need to look at how we develop some of those specialist services, while we ensure that those skills and that knowledge are there more generally across public services as well.
Diolch. Rydyn ni yn brin o amser, felly roeddwn i eisiau gofyn i chi yn fwy penodol am yr enghreifftiau yna o'r arfer gorau y tu hwnt i Gymru o ran cynorthwyo menywod mudol y gallai Llywodraeth Cymru efallai ddysgu ohonyn nhw. Does dim amser gyda ni y prynhawn yma efallai i drafod hynny, felly, os gallaf i ofyn i chi i gysylltu â'r pwyllgor gydag unrhyw enghreifftiau y byddech chi'n hoffi eu huwcholeuo o ran hynny.
A dwi jest eisiau gofyn yn sydyn iawn i Jo, rydych chi wedi sôn am hyn, felly jest os oes gyda chi rywbeth i'w ychwanegu o ran y syniad yma o ddefnyddio dull iechyd cyhoeddus o ran mynd i'r afael â thrais domestig, o ran rhoi sylw i'r ffactorau risg sylfaenol yma sy'n cynyddu'r tebygolrwydd y bydd unigolyn yn dod yn oroeswr neu'n gyflawnwr. Dydyn ni ddim wedi siarad lot am hynny y prynhawn yma. Felly, oes gyda chi rywbeth i'w ychwanegu at yr hyn rydych chi wedi sôn amdano fe'n barod?
Thank you. We are short of time and I did want to ask you more specifically about those examples of best practice outwith Wales perhaps in terms of supporting migrant women that the Welsh Government could perhaps learn from. We don't have time this afternoon to discuss that, so if I could ask you to write to the committee with any examples that you would like to highlight in that regard.
And I just wanted to ask Jo very briefly, you have mentioned this issue, so I was just wondering if you had anything to add in terms of this idea of a public health approach to tackling VAWDASV, in terms of addressing those underlying risk factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will become a survivor or a perpetrator. We haven't really talked much about that this afternoon. So, I was wondering whether you had anything to add to what you've already mentioned.
I'd be very happy to send in some more written representations, Sioned, if that would be helpful. From a really quick perspective here, just to add that any public health approach starts with that premise of, 'We need to understand what the data and what the evidence tells us.' We've had three reports now in the last 10 years that tell us there are specific experiences of this group of women and girls in Wales, which is actually really groundbreaking. I shouldn't say this in a negative sense. We are way ahead of most other places in terms of having done these pieces of work. But, we have some evidence here. So, a public health approach says, 'You have evidence, and then you need to move forward into taking some action in terms of thinking about what are those underlying causes, what are the root causes.' I think, in the same way as we talk about the root cause of this being oppression and obviously thinking about power dynamics and coercive control and everything else, we do need to take that specific lens to this group, because I think when we do that we'll see real evidence of the challenge that we need to meet as we move forward in the implementation. Because if we don't, then we won't meet the needs of this group.
If I give you a really specific example just very quickly. There was a report done in 2015 by the World Health Organization that asked Afghan women about their experiences of violence in the home—I'll send it to you—and over 80 per cent of them thought it was acceptable for their husband to have hit them. I think, if we're dealing with something where it's culturally embedded and ingrained, and people are coming to the UK where they have this sudden awakening, if you like, that, actually, this might not be the way things have to be, then that public health approach really needs to capture that and look at those areas that we need to focus on. But, I can send further detail.
Can I just say—? This is a final point, but I think that the point that you made there, Sioned, around perpetrators as well—. So, a lot of the points that we would have made today around seeing it through different lenses, the issues there, addressing those cultural 'norms', per se, do need to be addressed because any work that we're doing around perpetrators will have similar lessons for dealing with perpetrators from migrant communities as well. For that long-term need to get to a place of safety for women, we do need to tackle not only supporting victims, but making sure that perpetrators are aware of their behaviour. So, I would just endorse that final point.
Thank you very much indeed, both of you. That was a really fascinating session with such a lot of expertise from both of you, so I'd like to thank you both. We will send you a transcript of your evidence and please do check it carefully to make sure that we've captured your evidence accurately. Also, thank you for any additional information that you may have time to submit. Thank you very much indeed.
The committee will now take a short break before the next session, which is due to start—. I think, if we could try and start the next session at 4.05 p.m., that would just give us time to get the new witnesses in. Thank you very much indeed.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:57 ac 16:05.
The meeting adjourned between 15:57 and 16:05.
Prynhawn da. Welcome back to our third scrutiny session of our inquiry into violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and how it relates to migrant women. So, I'm very pleased in this third session to welcome Kirsty Thomson from JustRight Scotland to help us understand what are the boundaries that we can push in order to meet the needs of this vulnerable group of women. So, very much welcome to you and thank you very much for giving up your time. And Jane Dodds is going to open the discussion.
Hi there, Kirsty. Thank you very much for joining us. Diolch yn fawr iawn. I wanted to specifically ask you two really interesting things—I hope—in terms of the Scottish experience from the March 2021 report, 'Ending Destitution Together: A Strategy to Improve Support for People with No Recourse to Public Funds Living in Scotland', and it's a strategy over three years, until 2024. We've heard a lot about the issues affecting migrant women and those who have no recourse to public funds. So, I wanted to really just ask you what the good things were from it. But two things that occurred to me in reading a little synopsis of it was around access to refuges, and something I'm sure my colleague Sarah Murphy will pick up later, which is I understand that you have an approach, which is that it is never the right move to share data. And there may be other points that you want to highlight for us in a more general way, but I was specifically interested in those two issues. Thank you very much.
Good afternoon. Thank you very much for allowing me to attend to give the Scottish perspective. And, yes, Jane, I will try and answer your questions. Firstly, in terms of 'Ending Destitution Together', I think what's good about it is that it exists in and of itself. As far as I'm aware, it's one of the first strategies of its kind that sets out what it itself says is quite an ambitious plan and strategy. In and of itself, it didn't just come out of nothing—it came out of a number of different inquiries, pieces of research, from third sector, from academia, a Scottish Parliament inquiry, similar to what you're doing. So, it built on a lot of that work in order to pull this strategy together. And the fact of having it, it sets out a commitment; it doesn't say it has all the answers, but it quite clearly states that we're going to work together in order to try and work out what some of those are, in what is a very complex area, particularly in terms of that nexus between devolved and reserved. What I think it does, in terms of that framework—and there has been a lot of learning as well, in terms of COVID—it builds confidence in terms of how far a Government can go, what are those parameters, and it creates space to look at funding, to look at frameworks, and to push those parameters further than they've been pushed before. So, that's what I would say about the strategy in and of itself. It is incredibly useful, and, as I say, we are involved in many different strands of that work. So, practically, I can see how useful it has been and also how it is moving us forward in Scotland. We've got somewhere to go, but we're on that journey, with a route-map.
In terms of your question about access to refuges, can I just ask you to be more specific on that? Is that in terms of not having access in terms of public funds?
Yes. So, specifically, you have this strategy, which is about support to people who have no recourse to public funds. In the strategy, I couldn't see anything that referred to access to refuge places for women. There are lots of other really interesting points, but could you just talk a little bit about that? Because, obviously, we've got the rest of it, but really interesting to hear about that issue.
So, historically, access to—. Well, from my understanding, historically, access to a refuge space in Scotland has been funded via public funds, basically, hence why there's a barrier there when we look at no recourse to public funds. However, in part as a result of this strategy, what civil society, including ourselves and others, have committed to do is to look at where we can bring in other funding for specialist support, including that provided in a refuge. And there are some clear examples of that, in terms of where I think the Government and others have increased in confidence, particularly in the last year or so, in providing funding to third sector partners through crisis funds or destitution funds, whatever we wish to call them, that allows that route, that allows that pathway. Again, we're still on that journey. We've taken steps to see how we can work within the context of that reserved position, and we're growing confidence and I think I've provided a briefing and a recent example of that, where local authority grant funding has been given to Women's Aid and Red Cross in order to provide access in that area.
Thank you so much. Chair, I'll pass on, thank you very much. Diolch.
Very good. Sarah Murphy, would you like to ask your questions?
Thank you very much, and thank you so much for being here today. The question that I wanted to ask you about is about data sharing. It's something that we touched on in previous sessions today. But, having a look through the JustRight Scotland blog, I could see that there was that incident last year, in Glasgow, where there was a dawn raid and the community came out and stopped two migrant men from being deported, and, at the time, you said that you're calling for an end to any co-operation on data sharing between Police Scotland and the UK Government's Home Office unless it is a legitimate matter of public safety. And just to tie this all together, in our evidence that we've heard, there are women who—. Sometimes the perpetrator actually threatens them by saying, 'If you go to the police about the domestic violence and abuse, then you'll get deported, because they're going to tell UK Visas and Immigration, and you're not meant to be here.' So, it's used as a part of that coercion and that abuse. Also, then, we've heard from the agencies, the organisations like BAWSO and other third sector organisations, that they obviously suggest to women who have come forward to them and given these heartbreaking stories for them to go to the police about it, and then, whether it's true or not, anecdotally, there are these stories then about the women being contacted by UK Visas and Immigration. So, all of this is creating barriers. So, I just wanted to ask: what has been the outcome from that? Have you had further discussions with the Scottish Government about this? Is there anything that can be done? Is there anything that you think we can also do here in Wales to address this?
Yes, this has been a longstanding issue in terms of data protection, information sharing and firewalls, and we have done quite a bit of work on this in trying to establish what the various positions are and where there are agreements or memorandums of understanding, and also trying to work to raise awareness, but also trying to set out the legal position as we understand it, because there are conflicts in terms of the legislation that exists in Scotland, and I think in Wales. It comes from a UK perspective in terms of what's in immigration law, and our position is that there is a conflict in terms of GDPR and human rights legislation. It is an incredibly complex area. We have worked with a number of agencies around about this. You've repeated back our position on this. It's clearly a good position, but, in terms of working towards adopting that, there are a number of steps along the way to that.
What we have been trying to do is to seek clarity and transparency and consistency. They are needed in this area and we have still got some way to go on that in Scotland. We were involved in the establishment of guidance with local authorities and Government around about migration and rights and entitlements, and, as far as we're aware, it's the only document that starts to actually try and tackle this problem in terms of setting out that it exists and what is the legal background, but, more than that, what is the framework, what's the framework that authorities and others can operate within. We also think there are inconsistencies in terms of practice in Scotland, and we think there needs to be a consistent nationwide approach to this, backed up in guidance.
So, it is complex. It requires to be tackled. I think it's something that we'd require to move towards in partnership with police, with public authorities, with Government. Our role in that is trying to share our understanding in terms of the legal position, in terms of what is good practice, to try and bring the survivor experience to that, to try and highlight good practice in terms of, for instance, I think I highlighted the NHS's good practice in terms of its clarity in terms of a statement in this area, and try and work towards that clear framework from a national perspective. I think that's going to take time, but consistently it is an issue that comes up, not just from survivors but from agencies that work in this field, including statutory, including third sector. When everyone is confused, when everyone finds it complex, and when it is inconsistent, then—you know, we can't have that.
Thank you so much, Kirsty. I really appreciate that. That's all I have, Chair. Thank you very much.
Very good, thank you. Altaf Hussain.
Thank you very much, Chair. Thanks, Kirsty. It is regarding the access to specialist support. What steps has the Scottish Government taken to ensure migrant women and girls can access specialist support for accommodation, both physical and mental health, and legal support?
I think the Scottish Government is a model of good practice in this area. I have been working on the front line for about 14 or 15 years now, and for most of that time I, or the projects I have been working in, have received some kind of funding from the Scottish Government, under its broader violence against women and girls strategies but with a specific—. We've been funded to specifically work in the area of migrant women. I think the Scottish Government has made clear political commitments in this area, backed up by quite substantial funding, and what that does is it not only just creates those support services, but over the years it's created again that partnership, that multi-agency working. If I'm funded to work in this area, then I can attend various working groups, research, inquiries, as we try and work through some of these difficult issues that you've already raised this afternoon.
The funding packages are very good in terms of the funding they provide to specialist support in terms of women's organisations. The Scottish Government also funds specific health interventions, and it funds us, so I am part of legal projects that are funded to provide specific legal advice to migrant women across Scotland, either through dedicated projects, or also more broadly through the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, for instance.
Migrant women often access our projects in different ways, but there's often some Government funding attached to this. With COVID-19, I think the Scottish Government worked with ourselves and others to make a clear statement and set out a clear framework in terms of what migrants—and particularly migrant women fleeing abuse—must have access to in terms of a public health response, accommodation and support. In the last week, that's been updated as we're moving out of the pandemic to be quite clear in terms of the requirements for support.
I also think, as I've said, Scottish Government is becoming more confident in terms of funding; not only the kind of advice or support services, but they've also funded third-sector partners to provide accommodation—Safe in Scotland is a good example of that—recognising alongside local authorities that, actually, funded third-sector partners are really useful allies in terms of working through some of these parameters and being able to deliver some of the crisis support, but also accommodation, and recognising that you need those pathways to exit a situation of destitution or situation of violence.
Access to a crisis grant or a crisis fund or a refuge is great, but you need that specialist support in terms of advocacy, but also legal support, to make sure that there is a safer medium to longer-term outcome in that. And legal advice has been key through all of this; it's very difficult to provide assistance to someone with an uncertain migration status who is at risk of violence and there not being legal advice in there somehow, in terms of working out the next step.
Thank you very much. What steps has the Scottish Government taken to ensure those who have no recourse to public funding can access support like the hardship fund, and what have been the key challenges and barriers to access this fund?
As I say, I think we've made quite significant progress in the last few years in the area of no recourse to public funds in terms of trying to work through these barriers and trying to understand the parameters in which we have the power to act, and also must act, regardless of the NRPF condition. I think I've highlighted some really good examples; the COVID-19 guidance and framework that was produced by the Government in partnership with a variety of people was so clear in that. But it wasn't just a clear statement; it actually set out, 'and this is the framework, this is how to make sure this happens'.
Another good example was the isolation funding. There was isolation funding available, for instance, from the UK during COVID, but that did come out of a fund that would be classed a public fund in terms of immigration legislation, but the Scottish Government created a pathway and made it clear that if someone was trying to access that that had no recourse to public funds—. They created another pathway, so that those individuals could get that fund in a way that wouldn't be classed as accessing public funds.
They've also, as I say, funded accommodation. Safe in Scotland provides accommodation and support for those who have no recourse to public funds. That's quite a shift; it's a real confidence in terms of the Government working with others to be clear on where it can act and how best it can act, and I think we're on that journey there, and even moving forward, bringing those referral pathways in place. It also has a crisis fund, which came out of the inquiry that the Scottish Parliament did, which I spoke to. That's administered by British Red Cross, and that's delivered, again, in partnership with a range of people. There are other initiatives like that that are ongoing. They all come out of funded initiatives, but are all trying to put in place this framework and this pathway.
We recognise that we need to do further work in terms of referral pathways, particularly in terms of housing—that came up in Jane's point at the start—but that's about to start. I think they have shown leadership in terms of moving forward and trying to come up with access to support and pathways. There's more to be done, but I think they should be commended in terms of what they've done so far.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. I just wanted to explore the role of public bodies and how well they comply with the law, regardless of whether or not somebody has no recourse to public funds. In Wales, we have the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Particularly in relation to children, but also to vulnerable adults, there's an obligation to act. What information can you share with us about the law in Scotland, and how public bodies approach those obligations against the gap in funding?
Again, we've very much been on a journey with what I suspect is very similar legislation in Scotland around a power to provide support for children, vulnerable families, vulnerable adults, and where there's a duty to do so under human rights legislation, and then what pot of funding that comes out of in terms of the local authorities. I think we're on the same journey, if that makes sense. The same issues have come up for many years now in this area, and they were clearly noted in terms of the 2017 inquiry from the Scottish Parliament in this area. In terms of compliance, it is such a complex area. You know that to ensure consistency in this area is very difficult. We had certainly found quite a number of years ago that there was a lack of awareness and knowledge in this area in terms of what can be used, what powers can be used, when they should be used, and, again, where that funding comes from.
A big bit of work that we did in this area with COSLA, our organisation of local authorities, and the Scottish Government in 2019 was we created—and it was my colleague that did this—a guide. So, we really tried to set out, in as clear a way as possible, what the rights and entitlements are for migrants in terms of accessing local authority support, and what local authorities and social work should consider in terms of providing that. That was followed up by a national training programme, and we're just about to revisit and update that now. That has been a really good first step, but there's more to be done in terms of creating local frameworks for public authorities and trying to tease it out more in terms of what happens when a women approaches homelessness assistance. We've been doing some work on that in Glasgow through the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership. When you try and work out a woman's journey through that process, it is complex, and I still fear that the first question that is asked is, 'What's the person's immigration status?', rather than, 'Do you know what are the risks, background and vulnerabilities here that may trigger our duties in this area?' and then may link in to that funding pot.
Again, there's work going on on this in Scotland. We, ourselves, are about to commission a legal opinion in this area just to kind of further check our understanding in terms of parameters in terms of local authorities' obligations, but also because we're very aware that there's a funding question to this and that that is really important in terms of implementation. We really want this opinion to look at some of that in terms of coming to their answers. We did this last year in terms of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is now an Act, because we really felt that we needed to contribute some information and awareness about how something that's reserved has a real impact on devolved areas. We want to do something similar with no recourse to public funds, because it keeps coming up. We think we need a little bit more of an input to help us with the work that's ongoing. It keeps coming up because it is increasingly becoming more of an issue in terms of numbers in areas of Scotland that would never have seen this before. So, that's where we are—I suspect some of the same issues.
There's also a question of whether it's just a problem of implementation or whether there is some work that we need to do to tighten up national legislation in this area in terms of what is a vulnerable adult, for instance, in terms of guidance. And these are all questions that are being looked at and are being proactively explored through some of these working groups and pathways created from the strategies that I've spoken about. I'm happy to share that, all of that work, as we go forward.
A particular aspect on this that I'm very interested in is that, as all money is fungible, at one level, dealing with violence in a domestic context—you know, gender-based violence—is a really complicated subject regardless of people's migrant status. I just wondered how you can approach funding for these expert bodies; if you have private, voluntary or community funds involved, does it then eliminate the need to be making distinctions between individuals whose immigration status doesn't allow them access to public funds, as opposed to somebody whose does?