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Domestic abuse is a problem that is often exacerbated by poor policy and support. After years of development, the Domestic Abuse Bill returned to the House of Lords on the 8th March 2021 to complete its report stage, one of the final stages before it is enshrined in law.

The Bill is expected to provide new guidelines and laws in relation to domestic abuse to improve the current responses by a variety of services. Its main features include placing safe accommodation service funding on a statutory footing and outlawing threats of non-fatal strangulation, post-separation abuse and sharing intimate images. It also intends to ban the direct cross-examination of survivors by their abusers in court and will importantly give the first ever legal definition of domestic abuse.

Last month, the Lords voted on two key amendments. These amendments aim to allow migrant women fleeing abuse with insecure immigration status to be able to access public funds. They also aimed to stop data sharing between the police and the Home Office for immigration control purposes. 

These amendments are so important because access to public funds will allow many migrant women to afford refuge accommodation, and to support children that they are caring for after fleeing domestic abuse. 

Highlighting the issue, Baroness Meacher stated: “Migrant women with insecure immigration status are, in my view very understandably, reluctant to report domestic abuse to the statutory services.”  

Meacher continued: “This reluctance [to report] is due to the current data-sharing agreements between statutory services, including the police and the Home Office, for immigration control purposes. This means that women affected cannot seek support or a safe place to go, with the most appalling consequences, as one can very easily imagine. Perpetrators are not being brought to justice.”

Studies have found that since the policy of data sharing was created, the number of women deported after reporting domestic abuse has risen from 12% to 30%. This is worrying, as it reinforces a trend of criminalising the victim of domestic abuse for speaking up, rather than the perpetrator for their actions. Most importantly, it demonstrates that the fears of migrant women are fully justified. 

The Bishop of London mirrored this anxiety, stating: “I fear that this blind spot enables offenders and abusers to use police involvement as a threat to their victims, rather than the source of protection that it should be. Various countries around the world have demonstrated that firewalls can be and are being implemented in different ways to create separation between public services and immigration enforcement”.

These two amendments were passed in the upper house, however all but three Conservative peers voted against them. This lack of Conservative support is worrying.

Furthermore, the Bill sadly does not cover other issues such as the way benefits are paid to women fleeing abuse. Universal Credit is currently paid by default into one account when claimed jointly with a partner. Some argue it instead should be paid separately to each claimant by default, to prevent abusers from perpetrating economic abuse. These issues compound with other blanket issues such as budget cuts to refugee centres, making it hard for migrant women to escape abuse and gain support. 

It is feared that the Government intends to uphold some of the policies of the hostile environment. This makes life incredibly hard for some migrant women, who are having to choose between staying in situations of domestic abuse, or suffering potential deportation. 

The apparent prioritisation immigration controls over women’s safety needs to change. Migrant women have been forgotten, left behind and overlooked in a landmark piece of legislation which should promote the protection of all women. 

Although the amendments have been added to the Bill for now, pressure must still be applied to ensure that they remain in the Bill when it receives royal assent. The voices of those that this is impacting must be amplified, and awareness must be spread of the risk that dropping these amendments would pose. 

Aaron Gates-Lincoln is a writer for Immigration News UK. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: M.]