No Recourse to Public Funds: Migrant Women and Children Pull the Short Straw

Image: The Unity Project

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy has been catapulted into public awareness recently as it emerges that not only are thousands of law-abiding migrant families inching towards destitution amid COVID-19, but the Prime Minister had apparently never heard of the policy that dates as far back as the 1990s while the Home Secretary refuses to make an exemption during this time of unprecedented crisis.

Although NRPF predates the current Conservative government, it has been severely ramped up in the past decade under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ endeavour. What it means is that migrants in the UK who are not considered ‘habitually resident’ are blanket banned from accessing public funds, including carers allowance, child benefit, Universal Credit, disability living allowance, housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance. Yet the path to permanent settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain) for those on a Family Visa can take as long as ten years, during which time applicants must cough up extortionate visa renewals every 2.5 years.

The condition applies to at least 1 million adults and 142,000 children. In the midst of a pandemic where job losses are rife, this NRPF could force as many as 100,000 people into destitution or homelessness according to the Migration Observatory and the Institute for Public Policy Research. However, researchers largely overlook the gendered discriminatory nature of NRPF. Migrant women who are single mothers, pregnant, or are survivors of domestic abuse are overwhelmingly harmed by the benefits ban which, in turn, has an impact on the welfare of their children.

All over the world, women and girls are disproportionately ensnared in domestic duties and childrearing. Whenever the relationship between a mother and father breaks down, women are more likely to become the sole care giver – yet are unable to enter full time work to cover the costs. The UK’s inflexible labour market remains hostile to single mothers, leaving women with little choice but to enter zero hours contracts and other means of insecure work. However, the burden is heavier for migrant single mothers as they are shoved even further into the margins of insecurity and poverty due to the benefit ban. As a result, migrant single mothers are more likely to become trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty; unable to climb the career ladder to earn more money, yet unable to afford childcare costs even if they could work additional hours and no supplementary support in the event they fall into hardship through no fault of their own.

For migrant pregnant women with NRPF, a report published last year by the Unity Project found they are unable to take sufficient maternity leave. Pregnant women with an insecure immigration status are forced to work longer hours both before and after giving birth to cater to the high fees of their new-born baby. Even if the mother-to-be is in a secure job that can provide statutory maternity pay, after the first six weeks the maximum amount is capped at £151.20 per week which without a backlog of savings to rely on, is evidently inadequate to cover rent and other essentials, let alone a child.

To make matters worse, NRPF is putting women’s lives at risk. Migrant women are at an increased risk of domestic abuse when compared to British women, and already figures are reaching eyewatering heights: during COVID-19 lockdown, five women a week have been murdered by the hands of their abuser. Yet NRPF serves to intensify the precarity of migrant abuse victims’ circumstances as without public funds, they can be turned away from refuges. The 2017 Nowhere to Turn Project by Women’s Aid discovered only one refuge space was available to women with NRPF per every region of England, yet the recent Domestic Abuse Bill fails to extend support for women with NRPF or to prevent this from happening again. Campaigners such as The Step Up Migrant Women coalition argue the Bill deliberately ignores migrant women with NRPF, claiming the Government knows they exist but that “it is deliberately choosing to ignore their needs.”There is one, marginal escape route on offer to migrant victims of domestic abuse. The Destitute Domestic Violence Concession opens a shortcut to permanent residency for survivors with a Spouse Visa, however, the process is littered with obstacles and the paperwork is beyond reasonable. Women must jump through hoops to gain a mere three months of public funds while Scottish Women’s Aid even found some councils were advising victims to remain with their abusive partners due to a lack of support. Even so, this backdoor exit is only left ajar for migrant women under Partner Visas; other migrant women under different visa categories are offered no such escape route.

Children to migrant parents are at a clear disadvantage when compared to their peers; they cannot receive free school meals while they are more likely to face destitution and even homelessness as a consequence of their parents’ NRPF. In the event the child does not gain British Citizenship by the time they reach 18, they face international tuition fees to study in a UK university in the country that they have called home their entire lives.

One recent landmark case is exemplary of how NRPF trickles down to affect the standard of life for children. The court heard the heart-wrenching testimony of an eight-year-old British boy who had been plunged into severe poverty his whole life and even street homelessness with his mother, who has NRPF but works as a carer. The court decided NRPF breaches Article 4 of the Human Rights Act in the child’s case, and new guidance has since been issued. However, the new amendment doesn’t go far enough: only those who entered the UK via the family route may apply for protection, and even then, they have to prove that they are at risk of ‘imminent destitution’.

Already, a similar system is in place to protect the welfare of children, which is evidently failing. Local councils have a duty to safeguard its residents and issue Section 17 support in dire circumstances, yet lawyers at Garden Court Chambers have found that not only are applications “onerous, difficult and slow” as a result of austerity and budget cuts, but destitute families have even been told they are not eligible and that their kids may be taken into care. A shocking 6 in 10 families who attempt Section 17 access are refused – and even successful applicants can receive as little as £1.70 a day.

What this shows us is that whenever aid is devolved into the hands of local authorities, vulnerable people become victim to the ‘postcode lottery’ and migrant women with NRPF in particular pull the short straw. The Unity Project goes as far to argue that the Government is failing in its obligation to the Equality Act 2010, finding that NRPF serves as “indirect sex-based discrimination”.

For a country that considers itself propped up by the pillars of civility and justice, this policy that causes new-born babies and children to grow up in extreme poverty, while leaving women with the impossible choice of homelessness or domestic abuse, is in direct conflict with the UK’s commitment to human rights. It is high time the benefits ban is lifted, allowing vulnerable people to access welfare support in the same way Britons can. Until then, No Recourse to Public Funds will continue to unnecessarily spiral thousands of hard-working and ordinary  women and their children into misery and hardship.

If you are concerned about the impact NRPF is having on migrant women and children, contact your local MP today to encourage Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in changing this damaging, hostile policy.

This article was written by Olivia Bridge who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.


Violence Against Women in Russia

Elena Anasova// Section

Photography series tells the stories of Russia’s female prisoners

Domestic violence against women remains a global issue. According to UN Women, 70% of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual abuse from their partners in their lives. This is over double the number of women who have experienced abuse from a stranger. Statistics like this can often get overlooked, as home is a place associated with safety. However, sadly it is the place that many women are the most vulnerable.

The concept of marriage has changed over time and in most of the developed world is now predominantly associated with love. However, in many countries, marriage is still deeply rooted in patriarchal ideas. The unequal power dynamic this creates is one of the root causes of domestic violence. This is particularly visible in Russia; a society where culture is steeped in patriarchal tradition.

Elena Anasova// Section

An old Russian proverb states: “if he beats you, it means he loves you”. Dating back to the 15th Century, this phrase has long told Russian women to be proud of their bruises, suggesting that they are the outward symbol of a loving relationship. It suggests that a wife is her husband’s property; and her primary function is his emotional release.

Worryingly, recent reports have found that this turn of phrase is being used increasingly often. Women are referring to it when asked why they are staying with their abusive husbands, and victims of domestic violence are citing it when questioned on trial. It seems that Russian culture embraces domestic abuse; which makes it very difficult for women who are seeking help to come forward.

Elena Anasova // Section

This condoning of domestic abuse is also reflected in government policy. Previously in Russia, a man engaging in domestic violence could be sentenced to two years in jail. However, things took a frightening turn for the worse in 2017, when the Russian government passed the controversial ‘slapping law’.

The new legislation meant that men no longer faced prison sentences for beating their wives; so long as no bones were broken and it was a first-time offence. Instead, they would have to pay a fine – a move that would financially impact the whole family and leave the woman still vulnerable to her husband’s wrath. Most importantly, it sent out the worrying message that the Russian government were not prepared to take domestic abuse seriously.

Consequently, it is estimated that only 30% of domestic abuse cases in Russia are reported. Women receive little sympathy from the authorities, who commonly believe that domestic violence is a trivial issue that should be resolved within the home. Being unable to turn to the authorities, many women find themselves trapped in a frightening and isolating situation.

Elena Anasova // Section

If a woman decides to run, she will not have anywhere to go. In the capital city of Moscow, which has a population of 12 million, there is only 1 sanctuary for women fleeing situations of domestic violence. This does not even nearly cater for the staggering 36,000 women whom the Moscow Times estimate get beaten by their partners every day. Therefore, many women who flee end up living on the streets; putting themselves in as much danger as they were in at home.

Equally, if a woman decides to stay and fight, the outcome is just as bleak. Many women find themselves in jail for fighting back against their abusive husbands. In result, they will be separated from their children, and left with a criminal record that will stigmatize them for life.

Elena Anasova// Section

Elena Anasova is a photographer from the Baikal region of North Eastern Siberia. She works with subjects of borders, identity, and collective memory. As part of a trilogy on Russian women in closed institutions, she has captured the stories of female convicts incarcerated in a Siberian prison. Through her images, she explores isolation and confinement. She is interested in how identities are often disfigured and traumatized whilst in confinement; and particularly the impact that the constant 24hr surveillance has upon women.

“There are a lot of women in the colonies convicted for excessive self-defense; cases related to protecting themselves, their families or children, [and] standing up to domestic violence” – Elena Anasova

Her images not only show the physical incarceration of her female subjects, but also allude to the wider issue of female confinement in Russian society. Anasova suggests that the prisons can be interpreted as microcosms of wider society, in which many women have a claustrophobic lack of autonomy within their relationships.

“Almost half of Russians believe that victims of violence are the ones to blame for what happened. Half of Russians are also convinced that public statements about violence destroy traditional values such as family, loyalty, love” – Elena Anosova

Elena Anosova // Section

Anasova is interested in how the stigma of prison conviction is much more powerful for women than for men. Male convicts are statistically more likely to have a supportive family waiting for them on the outside. The majority of female convicts are left by their husbands, meaning they have little stability to return to in the outside world. This often leads to a cycle of re-offence.

“The worst thing is that society and ordinary people don’t see [them as] people any more” – Elena Anasova

Also, men have a much higher chance of finding employment post-sentence. Anasova explains that this is mainly because men in Russia tend to have jobs that use their hands – such as mechanics and taxi drivers. These professions are far less likely to screen for criminal convictions than predominantly female professions such as childcare and nursing.

Elena Anasova // Section

In Russia, there is no rehabilitation program for women leaving prison. They are often left completely isolated from their friends, family, and society. In some cases, they are even left without clothes, with the original clothes they were convicted in having been lost many years ago.

“Only around page 20 the viewer realizes it’s [images] of a colony, and almost every second person who looked at the book couldn’t believe these young beautiful women from the start of the book exist in prison” – Elena Anasova

Through ‘Section’, Anasova aims to show the humanity and vulnerability of her subjects. She wishes to show that the prisoners are mothers and daughters and wives, each with their own story, in hope of removing the stigma against female convicts. Through her images, she breaks their isolation. She invokes both sympathy and empathy from the viewer; and makes the prisoner human again.

To raise awareness and funds for the victims of gender-based violence, take part in The Circle’s upcoming campaign Chai Day. Download your pack today!

Written by Emily Earnshaw. Emily is a freelance writer with a particular interest in human rights and environmental issues.

 

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