Letter to women MPs

Crossroads Women's Centre,
25 Wolsey Mews,
London, NW5 2DX
T: 020 7482 2496
E: gwad@allwomencount.net

UP FROM DESTITUTION

Dear [women MPs],

We write to tell you about our new report Up from Destitution and ask if you can support our demand for an end to the enforced destitution of asylum seekers.

Up from Destitution is a women’s community grassroots survey led by “experts with experience”. Members of the All African Women’s Group (AAWG), a 100 strong organisation of women asylum seekers and refugees, conducted and participated in the research.  A report of its findings was published by Global Women Against Deportations, a coalition based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre which includes AAWG along with Legal Action for Women, Women Against Rape and Women of Colour/Global Women’s Strike.

The survey asked 43 women at all stages of the immigration decision-making process about their income and their experience applying for asylum and/or immigration status in the UK. The findings were horrifying -- even to women, who were themselves sometimes destitute and were asking the questions.

Of the women surveyed, 48% had no income at all, 60% were classified as destitute (that is they were living on less than £70 a week), and all were living below the poverty line. Forty four percent are mothers of children under 18.

Participants in the survey were also asked why they were destitute. Many described severe hostility and discrimination against them as women, as mothers, and as rape survivors.

Mothers spoke of how being responsible for other precious lives shaped what they did, yet no consideration by the authorities was given to the dependence of others on women or to the treatment that they received. Some mothers have been threatened with losing custody of their children because poverty and homelessness are being labelled as neglect.

Over two-thirds (73%) of participants are survivors of domestic abuse and 44% rape survivors.  Sexual and domestic violence was a primary reason women had to flee their home country. Women also reported rape and other abuse against them and their children in the UK in situations where they were dependent on the rapist for housing and food.  Asylum claims were frequently closed without consideration of the sexual violence women had suffered and its devastating impact.  Once an asylum claim is closed, all support is terminated without reference to those impacted, including children.

Some women had won status and were on benefits but had not escaped extreme poverty. One member of the AAWG recently gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee about the impact of the £20 cut to Universal Credit which will hit women hardest. Others have got their status but with “No Recourse to Public Funds”.  A recent article about the report quotes a rape victim saying the system is “designed by the Home Office to make us give up and go back – it’s a violent and hostile environment.”

We hope that you agree that the destitution of mothers, children and survivors of sexual violence should be a greater priority for feminists and the women’s movement. The outpouring since the murder of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman has changed the climate in that some of the truth about the appalling State response to rape and other violence, is finally being heard and people are clamouring for change.

The climate has also been changed by the widespread fury at the cut to Universal Credit and campaigning by Marcus Rashford and others which includes demands for food and money to go to “undocumented” families”. However, what seems to be missing is an awareness that laws and government policies like No Recourse to Public Funds and enforced destitution along with the hostile immigration environment, actively encourage rape and other violence.

The Nationality and Borders Bill is one such law. (See our statement.) It will cause greater harm to women and particularly to rape survivors because if women aren’t able to immediately speak about all that they have suffered, their claim is liable to be fast tracked and refused, or they may even be refused the right to make a claim at all. More destitution will result and women will face detention and deportation. We are glad for the widespread concern about the safety of Afghan women but the Nationality and Borders Bill will make it harder for all women to escape to safety.

The full set of demands from the Up from Destitution report are here but we are asking for urgent action on these below which could be implemented immediately:

  • Abolish the National Asylum Support System and reinstate entitlement to mainstream benefits and housing for asylum seekers.
  • Abolish the No Recourse to Public Funds policy.
  • Recognise caring work by extending child benefit to all mothers, including undocumented mothers.
  • Abolish Home Office fees and the immigration health surcharge which people have to pay every time they renew their status.
  • Restore the right to waged work while asylum claims are being decided.
  • Restore legal aid for immigration applications to ensure that women in particular can put before the courts evidence about what they have suffered and their claim for protection.
  • Scrap the Nationality and Borders Bill which violates the rights of people to seek protection from persecution in the UK.

Up from Destitution was launched at an event in July and a short video excerpt is here:

The full report is here. Please do get in touch if you would like more information and/or if you are able to raise these issues in Parliament.

Best wishes,

Lulu and Crissie