Friday, 15 October 2010

We CAN make a difference! - The Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign.

The Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign has had a significant impact on women who are covered by this rule and the organisations that support them. The campaign has gone from strength to strength, involving more and more organisations and activists and getting its voice heard within Government. This is a brief look at the birth of the campaign, its achievements and the current situation in the UK:

• In September 2003 no recourse to public funds was raised at the first WRC Policy Forum meeting as an ongoing issue for women.
• This led, in June 2004, to training on women with no recourse to public funds and a strategy meeting around this issue held jointly with Southall Black Sisters.
• In 2006 How Can I Support Her?, a resource pack to help women's organisations supporting women with no recourse, was published by Southall Black Sisters and WRC.
• And in November 2007 the Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign was launched.
• On 14 January 2008, EDM 693 on Black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee women and domestic violence was tabled by Linda Riordan MP and signed by 113 MPs.
• In March 2008 the No Recourse, No Safety report was published by Southall Black Sisters and Amnesty International UK, detailing for the first time the situation for women trapped by the rule. Parliamentary questions were also asked for the first time about no recourse.
• On April 23 2008 the first mass day of action on no recourse was held. This emerged out of the idea of having a strike as immigration laws and policies were preventing women’s refuges from doing the job they were set up to do, they have to use their reserves, making them unsustainable and they have to turn women away. To reflect this, campaign organisations closed for the day and informed the press and public why. Letters were also sent to MPs and there were actions in Leicester and Belfast. Over 200 people attended a public meeting and silent demonstration outside Portcullis House with women travelling from Sheffield, Rochdale and around London.
• And following this in April 2008 the Home Office made their first proposal on backdating payments for women accessing support.
• In July 2008 no recourse was raised in the examination of the UK Government by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and was a final recommendation to the Government.
• In November 2008 campaign members met with the Home Office to discuss their proposals and began a dialogue around this.
• In January 2009 Southall Black Sisters launched a fund for women with no recourse in London funded by Oxfam and London Councils.
• In May 2009 campaign supporters sent letters and over 10,000 supporter postcards were sent to Alan Campbell MP by Amnesty.
• On 4 November 2009 Amnesty led a mass lobby of Parliament on no recourse. Approximately 200 activists visited 75 MPs with various different responses and follow-up actions.
• On 24 November 2009 Jo Swinson MP tabled EDM 214 on no recourse which currently has 107 signatures.
• On 25 November 2009 the Government’s National Violence Against Women Strategy was launched, which included women with no recourse, and a pilot project to support these women was announced.
• On 30 November 2009 the three month Sojourner Project pilot was launched providing accommodation and subsistence support while applications for indefinite leave to remain are submitted and processed.
• After the campaign group met with the Home Office the pilot was extended until the end of March 2010 and then further extended until the end of August 2010, mid September 2010 and finally the end of March 2011!
• The Coalition Government have continued to express their commitment to find a permanent solution so watch this space!

The Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign is a good example of how a successful campaign can build from the grassroots needs of women and women’s organisations. The extension of the Sojourner Project is a huge success as this means that more women can be protected and supported to leave abusive situations and receive safety in the UK. But it is still not enough. Many women still fall through the gaps and cannot access this support. Ultimately the campaign is still fighting for the no recourse requirement to be abolished for abused women who have insecure immigration status.

The campaign is also calling on the Government to:
• Provide a permanent and long term solution, enabling all women to have living expenses and access to refuges and local authority accommodation pending a final decision on applications to remain in the UK.
• Reform the Domestic Violence Rule so that all types of evidence of domestic violence are accepted.
• Extend the Domestic Violence Rule to all abused women with an insecure immigration status and introduce similar protection for trafficked women subjected to sexual and economic abuse and to overseas domestic workers experiencing violence from employers.
• Provide adequate levels of legal aid so that there is access to good quality legal advice and assistance.

Please support the campaign by asking your MP to sign EDM 214, signing your organisation up to the campaign statement or joining the facebook group and inviting others to join. And pass on the good news – campaigning can lead to important changes and we can all play our part!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Women and the Conservatives- a conference report

WRC's Policy Officer Rebecca Veazey reports from the Conservative Party Conference!

After 13 years in opposition the Conservative Party celebrated their first recent annual conference with a Conservative prime minister.

Thousands of Conservative supporters gathered in Birmingham 'in the national interest' to discuss the key policies the Conservative Party plans to take forward over the upcoming year.

As part of the fringe events associated with the conference the Conservative Women's Organisation hosted an exciting event regarding 'Women and the Criminal Justice System'.

The event panel included Mary Mcleod MP, the Private Secretary to the Minister of State for Police Reform and Justice, Carlene Firmin, the lead on ROTA's Female Voice in Violence project and Sarah Payne the CEO of YWCA.

Amongst panel members there was unanimous agreement on the importance of women-only services and a holistic approach to female offending. All speakers also discussed the importance of addressing the causes and consequences of female offending and its importance in reducing reoffending rates.

The discussion raised by the panel highlighted the specific needs and experiences of women and girls and their problems in navigating a prison system designed for men. Mary Mcleod, MP, in particular drew attention to the problems of women with mental health issues and the damaging impact prison has on families.

Audience members questioned Ms Mcleod's ability to make a women-centred approach to offending issues a ministerial priority and expressed concerns that this approach was at risk during a period of public spending cuts.

Ms Mcleod responded that she did not know what the outcome would be of the comprehensive spending review but pledged to feedback their comments to the heart of government. In addition, she commented that the effective policy solutions "tend to come from people on the ground who do day to day work rather than politicians" and that said that she was committed to applying and implementing best practice across the country.

"The best solutions tend to come from people on the ground who do day to day work rather than politicians," she said.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Women and Labour - a Labour conference report

Miliband: “the battle for gender equality... in our country is not yet won”

WRC's Policy Officer Rebecca Veazey reports from the Labour Party Conference!

On the opening day of the Labour Party Conference 700 women gathered from across the UK for the Labour Women’s Summit. The first of its kind, the summit brought together female MPs, councillors and party members to think afresh about their party’s policies and listen to women’s concerns.

The annual party conferences are an important event where the political parties review their successes and state their objectives for the year ahead. In light of the recession it is particularly important for our sector to remain informed about political developments and policies that may impact on women’s organisations, our members and future funding.

Proudly proclaimed by Harriet Harman as a 'women-only space' the summit provided a forum for women to discuss gender related issues and share their experiences of British politics. From national policies to local problems attendees expressed similar concerns such as the failure of public authorities to recognise the importance of gender equality and conduct Equality Impact Assessments.

Shadow Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper was a particularly vocal critic of the coalition government’s budget cuts that, according to research by the House of Commons Library, will disproportionately and negatively impact upon women. Ms Cooper pledged that the Labour Party would rally against government cuts of benefits and public services that support women and challenge the Coalition’s plans to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases.

Ms Cooper also criticised the government's decision to abandon rape case reform and commented that the Labour Party needed to connect with women in the UK and that female labour MPs could provide them with a vital voice.

The focus of the summit’s debate centred upon the issue of female representation and the importance of integrating women’s views into party politics. Dianne Abbott, the first black female MP in the UK and the first woman to enter the Labour leadership contest, gave a rousing speech on the barriers to female participation in politics and the importance that women stand for political office.

Following speeches from several prominent female politicians, the audience gave a standing ovation to the newly appointed Labour Party Leader - Ed Miliband. In the opening remarks of his speech, Mr Miliband commented that gender equality in Britain had not yet been achieved and that the Labour Party had to be at the forefront of social change.

"I know that the battle for gender equality in our party and in our country is not yet won and I know that is a battle we have got to win," he said.

Mr Miliband also discussed how the Labour Party needed to heal the wounds of electoral loss and identify ways to support and represent women. He commented that he strongly supported positive action to address gender inequality and "absolutely" advocated the use of all-women shortlists to select suitable political candidates. Mr Miliband said that he would relentlessly campaign for gender parity in the Houses of Parliament and promised that his shadow cabinet would reflect the society he seeks to represent.

Following on from Ed Miliband’s speech Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, pledged that at least eight of the 21 members of the Labour shadow cabinet will be women.

WRC will also be attending the Conservative Party Conference in October to provide you with further information on the key political parties' policies relating to the women’s sector.