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!

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