Maria Miller: Ministers must ensure migrant victims of domestic abuse have the protection they need

4 Apr

Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary, and is MP for Basingstoke.

It is widely accepted as a marker of a just society, that when a victim of domestic abuse bravely seeks help, they will have somewhere safe to go. For most migrant victims in the UK, that is not the reality.

Migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse experience insurmountable barriers to accessing support. Those who do not have access to public funds – such as victims on visitor, work, or many other visa types – are often turned away from refuges which do not have the funding to support them.

This puts victims in the impossible situation of facing homelessness or being forced to live with the perpetrator.

As chair of the Join Committee which undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the landmark Domestic Abuse Act before it made its way through Parliament, I heard frequently that support for migrant victims of domestic abuse was a significant gap in the landscape of domestic abuse services.

It is now almost a year since the Domestic Abuse Act was passed, and the Home Office’s Support for Migrant Victim’s Pilot came to an end last week on the 31st March. It’s time we addressed the long-term gaps that still exist for this most marginalised group of survivors.

In October 2021, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report Safety Before Status found that too often a victim’s insecure status can be used as a further tool by the perpetrator to exploit and abuse them – defined by the Commissioner as ‘immigration abuse’.

Perpetrators may withhold and even destroy vital documentation and threaten to report victims to immigration enforcement if they try to flee. Evidence suggests that more than 90 per cent of migrant survivors of domestic abuse have experienced threats of deportation from the perpetrator.

As a result, many migrant victims are terrified of coming forward to the police and public services, and dangerous perpetrators are evading justice, potentially going onto exploit more victims.

In our 2020 report, the Joint Committee on the Domestic Abuse Bill made our recommendations for the improvement of support for migrant victims. As a crossbench, cross-party Committee, we were unanimous in calling for Government to explore ways to extend the temporary concessions available to ensure that all migrant victims can access protection and support.

We also supported calls to establish a firewall at the levels of policy and practice to separate reporting of crime and access to support services from immigration control, so that victims could safely report domestic abuse and come forward for support without fear.

When the Domestic Abuse Act finally passed in April 2021, it introduced truly transformative measures for most victims. But unfortunately these vital changes for migrant victims were not included. The Government did commit to undertake a pilot to fund short-term support for migrant survivors, to help inform long term decision making later this year – but with the funding covering support for just 300-500 victims, the pilot is insufficient to meet need.

I said at the time the pilot was announced that we cannot allow ourselves to be continually in the situation where we do not know how to put in place a long-term scheme to support migrant victims. It has now been a year since the pilot launched, and it’s time we moved on from short-term offerings.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report was clear that long term support is vital. In July 2022 she will be publishing further research to help calculate how many survivors without recourse to public funds there are, how much it will cost to support them, and what the financial and social benefits of supporting them would be.

It is my strong recommendation that this vital evidence helps to feed into what the Home Office’s future plans for support will look like.

I was pleased to see the Government commit to considering this evidence and establishing a pathway of support that is available to all victims, regardless of their immigration status. But more can be done to help survivors who need it now: in the short term, the Commissioner is calling for £6.2m to be set aside a year to ensure that victims of domestic abuse with NRPF can access accommodation and subsistence in a time of crisis.

With the Support for Migrant Victims Pilot concluding last week, I hope the government will now take timely measures to improve support – in the short and long term. For victims desperately in search of somewhere safe to stay, there can be no more waiting.

Iain Dale: How many Cabinet members would your fantasy Cabinet. I count five. And it gets worse.

20 Aug

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to defend what’s happened over the last week or ten days with exam results.

Clustershambles doesn’t really cover it. And the trouble is that it has affected a huge number of people, not just the students and teachers concerned, but their parents and grandparents too.

Add them up, and we’re talking several million people, I imagine. Like the Dominic Cummings’ Barnard Castle trip, it’s had cut-through.

The latest YouGov poll, out on Wednesday should a four point dip in the Tory ratings to 40 per cent. While that is still a two point lead, it’s not difficult to imagine that next week Labour could be ahead for the first time in, well, many years.

Optimists might point out that we are three and a half years away from a general election and that time is a great healer. Maybe, but once a Government gets a reputation for crass incompetence it is very difficult to shake off.

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It was reported by The Independent (yes, it still exists online) that Gavin Williamson offered his resignation on Monday, but that it was rejected by the Prime Minister. Only they know the truth of this, but it certainly hasn’t been denied by the beleaguered Education Secretary.

If he did indeed do the honourable thing, all credit to him. But surely if you resign, you, er, resign. It’s all very well for the Prime Minister to have said (if he in fact did), well, you got us into this, you get us out, but in the end once a politician loses the confidence of his or her client groups, it’s very difficult to get things back on an even keel.

Your Cabinet colleagues look at you as a dead man walking. Your enemies can’t wait until your inevitable denouement, and your “friends” melt away at the first whiff of grapeshot. If you’re going to survive, you don’t have long to plan how to do it. In Williamson’s case, he has until Christmas, given that I am led to understand that the reshuffle is now planned for January.

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The trouble with this Cabinet is that it has a distinctly second-rate feel about it. How many of them would make it into a Thatcher or Major cabinet. Very few, I would venture to suggest.

I interviewed Alastair Campbell on Wednesday (it will be on the Iain Dale All Talk podcast next Wednesday), and he reckoned that most of the current crew wouldn’t have even made it to Minister of State in Mrs T’s day.

Do it yourself. Go through the whole cabinet, and think how many of them would make your own fantasy cabinet. I just did so and came up with a total of five. Lamentable.

But it gets worse. Look down the list of Ministers of State – the ministers who would normally be next in line for the cabinet. I count five that are cabinet material. This is a dire state of affairs.

But it gets even worse. Normally you have a range of former ministers who you could think about bringing back to add a bit of weight and gravitas. Trouble is, most of them left Parliament at the last election. Looking at the greybeards on the Tory benches with cabinet experience you have Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, John Redwood, Maria Miller, Greg Clark, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Cheryl Gillan, Chris Grayling, Damian Green, Mark Harper, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom, Theresa May, Esther McVey, Andrew Mitchell, Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers.

Now, how many of those could realistically be restored to cabinet status to bring something extra in terms of political weight, gravitas or character? I’ll leave that to your impeccable judgement.

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So far this year, I haven’t taken any holiday at all. However, next week I’m on holiday in Norfolk – apart from the fact that I’ll be writing this column, doing several podcasts and appearing on Any Questions.

I realised last week that I’ve lost the art of doing nothing. If I’m watching TV, I’ve got my laptop open and I will be flicking through Twitter or something.

Next week, I’m going to try to do some reading, and I mean reading for pleasure – not reading something because I have to for my job. Talking of which I have just done an hour-long interview for my Iain Dale Book Club podcast with Danny Finkelstein. He’s just published a book of his collected columns. What a truly fascinating man he is. The podcast will be released on Friday 4 September.

The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission pledged in the Conservative Manifesto is being quietly shelved

23 Jul

The page of the Conservative Manifesto which most alarmed supporters of the status quo was page 48.  And the part of this page – which dealt broadly with constitutional matters – that alarmed them most was at its end.  We refer to the long paragraph that promised a “Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission” “in our first year”.

It explained that this commission would examine the Royal Prerogative, the House of Lords, the courts, judicial review, and access to justice for ordinary people. It would also “update the Human Rights Act and administrative law”.

That first matter, the Royal Prerogative, was clearly a reference to “Miller Two” – the Supreme Court judgement that sunk Boris Johnson’s prorogation plan, conflating as it did so the legislature with Parliament as a whole, and thereby arguing, with supreme constitutional illiteracy, that the monarch is not part of Parliament.

Needless to say, our reading of that judgement is controversial – and so therefore was the section about the proposed commission on page 48.  Which has a consequence: namely, that the commission was, from the start, what the Australians call “a tall poppy”.  It was exposed to critics who would want to scythe it down.

There were further complications from the Government side, once the dust had settled on last December’s election victory.  For putting together the commission turned out to present all manner of difficulties which for whatever reason were unforeseen at the time of its invention.

First of all, which items from this rich menu should its members select?  It’s no secret that Dominic Cummings is not exactly a fan of the way in which judicial review works.  Consider his convulsive reaction to the Court of Appeal’s decision in February to suspend the deportation of criminals to the Caribbean.

He was reported to have described this to officials as “a perfect symbol of the British state’s dysfunction”, adding that there must be “urgent action on the farce that judicial review has become”.  But what if the putative commission went haring off first after another quarry – Lords reform, say?

Those expert on Parliamentary reform might not be knowledgeable to the same degree on justice access, say.  People who have studied the Royal Prerogative may not have mastered judicial review.  The commission members might not be able to agree what dishes to select; too many diners spoil the broth.

ConservativeHome cannot be sure which of Cummings, various SpAds, Munira Mirza, different advisers and Robert Buckland came up with the Commission idea.  But we hear that the manifesto commitment is dead and that there will be no such commission – this year or any in other year.

Downing Street and Ministers will resist this take, of course.  They will explain that there will be lots of mini-commissions, ranging across the same constitututional, political and legal turf.  So the commission hasn’t really been scrapped, you see.  Just re-invented in other forms.  Hmmm.

At any rate, the principle is clear.  If you want a commission on judicial reform, “available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays”, then select members whose area of expertise is the law.

Which doesn’t mean only such people.  But there is no reason why intelligent lay members should also be experts on how the Lords or Commons works.  Meanwhile, the UK’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights is the elephant in the constitutional room – one on which not just page 48 but the entire manifesto was silent.