Migrant women must not stand alone against a racist welfare system

Bella Takeover 10-12 April, with Guest Editor Caitlin Logan

If an astrologer told me in 2004 when I was leaving India, with the sole purpose of experiencing anonymity after a lifetime of notoriety gained as a trans woman, that I would be spending most of my life talking about migrant women’s rights, or rather their lack of, I probably would have never left India.

But, I did, and here I am talking about migrant women’s rights, as though nothing else matters to me. Because it is true, immigration control and its gift to women – “No Recourse to Public Funds” – has never left me. Its ugly shadow has forever blighted my Scottish existence, letting me know in the most unexpected of places that I and those of my kind are not valid, valuable, or worthy of the rights and privileges that other Scottish citizens take for granted: the right to safety, family, welfare, peace. Everything that we would expect from a place we call home.

I remember the first time that this concept of No Recourse to Public Funds hit me in the face, during my first few weeks at Shakti Women’s Aid. Until then, in my privilege of being a well-funded Master’s student, I didn’t think that there was a disparity in the rights that UK residents had.

As a naïve, young worker, I had walked into this organisation thinking that, of course, there would be fairness and access to safety for women who had the privilege of living in a society where an organisation like Women’s Aid exists. I didn’t know then of the struggles of my fellow feminists to ensure that violence against women and girls was responded to with the seriousness it deserves.

But what do we mean by “No Recourse to Public Funds” (NRPF)? In simple terms, it is a status afforded to those who are subject to immigration control that prohibits them from accessing benefits that are deemed as public funds, including in-work benefits and council-provided housing.

It is almost always religiously applied to non-EU migrants to the UK, and, usually, they have their status till they leave the country or are able to gain Indefinite Leave to Remain. Many think that this is fair. Why should people who have recently migrated have access to social housing and welfare when they haven’t contributed enough? That question, however, ignores the fundamental fact that the welfare system is largely a safety net to help people in crisis. So, why is it that migrants living in the UK, when faced with a crisis, are not afforded the same rights?

The question always asked of a woman who is seeking help from the state and its actors is: “Why can’t you go back to where you came from?” As though migration is a vacation. Women migrate for the same reasons that men migrate, and migration isn’t a cure to the inequalities that women might experience in their home societies – if anything, it makes it worse. We cannot underestimate the impact of having to build a support network in a racist society that has decided, even before you arrive, that you are not wanted. NRPF stamped on your passport is the destructive symbol of a racist state policy.

Can you imagine the plight of a Women’s Aid worker who, when confronted with a woman demanding safety, is forced to refuse her refuge, not because there is no space, but because she isn’t entitled to the housing benefit that will pay for the refuge space? If you can do that, now imagine the plight of the woman being refused. She is being told that she is not entitled to receive the benefit of the investments that we are making as a society in ending violence against women and girls.

I always wonder, would women have allowed such a policy to be developed and enforced so cruelly on other women? I am not convinced that my answer would be no. For many years, women activists like me and my colleagues, and other Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and migrant women before me, have been out in the wild, trying to convince our white feminist sisters that this is a cause that needs their weight too.

I don’t only speak of the women involved in the Violence Against Women sector, but of the masses of white feminist women who have got together to create such phenomenal social change in this country. Rarely have we seen a mass shout-out to end NRPF as we see in our successful and ongoing campaigns to tackle period poverty, equal pay, and so many other issues that create a deficit in the lives of women and girls in Scotland.

Migrant women have been left out in the cold to fight a racist state on their own and under the radar. While we are doing that, women with NRPF are dying, forced to remain in abusive situations, and more importantly, “Othered”, depriving us, as a society, of the valuable contributions that they could make to it.

What’s more, our numbers are swelling, as the nasty web of those who have No Recourse to Public funds grows bigger. These days, even women from the EU are experiencing restrictions to when and how they can access the welfare state, and this was even before the referendum to leave the EU.

The reality is that for any lasting and positive change to happen, we need to mainstream the campaign on No Recourse to Public Funds. I support the fact that migrant women should lead the movement to end the oppression we face. We already are. But the question is, who are we leading?

For it is not the leader alone who makes the change, it is the movement. If our movement to end No Recourse to Public Funds doesn’t benefit from the collective anger of the millions of women of this country, then all the gains we have made as women to end discrimination are wasted.

Please always seek immigration advice if you have doubts about your immigration status and right to welfare.

Image: ‘A thousand words’ commissioned by Scottish Womens Aid and Zero Tolerance. Copyright Laura Dodsworth

 

 

Comments (6)

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  1. lordmac says:

    State benefits do they apply to all country’s that people want to emigrate too like Australia, USA, India, Africa, Brazil just asking what country would favour the immigrants for wealth fare benefits and equality

  2. R. Eric Swanepoel says:

    @lordmac (1) What has that got to do with it? Common decency is common decency, and human rights are human rights, and all countries not upholding them should be condemned.
    (2) You cannot ‘favour’ anyone for equality. Equality is equality.
    (3) Do your own research regarding which countries offer benefits to immigrants. Why should anyone do this for you?
    (4) While you are doing your research, how about looking into the horrific things done by the wealthiest countries which (often via the transnationals founded and headquartered in them) destroy lives the world over and caused desperate people to flee their homes? I suggest you investigate human-trafficking, the arms industry, the expropriation of land for agro-industry to grow commodity crops, the ravages of extractive industries, the global network of tax havens (Canary Islands, British Virgin Islands, Channel Islands, Panama…) allowing ill-gotten gains to be siphoned out of the world’s poorest countries, the whole deplorable history of colonial exploitation, pillage and divide-and-rule tactics and, not least, climate change which, per head of population, is overwhelmingly the fault of wealthy countries, but which so far has largely impacted on countries elsewhere (including Syria, by the way). Also look into how so-called ‘aid’ is often anything but – it’s often a tool of neo-colonialism.
    (5) Report back when you have done your research.
    (6) Learn the plural of the word ‘country’, learn the difference between ‘to’ and ‘too’, learn the word ‘welfare’ and learn to write grammatical sentences and to punctuate, if you want to be taken seriously. Just advising. 😉

    1. Wonder Wasp says:

      Your comment (1) should be everyone’s motto, RES. Every person should be entitled to compassion wherever s/he happens to have been born & raised. This means, at the very least, being provided with decent food, comfortable shelter & a reasonable standard of living. These should be provided as quickly & humanely as possible and without the need to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

      Constantly amazed, and disappointed, by people who think that an accident of birth makes people more/less entitled to basic human rights.

    2. lordmac says:

      I asked, and you replied. Why do you not give the immigrants a heads up, and tell them what they want to know, what is the best country in the world, for them to apply too. You must have some place in mind. for some that have found refuge, well done

  3. Wonder Wasp says:

    From today’s Guardian:

    The Scottish Refugee Council has warned that a two-tier system of housing rights is emerging after a legal bid to prevent failed asylum seekers being evicted without a court order was dismissed by Scotland’s highest court.
    The case against the Home Office and Serco was launched last August, after the private housing provider started to implement controversial plans to change the locks on the accommodation of hundreds of asylum seekers who had been told they could not stay in the UK.
    Glasgow city council called on the Home Office to intervene on three occasions, stating that making hundreds of vulnerable individuals destitute could spark a humanitarian crisis on the streets, and Serco was eventually forced to pause the evictions while the court case was ongoing.
    The court of session ruling, published on Friday, centred around the legality of Serco’s lock change procedures, which the company described as its “Move On Protocol”, under Scottish housing law and human rights legislation.
    But in a 29-page opinion by Lord Tyre, the judge concluded: “I am satisfied that neither of the pursuers has made out a relevant case for any of the orders sought.”
    Responding to the ruling, Graham O’Neill, policy officer at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “People in Scotland are protected from summary eviction and immediate homelessness under mainstream Scots housing law. But today’s ruling states that a whole group of men and women are outside this protection, denying them the same rights as everyone else in Scotland.”
    Although Serco has said that it will not be taking immediate action as a result of Friday’s ruling, O’Neill said that “serious and urgent” consideration must now be given to providing emergency accommodation for the 300 people previously threatened with eviction. He added that the council-led partnership board, which was set up in the wake of the lock change row to oversee the Home Office and its contractors in Glasgow and is the first of its kind in the UK, must ensure that they act “transparently and humanely”.
    “We know who these people are and their vulnerabilities, they have been living in limbo, which has had a detrimental effect on their mental health, and are relying on food banks. Destitution is not an inevitable outcome of seeking refugee protection. It is a brutal and avoidable Home Office policy.”
    Govan Law Centre, which brought the case in the name of a Kurdish Iraqi national, Shakar Ali, and a Kurdish Iranian national, Lana Rashidi, said that its clients were “very disappointed” with the judgment, and would now take time to consider their options.
    Julia Rogers, managing director of Serco’s immigration business, welcomed the “clarity” of the decision, adding: “Serco will not be taking any immediate action as a consequence of this decision, but will now discuss with the Home Office, Glasgow city council and our other partners how best to proceed, given that there continues to be a very significant number of people in Glasgow whose claim for asylum has been refused by the UK government and who are continuing to receive the benefit of free accommodation, paid for by Serco, some for months, even years.”
    Asylum groups have also expressed concern that Serco will be under pressure to “offload” failed asylum seekers before the company’s contract to deliver asylum accommodation in Scotland comes to an end and the new company, the Mears Group, takes over.
    The Scottish government’s communities secretary, Aileen Campbell, said that the new accommodation contract presented “the perfect opportunity” to find a sustainable long-term solution to the problem, adding: “It is not acceptable that the current asylum system results in people being left destitute and homeless in the country where they have sought refuge.”
    A Home Office spokesperson said that it “takes the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live extremely seriously”.

  4. Jenny Tizard says:

    How should Bella Caledonia readers be supporting the No Recourse to Public Funds campaign?

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