In this report, Unequal Regard, Unequal Protection 2: Spotlight on Manchester, Sisters For Change (SFC), in partnership with The Manchester Maya Project, turns a spotlight on Greater Manchester, examining local authority responses to domestic abuse and documenting the experiences of Black, Asian, minority ethnic and migrant (BME) women victims and the barriers they face in accessing statutory services.
Greater Manchester is home to 2.7 million people, almost 5% of the UK population. 16% of Greater Manchester’s residents are of BME origin and English is not the first language for 8% of residents. The rate of domestic abuse-related incidents in Greater Manchester is the 5th highest in England and Wales, with 73, 312 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes recorded by police in the year ending March 2018. Over 80% of BME women victims of violence in Manchester have suffered abuse or violence by an intimate partner, with nearly half of those victims suffering domestic abuse from multiple partners.
This report examines how local authorities and welfare and health services in Manchester respond to BME women victims of domestic abuse. The report raises serious concerns regarding the compliance of Greater Manchester local authorities and public services with their homelessness, safeguarding, equality and human rights duties in relation to BME women victims of domestic abuse. The case evidence presented in the report demonstrates health and social services failing to adequately safeguard BME women and their children; local authorities failing to provide suitable accommodation to BME women and children made homeless by domestic abuse; and police and housing authorities failing to respond adequately to racial and religious hate crimes.
The needs of BME women victims of domestic abuse are influenced by a number of intersecting factors including race, ethnicity, language, family structures, social exclusion, income and immigration status. As a result, the support they require necessitates specialist knowledge and understanding, so often missing from generic service provision. Specialist BME support services provide a critical point of access for BME women victims of abuse.
In March 2019, at a Roundtable discussion attended by Manchester local councillors, the GMCA (Greater Manchester Combined Authority) and officials from Manchester City Council, stakeholders responded to the report’s key findings by acknowledging the following issues should be urgently addressed:
- The need to examine more carefully the particular needs of BME victims of domestic abuse to ensure these are incorporated in the commissioning and provision of support services across Greater Manchester.
- The gap in protection for migrant women and women with insecure immigration status: over 26% of Manchester victims of domestic abuse have no recourse to public funds and are totally dependent on the support of specialist BME services who receive no statutory funding to provide this assistance.
- A lack of clarity regarding the relationship between GMCA and the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities in relation to the commissioning and provision of domestic abuse services.
- A lack of cross-border protocols defining responsibilities of local authorities when they transfer victims of domestic abuse across local authority boundaries.
- The need to align local authorities’ homelessness strategies and the GMCA Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy to ensure the provision of safe and suitable accommodation for BME victims of domestic abuse.
SFC and the Manchester Maya Project partners are calling for:
- GMCA to ensure the specialist BME VAW service providers contribute to their development of a more inclusive Greater Manchester VAWG strategy through its BME VAW network.
- GMCA to provide guidance to Greater Manchester local authorities to develop domestic abuse strategies based on the assessed needs and priorities of their respective local areas.
- GMCA to develop a cross-border system for local authorities to develop domestic abuse strategies based on the assessed needs and priorities of their respective local areas.
- The Government to rethink its current VAWG funding and commissioning model and ring-fence funding for specialist BME VAW service providers.
- Greater Manchester housing authorities to review their homelessness policies to ensure that accommodation secured for BME women and children made homeless due to domestic abuse is suitable, with assessments taking account of any risk of violence, racial or religious harassment or hate crimes.
This report is extremely timely given the publication in recent weeks of Lord Kerslake’s Report (UK 2070 Commission) on deep-rooted inequalities across the UK, the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism’s conclusions that the UK Government’s policies exacerbate discrimination and entrench racial inequality, and the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill that the Bill is a missed opportunity to address the needs of all victims of domestic abuse.
Chief Executive of Saheli, Priya Chopra, said: “Many of the women of Saheli works with don’t speak English and feel isolated, alone and frightened. Many have left home after experiencing prolonged periods of physical and mental abuse. They have told us that their choices are stark – if they stay with their abuser, they face mental and physical cruelty, with some living in fear of their lives. It is vital that every BME woman experiencing violence and abuse has access to specialist trained workers who understand her needs and clear pathways to protect her when she has left home. No survivor should suffer the additional harm of local authorities attempting to evade their housing and welfare responsibilities by moving victims across local authority boundaries.”
Legal Director of Sisters For Change, Jane Gordon, said: “Public authorities have clear and defined legal duties under domestic and international law to protect and support all victims of domestic abuse without discrimination on any ground, including race, colour, language, religion, migrant or refugee status. Sisters For Change calls on the Government, the GMCA and local authorities of Greater Manchester to consider fully the findings and recommendations of this report in relation to both the review of the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill and the development of national, regional and local strategies on violence against women.”
Chief Executive of Wai Yin, Circle Steele, said: “It is important to bring the hidden voices of BME women survivors of domestic abuse to the public arena and ensure the findings of our research are heard and acted upon.”
This report follows on from and reinforces SFC’s 2017 England-wide report, Unequal Regard, Unequal Protection: Public authority responses to violence against BME women in England, which concluded that the Government and public authorities were not adequately safeguarding the rights of BME women victims of violence or adequately supporting the specialist BME support services that provide a critical point of access for them.
Between 2010 and 2018, over 75% of local authorities in England cut their spending on domestic abuse refuges by a quarter. Specialist BME Violence Against Women services for victims of domestic abuse were hit the hardest, with most BME services now excluded from local authority funding while still receiving up to 50% of referrals to their services from statutory agencies.
In June 2019, the Joint Committee scrutinising the Government’s Draft Domestic Abuse Bill published its report and made a raft of recommendations. The Committee recognised the current system’s failures in ensuring the welfare of BME women victims of domestic abuse, reporting that certain forms of abusive behaviour are not recognised by public authorities as domestic abuse, usually because they are disproportionately experienced by BME women or relate to an individual’s immigration status. The Committee made explicit recommendations that the Government introduce duties on public authorities providing services to victims of domestic abuse to have regard to the gendered and intersectional nature of domestic abuse and the need to protect the rights of all victims without discrimination on any ground, including race, colour, language, religion, migrant or refugee status.