Report Launch: Covid-19: No safety net for migrant women

Date Posted: Monday 4th May 2020

Many migrant women, providing lifesaving care and vital services in the Covid-19 outbreak, risk being left without support by UK immigration rules according to a new report published today by the Women’s Budget Group and Coventry Women’s Partnership.

The report, Migrant Women and the Economy, highlights that migrant women are disproportionately represented in ‘key worker’ occupations, working in roles that put their own lives at risk to deliver crucial care. At the same time immigration and social security policies aimed at creating a ‘hostile environment’ mean migrants can be left with no rights to social security or vital services if they are unable to work because of Covid-19.

Access the full report here
Access the Executive Summary here

The report shows that:

  • Most migrant women have no recourse to public funds, meaning that if they lose their jobs, hours or home they cannot claim benefits like Universal Credit, Housing Benefit or get homelessness support from their local authorities.
  • Migrant victims/survivors of abuse who have no recourse to public funds cannot access women’s refuges, as refuges are dependent on Housing Benefit for their bricks and mortar funding.
  • Despite being overrepresented in frontline work like care, migrant women are paying for the NHS twice through the Immigration Health Surcharge and their taxes.
  • Undocumented migrants may fear seeking treatment from the NHS due to links with immigration enforcement and fear of charging.
  • Migrant women in detention centres are at high risk of contracting the virus without adequate staff, space for social distancing or healthcare.

The report recommends that the Government:

  • Review the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy: ‘No recourse to public funds’ means that a person is unable to access welfare benefits as well as public housing. It indirectly discriminates against migrant women who are more likely to rely on these services due to caring responsibilities and low pay.
  • Extend DDVC (Destitution Domestic Violence Concession) to all migrant women victims of VAWG: The DDV concession should be extended to migrant women with insecure immigration status to protect and support all women who are victims of violence.
  • Assess the impact immigration policies have on equality. This means looking at the different economic position of women and men and the specific challenges different groups of women face and how policies will help address this and promote equality.


Dr Sara Reis, Head of Research and Policy at WBG and author of the report, said:
“The report highlights that the problems with the rules of the current immigration system have never been starker. We have seen how dependent our NHS, social care services, agriculture, food production and distribution are on the labour of migrant workers. We have seen MPs recognise that many of the people who would be excluded under the Government’s proposed new immigration rules are actually key workers: supermarket cashiers, care workers, and hospital cleaners.  It is now time for fundamental change, rethinking of whose jobs are crucial, and valuing the contribution of migrant workers through an immigration system that centres on the care and wellbeing of people and reflects their lived experiences. We must do things differently and most importantly we can.”

Noreen Bukhari, Health Programmes Manager at Foleshill Women’s Training, said:
“Through Coventry Women’s Partnership (CovWP) we see the daily struggle through impact of discrimination & disparity that many migrant women face, particularly women who have No Recourse To Public Funds. Partners across CovWP. continue to work flexibly and resourcefully to fully support migrant women, regardless of their immigration status. Partners share increased concern as to how the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts migrant women and how we will meet the increased demand and need across our services. CovWP welcomes the recommendations set out in the report and urges the opportunity for crucial and much needed change.”

Priscilla Dudhia, Policy and Research Coordinator at Women for Refugee Women, said:
Crises like these expose the full, damaging impact of our hostile immigration policies. There are women in this country who came to find protection from extreme violence and abuse. Instead, they have been let down, disbelieved and pushed into extreme poverty. Even in normal times, they face a daily struggle to survive. In the current pandemic, they are more vulnerable than ever – to street homelessness, abuse, exploitation and illness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it shouldn’t be this way. Wherever we come from, whatever our status, we all deserve safety – during the pandemic and beyond.”

Elizabeth Jiménez, Policy and Communications Coordinator on VAWG at Latin American Women’s Rights Service, said:
“This report rightly evidences how the hostile environment has enhanced barriers for migrant women seeking support to flee violence and exploitation and improve living conditions. The impact COVID-19 has had on migrant women has been disproportionately high, particularly for those with insecure immigration status and no access to public funds. Migrant women are also overrepresented in sectors of employment characterised by lack of regulation and over-exploitative practices. As a result, many migrant women are living and working in precarious conditions and at risk of destitution. This public health crisis has shed light upon the urgency of ensuring that all women, regardless of their immigration status, should be able to access safety and justice.”

Further reading: For a comprehensive analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on women’s economic position see our report: Crises Collide: Women and Covid-19.

About Women’s Budget Group
The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is an independent network of leading academic researchers, policy experts and campaigners. Our vision is of a caring economy that promotes equality between women and men.

About Coventry Women’s Partnership
Coventry Women’s Partnership is a unique 3-year project, led by Foleshill Women’s Training – A Centre for women, which has been created with 5 organisations in Coventry to ensure women in the city feel supported, empowered and believed. They want to break down barriers in access to crucial services, and to make support easier. The partnership includes Coventry Haven Women’s Aid, Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC), Coventry Law Centre and Kairos WWT.