This post is a reflection on campaigning, and the possibilities of campaigning directly about asylum destitution. I’m keen for feedback. I’ve been watching the campaign against detention with some interest, and with no little admiration. A few years ago it was a hopeless cause. Hardly anyone outside of the sector bubble knew anything about immigration detention, and most of those who did just wanted more of it. There was a cross party consensus that had gone from Labour to Coalition to Tory governments. The work of (among others) the detention forum has begun to significantly change that. From an outside perspective key elements seem to have been:
Old fashioned demonstrations on the ground, particularly around the detention of women at Yarls Wood, have helped to raise public consciousness and gather a group of informed supporters and activists. The abuse of women in detention engaged a group of people primarily concentrated with women’s rights rather than migration, for whom this was a clear moral issue.
The voices of people with lived experience of detention have been given a prominent place, in blogs, at meetings, through social media.
Use of social media has been smart. Social media is more than a carefully selected hashtags but they certainly help. Off the top of my head I can recall #unlocked, #time4atimelimit and #thesewallsmustfall as powerful tools for gathering and focusing support.
There has clearly been a lot of political engagement. Cross party, so Conservatives like Andrew Mitchell as well as Labour and Lib Dem back bench stalwarts, and after a while, Labour front benchers. Diane Abbott regularly tweets on detention now. In the last year Sajid Javed has flirted with ending indefinite detention. This is serious progress.
Part of the success of the campaign, it seems to me, has been to have an overall aim of ending detention, with achievable staging posts, notably the introduction of a 28 day time limit. This is something that can gather widespread support even among people who are in principle supportive of short term detention as a tool of policy.
I’ve not been directly involved, other than a few retweets and signed petitions, so apologies if I’ve misrepresented things.
My interest is in large part because I think there are parallels between detention and destitution. Destitution is a low priority because it is unknown to most people and there is a political consensus (I think) that it’s necessary, either as a substantive policy or as a way to appear tough on illegal migration. I wondered, however what might be the equivalents of Yarls Wood (the moral issue that engages a wider public) and the 28 day time limit (the practical, reasonable policy objective that also acts as a staging post). I have suggestions.
The destitution of pregnant women is abhorrent. A pregnant woman is eligible for section 4 support once she is in the 34th week of pregnancy, as she is unable then to return. Seriously? We’re happy to see a 33 week pregnant woman sleeping on the street with no money for food? Could we build support from women’s organisations and the wider homelessness sector (and, you know, people who are just decent) to ensure that any pregnant woman must be housed and given money for food? Could this be the destitution’s ‘Yarls Wood’? The moral issue that engages and motivates a wider group of people?
Secondly, on an achievable policy level (bear with me if this is a bit arcane); We support someone once they have further representations lodged, as there is a legal process going on. What about people who have convinced a solicitor to take a case on under legal aid? These are people who are gathering the evidence to make further representations. They have persuaded a legal rep that this case has merit. But gathering evidence can take time ( for example evidence of sustained religious conversion, or of nationality when this is disputed) and surely it is reasonable that people should not have to be street homeless and hungry while they spend weeks or months gathering evidence? Could this be destitution’s ’28 day time limit’?
Thoughts are welcome, from people who have been involved in the campaign against detention, from voices within the sector, from those with lived experience of destitution and simply from people who might be interested in campaigning against destitution.
(Image – a remnant of the Berlin Wall. It fell…)