Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Refugee Women’s Strategy Group

1. Executive Summary

The experience of refugee women of Jobcentre Plus services has indicated that some improvements could be made in the understanding of and responding to the needs of refugee women.

2. Refugee Women’s Strategy Groupexpertise from Lived Experience

Refugee Women’s Strategy Group (RWSG) is a representative group of refugee and asylum seeking women, supported by Scottish Refugee Council and funded by Comic Relief, whose aim is to ensure that the voices of refugee women are heard. We work together to represent the views of refugee and asylum seeking women in Scotland to key decision makers and service providers to influence the policy and practices that affect our lives. Our group is an integral part of the Scottish Refugee Policy Forum, a federation of Refugee Community Organisations in Scotland.

Our group’s current priorities are: addressing the barriers to employment for refugee women; working to ensure that the asylum process is gender sensitive; improving access to sexual violence services for asylum seeking women; and facilitating information provision to women in the asylum process.

In February 2011 we held a Women’s Employment Information Event and in November 2011 we published the findings from this event in our report, “The Struggle to Contribute”.1 The report (attached) details our recommendations to address the barriers that refugee women face on their journey to employment in Scotland. We have distributed our report widely and have discussed the issues with a range of agencies including Jobcentre Plus, Scottish Refugee Council and the Glasgow ESOL Forum.

We have attended relevant debates at Scottish Parliament and participated in the Scottish Government’s Women and Work Summit. We are core members of the Refugees in Scotland’s Communities Group working alongside Scottish Government, COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership and Scottish Refugee Council to review Scotland’s refugee integration strategy and we have made key recommendations to the thematic meeting on employment.

We have regular meetings with key Jobcentre Plus (JCP) staff to discuss ways to overcome the barriers to accessing JCP services and employment.

We therefore welcome the opportunity to give written evidence to the Committee and would be more than happy to provide oral evidence as part of the inquiry.

3. Key Issues

3.1 JCP Employment Services

RWSG believes that JCP employment services do not adequately recognise and respond to the specific needs and aspirations of refugee women seeking employment. There is a lack of clarity around the role of JCP and what services and support can be expected. Refugee women report feeling intimidated by JCP. There is little recognition of the impact the asylum process has on women’s mental health, confidence and ability to access employment. Language barriers are rarely recognised. Refugee women often have to take their children to JCP appointments, which can be distracting and stressful.

Recent research has shown that refugees face a constant struggle to access the labour market regardless of how long they have been in the UK.2 Employment levels among refugees are worryingly low and research has shown that refugee women are less likely to be employed than refugee men.3

Recommendations

JCP should have specialist trained staff able to respond to the particular barriers experienced by refugee women. Refugee and asylum seeking women should also have access to gender specific specialist employability services, whether this is provided by JCP or other partner agencies.

JCP staff should have access to training which develops an understanding of the barriers experienced by refugee women on their journey to employment so they are more able to provide services which build confidence, understanding of the labour market and the ability to articulate skills and competencies.

3.2 JCP’s role as a gateway to contracted out services

It is our view that some contracted services are not responding to the needs and existing skills of refugee women and that there is insufficient monitoring of the quality of services provided. We also feel that focusing entirely on “end outcomes”, such as the number of people finding work, prevents essential services, such as ESOL, from receiving funding. It is our view that services which build language and confidence skills are essential to successfully gaining employment. However, as such services are crucial at the beginning of the journey to employment it is difficult (if even desirable) to measure the quality of service in terms of people into work.

Our Voices: Kulthoum—Pakistan

The Jobcentre put me on a Work Programme to help me find work. I asked for help in completing job applications and was told that my advisor was off sick and that someone would phone me. I waited six weeks for a call and I tried other places to get the help I needed. I want to work. I want to provide for my family. The Jobcentre did not ask me how the Work Programme was going.

Recommendations

JCP should ensure that funding is available for initiatives which support refugee women at the start of their journey to employment and that such initiatives are evaluated in relation to qualitative rather than quantitative indicators.

3.3 JCP’s Role in relation to rights and responsibilities of benefit claimants

RWSG believes that many refugee women are not aware of their rights and responsibilities as a result of language, information and confidence barriers. Nor are refugee women aware of the support which JCP could provide. Information is rarely provided in a format or language which would help refugee women.

It is our view that few frontline JCP staff understand the difficulties which some refugee women have in producing paperwork, such as birth certificates for themselves or their children as such documentation is not routinely issued in some countries.

Our voices: Ara—Afghanistan

I did not get any child benefit for 10 weeks as I could not provide my child’s birth certificate, as I had never been issued with one. I was asked consistently for something that I did not have.

Recommendation

RWSG recommends the re-introduction of a Moving on Team to provide information, advice and support to women who have just been granted leave to remain.

There should be a central source of relevant information in a range of formats and languages on a range of employment issues, including employability services, employment rights (including under the Equality Act), how and where to access support or legal advice, and benefits entitlements.

All Jobcentre staff should be given training/briefings on what paper work can be expected from which countries.

3.4 JCP’s role in matching job seekers to suitable job vacancies

We know that ethnic minority women face additional barriers4 to employment and it is our view that refugee women are even further disadvantaged in the labour market, experiencing multiple barriers to accessing employment.

Women in our group have expressed that they feel under pressure to take jobs that are not appropriate to them and that they receive little guidance or support from JCP. There is very little acknowledgement of the skills, experience, and qualifications5 refugee women bring from their home countries.

Our Voices: Filad—Somalia

I felt under pressure to apply for jobs which did not take into account my experience and qualifications. When I told the advisor that I was a qualified nurse, she said “That was in your own country”.

JCP must acknowledge that the move away from a drop-in service to a digital service is exacerbating the barriers to employment for refugee women. There are often issues with computer literacy, literacy and language and many women do not have access to the necessary technology. Refugee women’s experiences of using JCP services, such as the telephone helpline services, have been less than helpful for those whose first language is not English.

Statistics on the numbers of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) job seekers accessing employment within particular timescales do not appear to be routinely collected and therefore the extent to which current services are able to demonstrate adherence to equalities legislation and practice is uncertain. Refugee women often experience difficulty accessing advice about National Insurance numbers which delays processing of their benefits when they are granted refugee status and access to employment.

Recommendations

JCP services should include specialist drop-in advice services for refugee women and the provision of clearer information on what can be expected from JCP services, how to make appointments, etc.

JCP should ensure that IT training is available and that refugee women can access the internet and assistance to do so.

JCP should ensure that staff are trained and equipped to provide advice and assistance to new refugees on getting a National Insurance Number.

3.5 JCP’s role in relation to the impacts of benefit reforms

Refugee Women have particular information needs which are not currently being met and we are deeply concerned that refugee women are at risk of not understanding the benefit reform system.

JCP has a crucial role to play in ensuring that information on the changes to benefits, changes to rights and responsibilities, expectations of claimants is made available and disseminated to refugee women. A reliance on customer representative groups such as RWSG is not an appropriate means of ensuring information is accessed by all women who need it.

We are also particularly concerned that universal credits will be accessed 37 days after applying even although the move on period for new refugees is 28 days. This will lead to a gap in support arrangements for new refugees and women will be at risk of destitution and exploitation during this time.

Recommendations

JCP should develop leaflets in community languages and ensure accessible face-to-face information regarding benefit reforms.

JCP should liaise with Home Office regarding the gap in support arrangements for new refugees to agree a solution which will enable refugees to access relevant benefits within the appropriate time frames.

4. Recommendations

JCP should have specialist trained staff able to respond to the particular barriers experienced by refugee women. Refugee and asylum seeking women should also have access to gender specific specialist employability services, whether this is provided by JCP or other partner agencies.

JCP staff should have access to training which develops an understanding of the barriers experienced by refugee women on their journey to employment so they are more able to provide services which build confidence, understanding of the labour market and the ability to articulate skills and competencies.

JCP should ensure that funding is available for initiatives which support refugee women at the start of their journey to employment and that such initiatives are evaluated in relation to qualitative rather than quantitative indicators.

RWSG recommends the re-introduction of a Moving on Team to provide information, advice and support to women who have just been granted leave to remain.

There should be a central source of relevant information in a range of formats and languages on a range of employment issues, including employability services, employment rights (including under the Equality Act), how and where to access support or legal advice, and benefits entitlements.

All Jobcentre staff should be given training/briefings on what paper work can be expected from which countries.

JCP services should include specialist drop-in advice services for refugee women and the provision of clearer information on what can be expected from JCP services, how to make appointments, etc.

JCP should ensure that IT training is available and that refugee women can access the internet and assistance to do so.

JCP should ensure that staff are trained and equipped to provide advice and assistance to new refugees on getting a National Insurance Number.

JCP should develop leaflets in community languages and ensure accessible face-to-face information regarding benefit reforms.

JCP should liaise with Home Office regarding the gap in support arrangements for new refugees to agree a solution which will enable new refugees to access relevant benefits within the appropriate time frames.

24 May 2013

1 The Struggle to Contribute: a report identifying the barriers encountered by refugee women on their journey to employment in Scotland, Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, November 2011, www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_231770_en.pdf

2 Gareth Mulvey “In Search of Normality: Refugee Integration in Scotland” 2013

3 Gareth Mulvey “In Search of Normality: Refugee Integration in Scotland” 2013, Presentation from Dr Jenny Philmore, University of Birmingham at Glasgow University 30/1/12

4 Human Rights & Equality Consultancy, Surrey, England “Racism in Europe: ENAR Shadow Report 2011–12”
http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/publications/shadow%20report%202011-12/shadowReport_EN_LR%20(3).pdf

5 The Struggle to Contribute: a report identifying the barriers encountered by refugee women on their journey to employment in Scotland. November 2011

Prepared 27th January 2014