Hundreds of people around the UK have written to prospective parliamentary candidates about ending the deliberate policy of destitution faced by people seeking asylum in Britain.  The responses show a big difference in the approach of the main political parties.

The Conservatives stood by their policy of deliberate destitution. One typical response justified the current weekly income of £36 per person for someone seeking asylum by saying

 “. . . research was undertaken into the actual cost of particular essential items including food stuff, clothing, toiletries, household cleaning stuff, non-prescription medication as well as travel and communication.  They even went on to claim that “ . . . asylum support payments provided to larger household groups comfortably exceeded what is necessary to meet essential living needs.”

Minimum income standards research shows that a single person needs £328 a week to cover material needs and allow participation in society.[i] Benefits for UK nationals of ​ £73.10 a week for a single person are “incapable of providing a healthy diet as well as​ other necessities.”[ii] People seeking asylum are living on half that amount. The assessment of “essential living expenses” referred to has been widely criticised as it did not allow for toys for children, assigned only £3 a week for travel and claimed that no money was needed to maintain a social life of any kind. Before the election was called, the Conservative government were to cut all support to “failed” asylum seekers including families.


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– a grassroots legal service

Are you a lawyer, a former social worker or legally trained? Can you help us to stop the unjust separation of children from their mothers?

Legal Action for Women’s new Dossier Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers, documenting women’s struggle for justice in the family courts in England, was launched in January at a packed meeting in the House of Commons.  Publicity about it in the Guardian sparked a correspondence over two days: CoramBAAF challenged Prof. Andy Bilson’sresearch quoted in the Dossier and this was followed by several responses supporting our findings.

We are now receiving calls and emails from all over the country from mums and couples who are fighting to stop adoptions, get children back from care and stop violent fathers having contact or residence of their children.

We are a grassroots legal service with a well-established track record. We are based on collective self-help, providing information and support so people can decide how they want to fight their case. As cases often involve more than one issue, we work with other organisations based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre, such as Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Women Against Rape, Single Mothers’ Self Defence and WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities). Our insistence that no case is “hopeless” and that something can always be done has won LAW recognition from lawyers, as well as civil rights and community organisations.

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Refuge from Rape: Erioth Mwesigwa

Fighting to win asylum from rape: the case of Erioth Mwesigwa
SIAN EVANS 20 February 2017

When Erioth Mwesigwa came to the self-help group we help coordinate, she said nothing. She said nothing at the second meeting either but she looked a little less wary and withdrawn. But then she started chatting to other women in the All African Women’s Group in North London. By the time Erioth came to her fourth meeting she was standing up to report on the help she had given a woman who was under threat of losing her child. Within six months she was speaking about asylum seekers being denied health care at a meeting to save the NHS in Camden Council’s Chambers — such is the power of collective action.

Erioth’s story
Erioth was imprisoned and raped by soldiers in Uganda over 30 years ago because her husband was suspected of opposing the president. He escaped and was given asylum in the UK. Erioth didn’t. After she escaped from prison she hid with her godfather until she was recognised. She fled from his home, but her godfather was killed by soldiers who came to find her. She was hidden in an orphanage by a priest where, until she was recognised and had to flee again, she never left the compound. More discoveries and more escapes followed until in 2002 she ran out of places to hide. Erioth was being ordered to trap her husband into returning to Uganda. Friends warned her she would be killed and organised for her to come to England.
After nearly 14 years living in the UK, Erioth was detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

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 Children & Social Work Bill – Victory against the government’s “opt out” clauses

When the Children & Social Work Bill went back to parliament for Report Stage, the government backed down on the clauses it had wanted which would have allowed local authorities to opt out of statutory child protection responsibilities!  As we said when we started campaigning against the Children & Social Work Bill last July, these measures had nothing to do with “innovation” as the government claimed, but would have been a huge incentive for greater privatisation of children’s services, leaving the most vulnerable and traumatised children even more unprotected from market forces.  At a time when more children are in care than any time in the past 30 years, and given how many inquiries are now going on into rape and other violent abuse of children in “care” (including forced removal to Australia and hidden graveyards in Ireland) this “opt out” had to be stopped.

 Determined opposition, including from mothers, grandmothers and families who kept up the pressure which won the victory when the House of Lords threw these clauses out and then tried to stop the government putting them back in, made all the difference.  Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Shadow Minister for Children, did a great job in opposing the government in parliament.  We need more of it, including from those established children’s charities and voluntary sector, as well as professionals and academics, who were not prepared to speak out against privatisation.   Those of us determined to stop so many children being taken into care will not be silenced!

Important follow up to LAW’s Dossier

Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers

See news coverage and join rally
outside the family court on 8 March

Cris whole crowd.JPG
Launch of LAW’s Dossier, House of Commons, 18 January 2017

Since the successful launch in Parliament of Legal Action for Women’s (LAW) dossier Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers, there has been a breakthrough exchange in the Guardian and new developments on the Children and Social Work Bill.

Sandra Laville reporting on the Dossier, Rising adoptions penalise poor families but don’t cut numbers in care, says report, said that “The push to increase adoption in England is punishing low-income women, who are increasingly losing their children due to poverty . . .”

John Simmonds, Director of policy, research and development at the adoption agency CoramBAAF, wrote on the letters page, disputing “the data and data analysis at the heart of this set of findings”.

There were a number of responses to this, titled How poverty, care and adoption are related. They included Dr Andy Bilson, emeritus professor of social work quoted in the Dossier, who stated: “research shows that children living in the 10% of most deprived communities are almost 11 times more likely to be in care than in the least deprived communities.”

And Anne Neale and Nina Lopez, authors of the Dossier, who referenced the Children and Social Work Bill which “would extend . . . lucrative privatisation by removing statutory protection for children in care. The lifelong trauma of separation on children and their birth families is not considered. How is this cruelty in the best interest of children?”

See also the October 2016 letter from five women’s organisations, including LAW, which opposed not only the Bill’s ‘opt out’ clauses removing statutory protections, but the drive for adoption and privatisation: Family support at risk from children’s bill. And an interview with Anne Neale on London Live

Following widespread opposition, Prof Eileen Munro, the prominent adviser the government quoted to justify their clauses, has now come out against them, Government adviser walks away from child protection plans.

MP Emma Lewell-Buck, shadow minister for children and families, continues to lead opposition to the clauses and to the drive for adoption in the Commons. She spoke at the launch of our Dossier drawing on her own experience as a former social worker.

This will be followed by a Speak Out outside Parliament, 12-2pm, called by the Global Women’s Strike.

Please join us. These clauses must be defeated! Children must be protected from the profiteering of the private sector. Brutal, unjust separations must end!

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SUFFER the little CHILDREN & their MOTHERS A dossier on the unjust separation of children from their mothers

By Anne Neale & Nina Lopez for Legal Action for Women

Download the dossier here.


Interview with Anne Neale on London Live here.

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How poverty, care and adoption are related – Letters The Guardian

John Simmonds raises two issues in his letter (25 January). First, he questions the “data and its analysis” cited in the article (Rising adoptions penalise poor families but don’t cut numbers in care, says report, 19 January) without outlining his concerns. I have published a spreadsheet showing sources of data, assumptions made, and the calculations ( so that he, or anyone else, can see them. Second, I make no claim that there is an explicit policy to address poverty through adoption. I do show that a policy of increasing adoption to reduce the number of children in long-stay care leads instead to an increase in care. The government doesn’t provide statistics relating adoptions to levels of poverty, but research shows that children living in the 10% of most deprived communities are almost 11 times more likely to be in care than in the least deprived communities. It is thus highly likely that adoption is concentrated in these poor communities.

My most worrying finding is that if local authorities are grouped into thirds based on high, medium and low levels of children leaving care to be adopted, then high-use authorities increased children in care by 10% in the past five years, middle use increased it 6%, and in low use it fell by 3.2%. We need research to look at the link between increasing numbers of children in care alongside rising use of adoption. But it is already clear that policymakers should not assume that increasing adoption will reduce numbers in care.

Dr Andy Bilson

Emeritus professor of social work, University of Central Lancashire 

I have enormous respect for John Simmonds but I suggest that his response to your article on the rise in adoption from care fails to take account of a key element in the process. Of course, the courts are usually rigorous in their application of the “best interests” test, but they are often applying this months or even years after the crucial decisions about child protection and family support have been made. If those decisions were taken in a climate of (i) pressure to remove children to avoid public criticism, (ii) pressure to consider adoption as the best solution at a relatively early stage, and (iii) serious cuts in family support services, then the courts might well find – and frequently do – that the passage of time has cut off options that might have been better for the child in an ideal world. The clock cannot be turned back, but we should be looking seriously at the consequences of current policy and practice, and at what might be the alternatives. Having been present at the meeting to which John refers, I am aware that the data are being contested, and I hope this process will lead to robust conclusions that we can all get behind.

Dr Nigel Thomas
Professor of childhood and youth research, University of Central Lancashire

As a former family magistrate I was involved in many cases where we made the decision to remove a child from her parents for adoption. I do not believe that the decision was ever made on the basis of the poverty of the natural parents. However, it was frequently made on the basis of the parents’ or mother’s mental health and/or drug addiction. Intuitively, I suggest that these factors are correlated with poverty and unemployment, and also that their effect is more severe where people are materially deprived.

Julia Carter

While by law adoptions should only happen when “nothing else will do”, as John Simmonds says, by the time of a final court hearing (often months or years later) social services have already shaped the case against the mother in favour of adoption. Judges usually follow their recommendations, and when they don’t social services fight to get their way. A teenage mum we tried to help was taken to court two days after an emergency caesarean so her baby could be removed immediately. When the judge refused, she was isolated from her support network in a mother and baby unit, under constant critical observation. Not surprisingly, although the baby flourished, her mother was deemed unfit and the child was adopted against the family wishes.

CoramBAAF disputes the connection between poverty, increasing levels of adoption and children in care, but offers no explanation. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has just reported worsening ill-health among children in poverty. Yet time and again social services scrutinise working-class mothers, triggering child protection intervention when the obvious problem is poverty.

In our dossier Suffer the Little Children and Their Mothers, the mothers whose children were adopted were all on low incomes, half had been teenage mothers, half were women of colour, half were survivors of rape or domestic violence. One mother with a learning disability had her first baby adopted at birth, never given a chance to care; a young couple who asked for advice about a mark on one of their children’s faces ended up in the high court without a lawyer unable to stop their adoption; a woman raped by the children’s father (who was convicted) was accused of failing to protect them, and the children were adopted by strangers in preference to their grandparents.

Fostering and adoption produce millions in profit for private companies. The children and social work bill now in parliament would extend that lucrative privatisation by removing statutory protection for children in care. The lifelong trauma of separation on children and their birth families is not considered. How is this cruelty in the best interest of children?
Anne Neale and Nina Lopez
Legal Action for Women

See also: John Simmonds letter



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Suffer the Little Children

Stopping the forced separation of children from their mothers
& the privatisation of child protection


Wednesday, 18 January 2017 6-8pm

Committee Room 11, House of Commons, SW1A OAA

  Westminster    All welcome.
(please allow time to go through security)

Kindly sponsored by Emma Lewell-Buck MP for South Shields
Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)



Cristel Amiss  Black Women’s Rape Action Project

Dr Andy Bilson  Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire

Donna Clarke  fought not to have her grandchild adopted

Dr Anna Gupta  Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Royal Holloway University of London

Nicola Mann  Women Against Rape

Anne Neale  Legal Action for Women

Kim Sparrow  Single Mothers’ Self Defence


Suffer the Little Children – a Dossier by Legal Action for Women documenting mothers’ struggle in the family courts in England – will be launched at the meeting. The Dossier could not be more timely as the Children and Social Work Bill is now in the Commons and a public outcry has exposed the treatment of mothers who have suffered domestic violence by the family courts.

Children demo Photo

There are now more children in state “care” than at any time in the past 30 years. New research shows that local authorities with the highest adoption rates also have the highest increase in children in care. Prioritising adoption over support for families has led to a 65% increase in the number of children separated from their parents. Mothers on low incomes, single mothers, of colour, immigrant, with learning difficulties, teenage mums … are particularly vulnerable. Women who suffer rape and/or domestic violence are most likely to have their children removed.


Following the recent public outcry, the government is looking to stop violent men question the mother in family courts. This would be a welcome change but much more is needed to stop the horrendous sexism mothers increasingly face.


The Children & Social Work (CSW) Bill is now going through the House of Commons. The government is determined to re-impose measures overwhelmingly rejected by the House of Lords, which would allow local authorities to “opt out” of statutory child protection, opening the way for privatisation. This coincides with the lowering of the benefit cap, with its devastating impact on as many as 500,000 children whose families are being further impoverished. No-one knows how many more children will then be taken into care as parents are accused of “neglect” for no longer being able to keep a roof over their heads, especially if private companies can profit from such separations! Given the abuse of children in care that continue to be exposed in Lambeth, Rochdale, Rotherham . . . and in juvenile detention centres run by G4S and others, this is a frightening prospect. Together for Children, a consortium of over 40 children’s charities, women’s groups, social work organisations and others, are also opposing the opt out clauses.


A child protection social worker has warned about the government’s latest plans:


The ‘undeserving poor’ have lost their council homes; lost their benefits and lost their community services; why not make it easier to lose their children too?

 The Public Bill Committee on the CSW Bill will be discussing the opt-out during its public sessions on Tuesday 10, Thursday 12 and Tuesday 17 January. Please join us if you can – updated information here

We must act together to oppose this social cleansing precipitated by austerity policies and insist that MPs vote against the “opt out” measures. Mothers, grandmothers and other carers working with Legal Action for Women and other self-help groups are fighting back.

Called by: Legal Action for Women  020 7482 2496

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Guardian article: Children unnecessarily removed from parents, report claims

Dossier indicates drive to increase adoptions is punitive for low-income families and alternatives exist

The research found a 65% rise in the number of children that are separated from their parents since 2001.

The research found a 65% rise in the number of children that are separated from their parents since 2001. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The push to increase adoption in England is punishing low-income women, who are increasingly losing their children due to poverty, according to research by Legal Action for Women.

A report to be presented at the House of Commons on Wednesday contains new research from the legal service and campaign group, which suggests the policy of increasing adoption has not reduced the number of children in care – as it was intended to – but has increased the number of those separated from their parents.

Dr Andy Bilson, emeritus professor of social work at the University of Lancashire, has been analysing the data gathered between 31 March 2001 and 2016. He found the number of children from care living with adopted parents or special guardians, has increased from 87,090 to 143,440 – a rise of 65%.

His research found adoptions have risen by 40% over the past five years, compared with the five previous years, but over the same period the number of children in care rose by 7.5% to 70,440.

“This is very unlikely to be due to an increase in abuse,” said Bilson. “The vast majority of this is about neglect or emotional abuse, often through witnessing domestic violence.

“Both of these can be better dealt with through family support and responses to poverty and deprivation. We are more willing to spend money on someone else looking after these children than in making sure the parents make a good job of it.”

Bilson’s research is part of the dossier of evidence collected by Legal Action for Women to be presented at the House of Commons on Wednesday. The report, Suffer the Little Children, examines what the group calls “the unjust separation of children from their mothers.”

It finds the number of looked-after children in England is the highest it has been since 1985; one in five children under five are referred to childrens’ services, one in 19 are investigated and adoptions are higher than in any other European country, and now stand at the highest level since data was first collected. More than 90% of adoptions are done without the consent of the family, the report states.

The report examined the cases of 56 women, all of whom came for help to fight for their children. Between them the women had 101 children; 71% of the women had suffered rape and/or domestic violence, 47% did not have a lawyer and 39% had mental health problems.

Anne Neale, one of the report’s authors, said: “Charges of neglect are used to punish, especially single-mother families, for their unbearably low incomes.

“The fundamental relationship between mother and child is dismissed as irrelevant to a child’s wellbeing and development, and the trauma of separation, and its lifelong consequences, are ignored.

“Mothers who are victims of domestic violence are refused help, blamed for ‘failing to protect’ their children, and punished with their removal.”

The report highlights the secrecy of family courts, where adoption decisions are made in private hearings, in which mothers are prevented by law from talking about the loss of their children.

Donna Clarke, whose granddaughter was taken from her teenage mother and handed to adoptive parents, will speak on Wednesday at the launch. She said families were being punished for living in poverty. “It is a form of social cleansing,” she said. “Vulnerable people are having their children taken away. It is all about them judging the risk of significant harm but if they spent the money on putting in the support that was needed many of these families would be able to keep their children.”

Clarke’s granddaughter was adopted when she was 13-months-old after spending the first five months with her biological mother, a teenager with learning difficulties. The baby was sent to a foster parent at five months while adoption proceedings got underway. The baby’s grandparents asked to be considered but none were deemed suitable and the child was given to new adoptive parents.

Clarke is able to write and receive two letters a year from the adoptive parents to keep in touch with her granddaughter. Her son – the baby’s father – and the baby’s mother, have gone on to have other children whom they are successfully caring for.

The drive to increase adoptions began under Tony Blair’s government in an attempt to reduce the numbers of children in long-term care. It was continued under David Cameron, who said that the children and social work bill – currently in parliament – was designed to “tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child – even when that means overriding family ties.”

In a 2013 high court ruling, Sir James Munby, the president of the high court family division, said the political drive to hasten and increase adoption should not override due process and break up families unnecessarily.


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Dec: Labour MPs oppose push for adoption.

Jan: Opposing privatisation – write & call MPs.

Launch of our evidence – Wed 18 Jan

Dear Friends,

Warm greetings for the holiday and the New Year!  SOME GOOD NEWS in these troubled times:

At the CSW Bill Committee meeting last Thursday, Labour MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, put forward our proposed amendment to DELETE CLAUSE 9from the Children & Social Work Bill. Drawing on our briefing, she made an excellent speech, opposing this clause on the grounds that it prioritises prospective adopters over relatives or other carers and could lead to children being prematurely placed with prospective adopters which could pre-judge the outcome of legal proceedings, causing unnecessary pain and distress to all concerned.

For the first time during the passage of this Bill, the devastating consequences of the push for adoption was highlighted. She attacked austerity and pointed to the latest research by Dr Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, which shows that prioritising adoption results in MORE, NOT FEWER, children taken into care, so that there are now more children in care than in the past 30 years, with shocking implications for their health and well-being.

The government minister defended Clause 9, saying that “Where the making of an adoption order is being considered, in most cases the child will already have been living with their prospective adopters for between six to 12 months.”   This confirms the inherent bias in favour of adoption and against a child being returned to their parents or other relatives.  We must continue to oppose it.  The Committee voted 8 to 5 against Mrs Lewell-Buck’s amendment (the government has a majority on the committee).  But the push for adoption, which has been policy for decades, was challenged for the first time and this is a significant victory for all of us.  See her speech below as reported in Hansard.

In JANUARY (Tues 10, Thur 12 and Tues 17), the Committee will discuss the government’s plan to allow local authorities to “OPT OUT” of their statutory duties, opening the way for PRIVATISING CHILD PROTECTION – profiteering from taking our children away from us.

It is urgent to make your voices heard against this.  Many mums and other carers have already written in to members of the Committee – one member told us privately she had been “bombarded” – but MORE IS NEEDED.  We need MPs to get many more letters from concerned mothers and other carers, social workers, and anyone who objects to this profiteering from our children’s pain and trauma.

We are continuing to press for a new clause demanding that SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN SHOULD INCLUDE SUPPORT FOR MOTHERS AND FAMILIES.

As we said to the MPs, 80% of women in the UK have children.  We do our best to support and protect them, often in difficult circumstances and with little or no help.  Many of us are struggling with benefit cuts and sanctions, zero hour contracts, cuts in wages and services, escalating rents . . .  The cost of looking after a child in care is estimated at £35,000 a year. Yet, children who have been in care are four times more likely to attempt suicide and experience mental health difficulties.  If that money was made available to impoverished mothers and families, many fewer children would be taken into care.  The Bill should include provisions to support loving mothers and families who are struggling so children can be spared the tragedy and trauma of separation.

Please see our evidence from five women’s organisations to the Committee with our objections.  Women Against Rape have also submitted evidence about victims of domestic violence and their children.

If you haven’t already, please write your own letters to MPs and make a submission to the Committee – see here for how to do it or phone the MPs offices if you are short of time.

Please do this early in the New Year, and NO LATER than Monday 9 January so the Committee hears your evidence when it starts meeting again.

Here is a list of the MPs on the Committee to email and/or call.  We suggest starting with Labour, the SNP and the MPs on the Committee.  Let us know what responses you get.  See our Model letter here.

STOP PRESS: 18 January 2017, 6pm, Committee Room 11, House of Commons –LAUNCH of Legal Action for Women’s Suffer the Little Children Dossier documenting cases of children unjustifiably separated from their mother or kinship carer, adopted by strangers, put into care or in the hands of violent fathers.

For more information contact: Anne Neale or Kim Sparrow

Tel: 0207 482 2496

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