Irina is from Bulgaria. She has a child who is British, and in school. Her son understands that Mummy and Daddy fight.
For many years Irina has lived with a British partner who does not let her work or draw Child Benefit. He doles out money, he locks her out of the property with her “half caste” child when he wants to, he pushes and squeezes her, he generally abuses and controls her.
When he is happy she is a lovely bird in a gilded cage. For many years she has been frightened. Her son shares in her fear.
I sit and sift through the paperwork and realise that if Irina were to flee her home with her child, we should have a cast iron benefit system in place to help this victim of domestic violence and her British child. Sadly we do not.
Instead, she has literally no rights at all to welfare benefits or public housing. Or else she has, but proving it is strewn with mind bending mine-fields, impossible to read European directives, a smattering of immigration law, a bit of family law, a lot of inter-disciplinary work, confused public agencies with bad guidance.
I call the women's refuges and learn that if Irina has residency problems, they can not help her. Even refuges for battered women are under the cosh for cash. If they can't be sure they can get Housing Benefit they can't run as a going concern. The staff are ashamed and apologetic.
So I have a case where Irina and her British child must potentially fight their case tooth and claw in the immigration court, in the benefits tribunal, in the housing courts, in the family courts. All this to ensure that a British kid and his mother can get away to a place of safety.
Under the new Legal Aid Bill this is an issue we won't care about much longer, because from April 2013 the practice of social welfare law is dead in all but name. There won't be any funding in place to protect the interests of a British child with a foreign mother like Irina,
When did we become so cruel? When did vested power become so cynical?
When did they decide to make Law Centres Extinct?