Over some 30 years as a policy wonk, I have attended a fair number of report launches. Some have been good, a few have been bad, but most have simply been mediocre and forgettable, with more staffers from the hosting organisation than journalists, MPs, or government officials. And one or two have been bizarre: I once attended the Westminster launch of a report about the destitution of failed asylum seekers, at which we were plied with quality wine and hors d’oeuvres by waiters who looked to have been borrowed from the Ritz.
But last night I was lucky enough to attend a report launch in Westminster that was unusual in several respects.
It’s unusual, for example, to have toddlers run their toy car over your foot whilst you listen to an MP extolling the report that is being launched. But then I’m used to that at home. The toys being run over my foot, that is, not the MP. And, given the subject of the report – the unjustifiable dispersal of pregnant asylum-seekers by the UK Border Agency, and the associated negative impact on clinical outcomes – it was entirely fitting that the babies and toddlers, and their mothers, made their presence felt.
It’s also unusual for the report being launched to be the product of a successful partnership between two organisations – in this case Maternity Action and the Refugee Council. Small campaigning organisations often find it difficult to work together, but Maurice Wren, the incoming CEO of the Refugee Council, was at pains to emphasise how the positive relationship between the two organisations has greatly enhanced the report, the research on which it is based, and its likely impact on mainstream opinion.
However, the launch event was unusual mostly for the degree of certainty expressed by the key speakers that the report and associated Dignity in pregnancy campaign will achieve its stated goal: an end to such unnecessary and unjustifiable dispersal of pregnant asylum-seekers. For, as Sarah Teather MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees noted, if morality doesn’t float your boat, then how about accountancy? Dispersing pregnant women and new mothers away from their GP and established maternity care, as well as their established support network of friends and family, simply results in poorer clinical outcomes and associated greater financial cost to the State (through, for example, prolonged hospital admissions).
However, if the policy-making ‘tipping point’ is to be reached, and the UK Border Agency to change its approach, the campaign will need to reach out to a mainstream audience. So, read the report and the campaign pages, watch the powerful and moving short film fronted by Juliet Stevenson, and ACT NOW.
Richard Dunstan is a policy wonk who has worked for Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.