Destitution in pregnancy: forced migrant women's lived experiences

02 November 2020
22 min read
Volume 28 · Issue 11



Forced migrant women are increasingly becoming destitute whilst pregnant. Destitution may exacerbate their poor underlying physical and mental health. There is little published research that examines this, and studies are needed to ensure midwifery care addresses the specific needs of these women. This study aimed to explore vulnerable migrant women's lived experience of being pregnant and destitute.


Six in-depth individual interviews with forced migrant women who had been destitute during their pregnancy were conducted over one year.


A lack of food and being homeless impacted on women's physical and mental health. Women relied on support from the voluntary sector to fill the gaps in services not provided by their local authorities. Although midwives were generally kind and helpful, there was a limit to how they could support the women.


There is a gap in support provided by local authorities working to government policies and destitute migrant pregnant women should not have to wait until 34 weeks gestation before they can apply for support. Home office policy needs to change to ensure pregnant migrant women receive support throughout their pregnancy.

Evidence suggests that across the UK, forced pregnant migrant women are increasingly becoming destitute (Carter, 2017; Petch et al, 2015). Forced migrants are people who have been coerced or forced to leave their home country for reasons including, but not limited to, a threat to life or livelihood, such as war, conflict, or natural disaster. Forced migrants include persons seeking asylum, refugees and people who have been trafficked (European Commission, 2020). Pregnant migrant women who are destitute are not able to work, legally, and do not receive financial support from the government (Dudhia, 2020). Forced migrants are sometimes living in poverty so acute that they cannot provide for themselves (Carter, 2017). Consequently, they often rely on charities, faith-based organisations or the goodwill of friends to offer them support. In extreme cases, they may become homeless. Many are also at risk of exploitation by traffickers or unscrupulous employers, including in the sex industry (Petch et al, 2015; Ukoko, 2007).

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