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Domestic Violence (Black and Minority Ethnic Victims)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 29th January 2009.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity) 6:18 pm, 29th January 2009

I thank my hon. Friend Ms Keeble for raising this subject, and for her eloquent and well-researched speech. She has a strong track record on this issue, as she has demonstrated today. I welcome this opportunity to set out how the Government are responding to some of the issues that she has raised. I will not repeat all the statistics that she highlighted. Suffice it to say that we all know that domestic violence is a devastating crime that impacts on all our communities, and it is important that we address all the points that she has made.

Organisations that deal with domestic violence have played a critical role, and we owe them a significant debt of gratitude. My hon. Friend mentioned Southall Black Sisters, and there are others that have also worked with those suffering domestic violence in the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

Over the last couple of years, we have been working to ensure that our centrally driven initiatives also join up at regional and local level. We may have to agree to differ at this point, although we are always keen in government to listen to how things are working on the ground. I do not believe that we can fix everything through Whitehall central funding and it has been a drive in government to devolve funding down to a local level so that decisions about funding particular services are made at that local level. It should be more responsive because the groups are dealt with much more directly. Some of the groups dealing with domestic violence issues, particularly in these communities, are quite small, and it is not always easy necessarily to get it right from Whitehall.

This drive to the local level has been important across government and across a number of Departments that deal with these issues. It is important to carry on with that, but as I said, we are always keen to learn more about how the excluded groups that my hon. Friend has highlighted are accessing services. We continue to talk with her, the all-party group and other groups involved about how that can be done more effectively.

One supporting strand of funding is through the "Supporting People" programme, which was launched in 2003. The aim is to create a coherent funding and policy context for the provision of housing-related support to the most vulnerable. Local authorities rather than central Government determine how they focus that funding, based on the needs and priorities they have identified in their five-year strategies. I visited the Nia project in my constituency last week and I know that it is effectively using a lot of that "Supporting People" money. I am not unaware of some of the challenges that that particular funding stream presents, but I think it is right that it is done at the local level.

We have evidence from local authorities concerning their investment of "Supporting People" funding in domestic violence cases: the evidence is positive. Local authorities are spending more of their funding on domestic violence services. A rise from £61.6 million in 2006-07 to £64.5 million in 2008 delivered increased capacity for this vulnerable group—from 8,660 units of support in 2006-07 to 9,520 in 2007-08. The proportion of black and ethnic minority women who accessed housing-related support has increased from 26.8 per cent. in 2003-04 to 28.9 per cent. in 2007. One might say that that is a modest increase, but I think that is good progress in a year. We need to make sure that all those who need the services are accessing them. Last year, more than 6,000 women were successfully supported to achieve greater control, choice and involvement in their community. A number of them were also supported with their mental health problems.

The Nia project and the Southall Black Sisters are two examples of groups that do valuable work in this area, and there are countless others. My hon. Friend Mr. Sharma raised the issue of increasing the Southall Black Sisters' funding. The Home Office has recently provided £20,000 in order to strengthen its performance management arrangements, so that it can provide national data on black and ethnic minority victims of domestic violence. The Home Office continues to work with the Black Sisters on a step-by-step basis to provide advice on domestic violence. We recognise the benefits.

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