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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

In a couple of sentences, my hon. Friend has encapsulated the challenges of dealing with what are often small groups, although the Southall Black Sisters are well established. He is right to focus on the distance between Whitehall and those groups and to highlight the key role that local authorities play. I will certainly ensure that Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government are aware of my hon. Friend's concerns in that direction. It is for them to take up these issues as well as for the Home Office to deal with them overall, working with other colleagues in government to promote issues around domestic violence and provide the solutions that we are trying to draw up.

I should say that we make some central allocations of funding. For example, we are putting nearly £1 million into a matrix of helplines to support a range of victims. It is sensible for some money to come from central Government, but we also need to ensure that we allow for the responsiveness that local funding can, at its best, provide. Where there are problems, we are monitoring them by examining the data of the groups accessing these services and by making other evaluations.

We know that we need to do more to ensure that victims of domestic violence in black and minority ethnic communities also benefit from interventions. Our delivery plan for 2008-09 specifically includes activity to support those groups, and that work will continue into 2009-10.

Let me give some examples. The Department for Communities and Local Government has commissioned three pieces of homelessness and domestic violence research. Each of those projects will involve consideration of the needs of specific groups, including black and minority ethnic households. We want to understand better what provision is out there, and whether it meets current need. There will be a report late in 2009. I have already asked officials in the DCLG to ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is kept informed and updated on the progress of the research, and will alert Ministers in the Department as well. I think it important for her expertise to be used.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of foreign-born wives and those with uncertain immigration status. That issue is important to me, as an immigration Minister. We have been working with the statutory and voluntary sectors to find ways in which to support victims with no recourse to public funds. We are also discussing one of the points that my hon. Friend raised with the Association of Chief Police Officers: we are trying to establish whether ACPO can assist in the process of obtaining formal documents such as passports for women applying for indefinite leave to remain on grounds of domestic violence. We need to obtain the evidence. We need a reasonable threshold, but not a bar that will make it too difficult for women in the circumstances described so eloquently and movingly by my hon. Friend to gain such status.

We believe that the scheme that we announced in March last year will strengthen the way in which domestic violence cases are considered, enabling the vulnerable victims described by my hon. Friend to gain access to additional support. We have been working closely with the No Recourse to Public Funds network and other stakeholders on the details of the scheme. It has taken longer than it should have, but we must get it right. The delay is frustrating for all of us who are involved, but it is important for us to launch a scheme that it is effective, rather than launching a scheme for the sake of meeting a deadline.

About 500 women try to escape from abusive partners each year, but cannot gain access to emergency housing or other benefits because of their immigration status. That affects not just those women but their children, and a wider network of people. We have been working to try to deal with it. I am partly responsible for some of the work of the UK Border Agency. The DCLG has been working with the agency and other groups, including a network of local authorities, to explore better solutions.

As I said earlier, we are developing a scheme that will provide a contribution to the housing and living costs of people who are granted indefinite leave to remain as the spouse or partner of a United Kingdom national, but who are then subject to domestic violence within their two-year probationary period. I should be happy to discuss that and some of the surrounding issues with my hon. Friend on another occasion, because we need to get it right.

Although negotiations are still in progress, it is expected that a one-off lump sum will be paid by the UK Border Agency to the supporting organisation. That is one of the reasons for the complications: a great many organisations are involved, and it is important for us to give Government money—taxpayers' money—to organisations that we know to have a good track record.

Further work is being done. Unfortunately not enough time is available for me to describe all of it, but it is worth mentioning our specialist domestic violence courts, independent domestic violence advisers and multi-agency risk assessment conferences, all of which are key to supporting victims of domestic violence. We are collecting ethnicity data to ensure that those services are reaching all communities. At each step, we are trying to monitor the way in which all services meet the needs of some of the groups mentioned by my hon. Friend. The Government have been working with voluntary organisations, particularly through the DCLG, to develop a step-by-step guide for women in black and minority ethnic communities who are victims. Unfortunately it too has been delayed, but we hope to publish it in the spring.

The Government are engaged in the issue with a variety of stakeholders. I know that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have contributed. On Tuesday 3 February, there will be a meeting of stakeholders with experience in this area.

We know there is still more for us to do. The Home Secretary has already announced that there will be a public consultation on a "violence against women" strategy. I encourage all organisations and communities to participate. I hope that between us my hon. Friend and I, along with other hon. Members—although none is present now—can encourage all Members to urge their local organisations to contribute. It is important for contributions to be made throughout the United Kingdom. I should be happy to work with the all-party group on domestic violence in helping to disseminate information about the consultation, and to ensure that proper contributions are made to inform the development of the strategy so that we can tackle the issues raised by my hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.

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