Domestic Abuse: Public Health Strategy

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons on 20th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on a long-term public health strategy to help prevent domestic abuse.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Merry Christmas to one and all! I say that because although Christmas is a time of festivity, it is also, sadly, a time when the number of incidents involving domestic violence increases exponentially. I hope to be able to inform the House of ways in which we can help to spread the message that if anyone is suffering domestic abuse over the festive period they can—and please, must—seek help.

The Home Secretary chairs an interministerial group on violence against women and girls, which aims to ensure that all Departments, including the Department of Health and Social Care, work together to make dealing with crimes such as domestic abuse a priority. We will publish our response, including our draft domestic abuse Bill, shortly.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

I welcome last week’s debate on the public health approach to tackling youth violence. Domestic violence can be a key trigger of trauma in young people’s lives, and they need this strategy to be published and properly funded as soon as possible. May I urge the Minister, who is also part of the Home Office team, to do all she can to make sure this strategy is published as soon as possible?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who has done so much work on the specific issue of youth violence, including her work on the commission. She knows, following last week’s very good debate, that the Government are absolutely committed to treating serious violence as a public health issue, but we are very much committed also to ensuring that domestic abuse within the serious violence sphere is tackled in hospitals and GP surgeries, because often the NHS is the touchstone that victims of domestic abuse can use to seek help when they find that they are in a place to be able to do so.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I am concerned about the long-term effect on children of domestic abuse in the family home. Is tackling this part of the Government strategy?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Very much so, and we know that domestic abuse has a devastating impact on children and young people. Home should be a place of safety; it should not be a place of fear and violence. We have launched an £8 million fund to support children affected by domestic abuse and services that can help in that. We have also provided money to roll out an amazing project called Operation Encompass, so that there is a person in every school whom the police can contact before the school day starts, to inform the school if a child has witnessed a domestic abuse incident the previous night so that child is treated in a gentle and comforting way during the school day, having witnessed some trauma at home.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

Has the Secretary of State also had discussions with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the benefits of sport for women in improving their wellbeing, because women traditionally take part in a lot less sport than men? On that note, will she also congratulate the women’s netball team for its fantastic achievement in being voted team of the year in the BBC sports personality awards, and does she agree that they are a great role model?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for promoting me momentarily. She is right: sport can have an enormously positive impact on people’s lives. Obviously in the context of domestic abuse and serious violence, we are very conscious that sport can be a great way to reach out to young people and help them to make positive life choices. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I understand, too, that there are plans for a parliamentary netball team, which I will not volunteer for—I am more of a hockey player—but I am sure that is something to look forward to in the new year.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Women in the asylum system are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence if they enter into marriages that they cannot escape. Is it part of the Government strategy to look at how can protect those women?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

We are very conscious of the additional pressures women in the asylum system face, particularly if they are in the system through family visas, where, sadly, we know there are cases where the perpetrators of the violence are the people on whom they rely for their asylum status. UK Visas and Immigration has set up a safeguarding hub to look at whether urgent intervention is necessary in each asylum case, and that obviously includes domestic abuse. We are concentrating on this in the forthcoming package of domestic abuse measures.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Mr Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you, yours and everyone associated with the House Nadolig llawen? For the benefit of Hansard, that means merry Christmas.

Survivors of domestic abuse and their children need more protection. I have heard from too many victims whose children are forced through family court orders to spend time with an abusive and sometime dangerous parent. Rachel Williams and Sammy Woodhouse are two such victims. Their petitions have gathered half a million signatures. Rachel and Sammy are speaking out, so when will the Government listen and strengthen the law to support victims and their children?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I had the privilege of meeting Sammy some months ago to discuss the complexities of her case. We clearly do not want the family courts to be used as another forum in which abusers can continue their abuse. The hon. Lady will know that I and my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are working together on the Bill, but also on educating those who work in the tribunal and court systems to be alert to that possibility.