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Mr Speaker, I echo your words in relation to Tessa Jowell’s contribution in this place and the debate that we were privileged to be part of just a year ago. It is good to see Sarah Jones in her place. We are in different places now, but the debate was a shared endeavour, and we were both privileged to be part of that special debate, when Tessa was here, and to champion the cause so well and so effectively.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on a new sustainable approach to delivering support for victims of domestic abuse and their children in accommodation-based services across England.
Domestic abuse is a devastating crime experienced by more than 2 million adults a year, with women twice as likely to be victims. That is completely unacceptable, and we have much more to do if we are to reach a point where no family lives with the threat of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can take many forms and affects the young and old, male and female, but whoever the victim is, those fleeing abuse must have somewhere safe to go.
Just last year we announced £22 million to provide over 2,200 new beds in refuges and other safe accommodation, supporting more than 25,000 survivors with a safe space to rebuild their lives, but I know much more must be done to ensure a consistent approach across the country and to ensure that survivors have a safer future.
At the 2017 general election, the Prime Minister made a manifesto commitment to review funding for refuges. The violence against women and girls strategy for 2016 to 2020 set out our ambition to provide support for refuges and other accommodation-based services, helping local areas to ensure that no victim is turned away from the support they require at the time of need.
We also committed to reviewing the locally led approach to commissioning domestic abuse services. To meet that commitment, in January 2018 we began a full review of the funding and commissioning of domestic abuse services in England. We have worked closely with sector partners, drawing on their data, expertise and knowledge. This review complements wider Government work on tackling this devastating crime and supporting victims, including our new draft Domestic Abuse Bill.
Through the course of the review we have engaged with specialist domestic abuse service providers and their representative bodies, local authorities, police and crime commissioners and other organisations that support victims to understand fully both the challenges in commissioning and delivering these vital services and the positive features of the current system. We are grateful for their engagement and extensive input into our work.
We know there are dedicated professionals delivering support to victims and their children in accommodation-based services across England. This support helps victims move from danger and abuse to safety and independence, and their children to regain their childhoods. That includes the vital work of service managers and support staff, counsellors, outreach workers and play therapists, and I pay tribute to their work.
However, we also know that we need to do more to ensure that all victims and their children can access support at the right time, underpinned by a sustainable approach to provision. We understand that victims and their children will live in a variety of different forms of safe accommodation and will need support to stay safe and rebuild their lives in all of them. That includes outreach support to remain safe in properties with enhanced security measures, in emergency or temporary accommodation, in dispersed accommodation and in refuges.
Although refuges play a critical role in supporting victims at high risk of serious harm, we have deliberately kept our definition of accommodation-based services wide to include the full range of safe accommodation in which victims and their children may require support. That will help local areas to meet the support needs of diverse groups of victims and their children, and those at lower and medium risk, to prevent their needs from escalating.
Having reviewed the current system and listened to the views of expert stakeholders, today I am proposing new local authority-led arrangements for delivering support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in accommodation-based services in England. The proposals will place a new statutory duty on upper-tier local authorities—county councils, metropolitan and unitary authorities, and the Greater London Authority—to convene a local partnership board for domestic abuse accommodation support services.
The local partnership boards should include representation from police and crime commissioners, health bodies, children’s services and housing providers, along with specialist domestic abuse service providers. The boards will be required to assess need for domestic abuse services; develop domestic abuse strategies; commission services to meet the support needs of victims and their children; and report progress to my Department.
In two-tier areas, lower-tier local authorities—city, district and borough councils and, in this instance, London boroughs—will have a significant role to play in contributing to needs assessments, strategy development, service commissioning and reporting on progress. Those areas will be subject to a statutory duty to co-operate with the local partnership board.
To support local authorities and local partnership boards to meet these new requirements, I am proposing that we should produce new statutory guidance, making our expectations clear. This new approach will be backed by funding from the Government to ensure that services are put on a sustainable, long-term footing; it will be determined through the forthcoming spending review and informed by the consultation.
I want to safeguard provision of support; to clarify expectations of governance and accountability; to ensure needs assessments are undertaken; and to enhance our understanding of service provision across England, through monitoring and reporting. I also want to ensure that the diverse needs of all victims and their children are met, including those with protected characteristics. This is part of a wider Government drive to tackle domestic abuse and end this pernicious crime for good. Our Domestic Abuse Bill, published in January, is the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse. We have also brought in a new offence to capture coercive and controlling behaviour, and new domestic abuse protection orders will allow the police and courts to intervene earlier. It is our duty to ensure that victims and survivors can receive help by providing the support they need to transform their lives and move to safety and independence.
Through this consultation, I want to hear views on our proposals from victims and survivors, service providers, local authorities, housing providers and other public agencies, as well as professionals who support victims and children every day. I believe that this announcement today will provide much-needed help to ensure that more victims and their families better overcome their experiences, and move on to live full and independent lives. The consultation will run from today until
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Today’s announcement is, of course, welcome. It is a victory for the campaigners who have fought for 10 years for a legal duty to support survivors of domestic violence. It is a victory for charities such as Women’s Aid; for campaigners such as the new Victims’ Commissioner, Vera Baird; and for Members of this House such as my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, Mrs Miller and my hon. Friend Jess Phillips. They deserve huge credit, as do many other Members in this House, on both sides, who have fought for this change. This is a victory for the hard work of current and former Front-Bench colleagues, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn). Most importantly, it is a victory for survivors of domestic abuse, who show such unimaginable strength.
There are, however, questions still to answer, which will determine whether this policy is going to work. First and most importantly, unless we provide the funding to make it work, we are setting local authorities up to fail. The Secretary of State has estimated today that the new legal duty could cost £90 million. Given that councils in England are facing an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025 and that Home Office figures estimate that domestic abuse costs the economy £66 billion in just one year, does the Secretary of State really think that that funding will be enough?
The Local Government Association has today raised concerns that the policy is focused exclusively on the crisis-point intervention, rather than early intervention; we need to ensure that the funding does not drain from these equally important areas to pay for this policy. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the funding will be ring-fenced? We do not know when the spending review will be; we may not know the outcome of the spending review until this time next year. Why is the Secretary of State risking this policy being kicked into the long grass by hooking it to the spending review? When will we know how much money there will be to spend?
We know that there are issues with support provided to victims only in their local area, despite two thirds of women fleeing to a refuge further afield. Can the Secretary of State confirm that women will be supported wherever they are from? The same must apply in respect of women with no recourse to public funds and those with complex needs, as such women struggle to access beds and are overrepresented among women murdered. Specialised support services such as those for black, Asian and minority ethnic women and for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are hugely important but have suffered significant cuts, with one expert recently saying that we have lost 50% of all specialist BAME refuge services. It is unclear how these proposals will impact specialist services, so can the Secretary of State provide some reassurance?
The background to this announcement is a crisis in support for victims of domestic abuse and deep cuts to investment in genuinely affordable homes. The Government are responding to a crisis that their own policies have partly created. A 60% cut in Government funding for local authorities between 2010 and 2020 has stretched our councils to the limit. Services have been cut back to the legal minimum and core services have deteriorated in quality. Women’s Aid has found that many organisations are running an area of their services without dedicated funding from local authorities, and some receive no support from local authorities at all. That has led to a fifth of refuges closing since 2010, and more than 150 women a day are now being turned away from refuges.
The lack of genuinely affordable housing has left domestic violence victims facing homelessness and squalid housing. This is because last year the number of homes built for social rent fell to fewer than 6,500, compared with almost 40,000 in 2010. The Government’s record on this issue is not good. Attempts to dismantle the funding stream for refuges through housing benefit were shelved last year only after tireless campaigning from women’s organisations.
Although many men are victims of domestic abuse, the majority are women, and women are disproportionately affected by austerity, bearing the brunt of cuts in support services. Ten years of austerity have had a savage impact on BAME women and single mothers in particular. By 2020, the income of single mothers will have fallen by 18%, and black and Asian households will see average drops in living standards of 19.2% and 20% respectively, according to analysis by Amnesty International.
The Prime Minister said today:
“Whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever the abuse you face, you will have access to the services you need to be safe.”
That it is a commitment that cannot be made lightly. There is a now a clear moral duty on the Government to see this through—not just for the sake of keeping the promises that have been made, and not just for the sake of the campaigners and survivors who have pushed for this change for years, but for the sake of those people who are trapped right now in abusive relationships. If we promise them safety and do no deliver it, we will not deserve forgiveness. We welcome today’s announcement, but we will hold the Government’s feet to fire until this commitment becomes a reality.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and her support for today’s announcement. I agree with her on that sense of moral duty—that sense of moral purpose—to those who are in abusive relationships that underlines all this work. She will know the figure that is used: some 2 million people each year suffer some form of domestic abuse. That is unacceptable and intolerable, and it is right that we do much more, which is why the Prime Minister made her comments today. Indeed, she has an enduring commitment to making a difference in this important policy area.
I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to all those who have campaigned on this issue, not only across the House but throughout the country. So many voluntary organisations—those very much at the frontline—have really made the difference and I pay tribute to their work, as well as to the quiet, dignified determination of so many survivors of domestic abuse, who have really underlined that sense of why we need to do more.
The hon. Lady highlighted the issue of funding for local government and the interrelationship with the spending review. We have indicated that there will be a spending review later this year because the current spending review period ends at the end of this financial year. It is therefore right that we look at the funding position in that context but, as I have underlined, it is a question of ensuring that local government receives the appropriate financial support, given that a new and additional requirement is being placed on local government as a consequence of this proposal. That is why I said what I did about the need to ensure that this issue is properly addressed through the spending review and that it is informed by the consultation itself.
In the media this morning, I gave some estimates of what we anticipate the broad annual cost may be—a round figure of around £90 million is our current estimate—but I want that to be informed by the consultation and, indeed, to be taken into the spending review, so that we can get the right level of support. That sense of co-operation between areas is also within the duty that we anticipate, by which I mean not looking at this in isolation. The hon. Lady makes a very good and important point about being able to support people from wherever they come. Indeed, that is, in part, what this variability of service, which we want to address, is all about, and what the statutory duty is very firmly intended to underpin.
As I said in my statement, we announced £22 million of additional support for the sector last November. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler, who has had to leave her place on the Front Bench to attend a debate in Westminster Hall, for her incredible support and leadership in this regard. Obviously, local authorities are seeing a real-terms increase in spending power over this coming year.
I know that we need to do more. We need to ensure that specialist support reflects the protected characteristics —the needs of BAME, LGBT and other communities. There is a need to recognise some of the different types of outreach services that will be needed to give effect to that. The hon. Lady sets that challenge, and I respect and acknowledge her intent to ensure that this Government are properly scrutinised and challenged to see that we follow through. I know that that view is shared across Government. Colleagues with different responsibilities are determined to work together to make that difference.
I join Women’s Aid and Safelives in welcoming today’s announcement. I also pay tribute to the absolutely inspirational Maggie Parks from Women’s Centre Cornwall and thank the refuges in Truro that provide such needed refuge for both men and women. This very important announcement today builds on a landmark domestic violence Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is just as important to commission high-quality services for victims and their children living in their own homes as it is for those living in refuges? Alongside that, we must make sure that there is access to specially trained and qualified mental health professionals.
I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend. I know that, in some of her previous ministerial work, she was very passionate in advocating for and supporting greater focus on this matter and ensuring that some of these issues in relation to the criminal justice system were followed through. I pay tribute to Maggie Parks and the Women’s Centre Cornwall to which she refers. Yes, of course, the domestic abuse Bill will be really important. The commissioning of services is absolutely critical. She makes the right point, which others have made too, that it is important that we get the support right in refuges, but it goes much wider than that, which is why we have framed the consultation in the way that we have.
I commend the statement of the Secretary of State. In particular, I commend the Minister for Women—I do not take anything away from the Secretary of State for making this statement today—for tirelessly pushing for this. I thank her for that.
Ever since the first women’s refuge—Chiswick Women’s Aid—was created in 1971 by Erin Pizzey, women’s refuges have been precarious financially. They have existed hand to mouth from year to year, never knowing what their financial situation will be. The reason why this is a very important statement and an important moment today is that it marks the point at which it is recognised that this is not just an optional issue, dependent on locality, but actually a national public policy imperative. We should recognise the really serious step forward that has been made.
I join other colleagues, including my hon. Friend the shadow Minister, in paying tribute to all those people around the country—including in the refuge movement but more widely in the women’s movement—who have pushed for this moment, and also to women across the House who have provided the support that has led to this statement. Will the Secretary of State explain to the Chancellor that we are very supportive of this statement, and that we will expect the Government to put their money where their mouth is?
As my hon. Friend the shadow Minister said, 150 women a day have been turned away from refuges because of the lack of available resources. We do not want the Government to rob Peter to pay Paula; we want the money to be there. The Secretary of State has said that he is going consult, and that is absolutely right, but he does not need to consult me any further because I can tell him what my view is: this is a thoroughly good thing. Will he get on with it and ensure that it is fully funded?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her comments and for her leadership as one of the key Members across the House who have championed the issue for so many years. I recognise her contribution in getting to the place at which we have arrived today. She is right to say that this is a national public policy issue, and that we need to deal with variability to ensure a national standard that we seek to reach through this new statutory duty—hence, the consultation. She clearly and plainly makes the point that we need to ensure the necessary financial investment and support for these measures, and I am grateful for her support regarding those conversations with the Chancellor.
I am not sure whether Stephen Kerr was present at the start of the exchanges—I was advised that he was not. Was he here?
The hon. Gentleman was chattering away to the Whip on duty, was he? Oh, very well; I will indulge him on this occasion.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I also pay tribute to the excellent work of Stirling Women’s Aid; Jess Lindhoff and her team do extraordinary work and it is always humbling to be with them.
Domestic abuse support services are devolved across the United Kingdom, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will consider a UK-wide ombudsman or similar to guarantee standards across the entire United Kingdom?
As my hon. Friend will know, today’s announcement relates to England, as these issues are devolved. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been published in draft format, contemplates and sets out a new domestic abuse commissioner to stand up for victims. I am sure that the point that he makes on the way in which that provision can be applied UK-wide will be part of the Bill’s consideration.
I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. A statutory duty on local authorities was a specific recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee’s report last year on domestic abuse. As part of the report, we raised the need for local areas to work together, given that people sometimes need to move to a different area because of the risks they face or to ensure they are safe. Will the Secretary of State make sure that his review recognises the need for areas to work together? Will he also consider our specific recommendation of a ring-fenced fund to ensure that the capacity gap is met and that nobody ends up unable to find a safe place?
I thank the right hon. Lady and the work of her Select Committee in ensuring a good evidence base, and in taking that evidence and presenting it in the way the Committee did. We have responded to that today. The statutory duty will do much to ensure a focus on commissioning, resources and delivering against the need in individual communities.
The right hon. Lady makes a valid and fair point about co-operation within and between areas. There have previously been problems, so we have given firmer and clearer guidance on people’s ability to access services in an area even if they do not live in that area; somehow that was previously a barrier, which it should not have been. It is important that we remain vigilant and conscious of such problems as we approach the consultation and what we learn from it.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, which I support very strongly. It is very timely, of course. A recent Women’s Aid report showed that about a third of domestic abuse services have been forced to reduce the support they provide in the past few years, and that one in 10 refuges received no funding from local authorities whatsoever in the past 12 months.
The Secretary of State refers to partnership with police and crime commissioners. Will he provide additional funds for police authorities such as Cumbria to reverse the cuts in police numbers in order to identify and protect victims? Will he say a little more about what assessment he has made of the impact on other local services, because councils inevitably raid important other budgets to subsidise new statutory services if they are not properly funded and, indeed, ring-fenced?
The hon. Gentleman heard what I said about the investment that was provided last November and the bed capacity it has given, and about other services that have been provided in that way. There is clearly much more to do, but the number of available bed spaces for victims has actually risen since 2010. Again, I want to see that there is proper, assessed support for the needs that are there, which is what the statutory duty is all about.
Police funding is obviously a matter for Home Office colleagues, but I would point out that more than £1 billion extra has been made available to the police during this financial year.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. Ever since I was elected as a councillor, many years ago, I have been asking that this be made a statutory duty on councils. But the issue is funding. He made no mention of upfront funding. Will he elaborate on the resources that are, absolutely, needed to provide this service?
It is worth bearing in mind the timing. The statutory duty will require legislation to be implemented through the domestic abuse Bill that we want to progress later this year. The spending review then talks to the next financial year, 2020-21, and kicks in. We are consulting now to inform the discussion that I will have with the Treasury as part of the spending review, recognising the new burdens and the additional funding that will be required to follow through on this.
I welcome today’s announcement and I am grateful for prior sight of the statement. The announcement refers to England only, although the Government’s draft domestic abuse Bill applies to England and Wales, with some UK-wide aspects. Will the Secretary of State confirm that extra funding will be made available to the Welsh Government to support safe accommodation for victims and children fleeing violent homes in Wales?
As I have indicated, these services are for England. Yes, there are various aspects of the domestic abuse Bill, as we have discussed, relating to other provisions within it that have operational impact. However, I will certainly commit to work with the Government of Wales to see how we can ensure that things are well co-ordinated.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness, I welcome this statement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will now ensure that automatic priority for housing is extended to everyone fleeing domestic violence so that they are guaranteed a safe, long-term home and not just emergency temporary accommodation?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point on move-on and how we ensure that prioritisation. There is guidance to that effect, but equally I will look to see whether further steps are required in the light of the consultation.
I, too, welcome this statement, which will be very welcome in my constituency. I have often raised concerns about Jane’s Place in my constituency, which opened in 2017 to provide specialist support for victims of the most horrendous domestic abuse, which affected those victims in a very serious fashion. Since it opened, over 400 women and their children have benefited. The management of this excellent facility have regularly been in the very regrettable position of sending women away because it was full. Ever since it opened, its funding has been extremely precarious. I do welcome today’s statement, but I fear that without funding—ring-fenced funding—it will not be in a position to guarantee that its excellent services are available next year, and to plan staffing and future provision.
I commend the hon. Lady. I know that she has spoken to the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler, about the incredible work that Jane’s Place does. The whole point of this new statutory duty on commissioning and assessment of need is to put funding on a sustainable basis, rather than have the uncertainty that the sector has faced over many years.
That is the intent behind the statutory duty. I hope the hon. Lady will be assured about the approach we are taking. We recognise the need for a lack of variability across areas and for a long-term financial position for the incredible work that is taking place.
I welcome the Government’s statement. Some 60% of referrals to a refuge service were declined last year, which I am sure the Secretary of State will agree is a shockingly and unacceptably large statistic. As well as providing the sustainable funding that many Members have called for, what can be done to provide capacity in the sector, so that survivors of domestic violence are provided with the support they need?
I hope the hon. Lady will be assured about the responsibilities that we contemplate through the creation of this duty, which include firmly assessing the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children, working on strategies for the provision of support and making commissioning decisions to sit alongside those. We envisage that step-by-step approach as part of the statutory duty, to assess the needs in a particular area and commission accordingly.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I am aware that this duty applies to England, but over the years some of my constituents have fled to England because of domestic abuse, and people have come to our constituency from England because of domestic abuse. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that co-operation with devolved government and local councils in Northern Ireland will continue and that lessons will be learned from how we have successfully handled cases of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland?
I commend what the hon. Gentleman says. I know from my ministerial experience the incredible work and support services that are provided in Northern Ireland. As I indicated in a previous answer, I would like to consider how we can ensure that there is a good connection with each of the devolved Administrations, and perhaps we can have a further conversation outside the Chamber about that.
Grimsby has had domestic violence provision for more than 40 years. The refuge is run by Denise Farman, who does an excellent job, and women arrive from all across the country to receive support, often with their children in tow. The service is funded only in terms of the property’s rent, through housing benefit. There is no additional funding for any of the other services it provides, including specialist support for the children—everything from swings and play equipment to talking therapies. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential to ensure that this funding is ring-fenced, so that the broad provision of these services is available and sustainable for the long term, and they do not have to worry about year-to-year funding gaps or rely on public funding through donations?
I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting that specific service; I know that the Minister for Women, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, who is on the Front Bench, has visited it. Ultimately, we want to ensure long-term sustainability and confidence in service provision to meet local needs. I remain open-minded about how we look at this as the consultation develops. The duty is intended to place in the minds of local authorities the way in which funding is provided and the need for services for children or other specialist support, outreach or accommodation-based services. The point of the consultation is to listen and ensure that when we implement this through the Bill, we do it well.
I, too, welcome the statement from the Secretary of State, but both the supply of refuge places and whether women feel able to leave the abusive relationship they are in are very much dependent on social security support. What discussions has he had with the Work and Pensions Secretary, particularly in relation to universal credit—we believe that a split payment should be automatic—and the two-child limit?
I assure the hon. Lady that work across government is taking place on these issues—in the context of the Domestic Abuse Bill and more broadly on the availability of welfare, which, as she rightly says, is often one of the key elements in the support for and funding of rental and other aspects of need. On the point she makes about leaving the abusive relationship, a number of people actually want to stay in a particular home, and this is therefore about how the provisions in the Domestic Abuse Bill work in relation to extra sanctions and such measures. We talk about the concept of accommodation-based services, but important as refuges are, and they are hugely important, we equally recognise that there are other needs, and this is about the way in which that service and such support can be delivered.
This is welcome news, as we have seen by how warmly it has been received. A woman in Nottingham fleeing abuse may be reliant on facilities elsewhere, so the decisions taken in other communities are of as much interest to me as those taken in my own. What does the Secretary of State foresee putting in the statutory guidance about the responsibility of local communities and authorities to work together so that we have a genuinely national network of refugees?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. As part of the duty on local authorities, there is a responsibility to monitor and evaluate local delivery, as well as to report back to my Department about their strategies and the implementation of them. One of the things I will be very interested in and focused on as we look to deliver this is the issue of data sharing, which, as we know, can sometimes be challenging and problematic in other policy areas. This is about how we are best able to reflect on the fact that people will understandably move from one area to another; indeed, that may be an imperative part of delivering their safety. As we look to the implementation and delivery, this is therefore an important part, and I hope we are able to get some good responses through the consultation.
I warmly commend all the work that is done by Rhondda Cynon Taf Women’s Aid, which is primarily based in Pontypridd but serves the whole of RCT. In the next few weeks, it will open a new service in Dunraven Street in Tonypandy that is publicly available, and it covers a whole series of different services that are non-residential, which is great.
May I raise a different element with the Secretary of State? There is the issue of so many women in prison who have now been shown, from substantial academic research, to have had acquired brain injuries prior to their offending behaviour. In the end, because we do not provide proper neuro-rehabilitation to women whose violence has come from a domestic relationship, we are not actually providing proper support and they end up in the criminal justice system, so the victim ends up becoming the criminal.
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important and relevant point about understanding someone’s pathway into the criminal justice system. My hon. Friend the Minister for Women, who is alongside me on the Front Bench, has just told me about the £2 million being provided for work on female offenders. That is really important, as is recognising needs in different contexts and providing support in different ways, responding in a much more holistic way to where need is and, indeed, understanding properly the balance between how someone has become an offender while saying very firmly that they can be a victim, too.