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Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 6:15 pm, 2nd October 2019

Let me add my congratulations and thanks to everyone who has been involved in the Bill’s introduction. Let me also pay tribute to the many moving speeches we have heard today. The debate has brought out the best in this place, but I want to mention in particular the moving accounts given by my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah).

We need to recognise that, although we are taking a momentous step, it is sad that we need to be here to introduce a Bill such as this. It is a sad indictment of our society. Given that leaders have such an important role in determining the culture and tone of society, we have to ask what that says about the quality of our leaders and our leadership. Although we have legislation which says that women are equal to men, we all know that that is not the case. Unless we address the power inequalities that women face in their jobs, whether they relate to gender pay gap or glass ceilings, it will be a challenge to tackle the power inequalities in their relationships. We need to address the two together. I should like to hear from the Minister how the Government will go about adopting the “whole society “ approach—not just a cross-departmental approach—that has been recommended by Women’s Aid.

In the remaining time that I have, I want to add to the comments that have been made today, and also to ask specific questions about our public services and, in particular, our social security system. We need to ensure that the system is supportive, and does not impede women—or men—who may want to escape from abusive relationships. We have already talked about universal credit and the single household payment that is the norm. I know that the Minister will refer to the alternative payment arrangements that are available, but someone in an abusive relationship may have problems with access to those. The wait of at least five weeks for universal credit is a penalty in itself, but women in refuges may wait for double that time, especially if they have had to leave without any paperwork. One of my constituents, Suzanne, was very brave and left an abusive relationship, but was moved from tax credit to universal credit because of her changed circumstances—the so-called natural migration—and is now £400 a month worse off. The two-child limit is another issue that must be addressed.

I also want to say something about disabled women. As I told the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when it was investigating breaches in the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities back in 2015, disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse as non-disabled women. That abuse may be physical, emotional, sexual or financial, and the abusers may be personal assistants or, in many cases, carers. We must ensure that that is recognised.

Finally—I am being quite brief today, Mr Speaker, which is not like me at all—the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that there needs to be a statutory approach to ensure that public services support both men and women, and has drawn particular attention to the importance of the social security system, which I have already mentioned. That needs to be a human rights approach, and those services need to be adequately funded.