Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 6:28 pm, 2nd October 2019

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and the spirit in which it has been conducted across both sides of the House. There has been an atmosphere of support, particularly to those who have experienced coercive control and violence, and that is very welcome.

I also very much welcome the bravery of my hon. Friends who have spoken out about their own personal experiences. We need people to recognise across the House and across the country that this can happen to anyone, and that everyone can need our support at some time. I hope that the atmosphere of this debate can feed through into a zero tolerance of domestic abuse and coercive control, because these things are happening too widely. With 2 million adult victims and millions of child victims, this is happening in a substantial number of households across every constituency and across every walk of life.

There are so many areas that we need to cover in the Bill, in other Bills and in other Departments, as I said to the Secretary of State in an intervention earlier. From my personal experience on the Work and Pensions Committee, I can say that the first is the way in which the benefit system does not support women who are leaving violent or coercive relationships. They can be left without even the fare for a taxi to get away from the household they are living in. It is welcome that each Jobcentre Plus now has a domestic violence specialist, but unless people are prepared to come forward and declare that they are a victim of domestic violence—or exhibit the signs strongly enough for it to be recognised—it will not be recognised.

The former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions declared that universal credit payments should go to the main carer in the first instance, and I hope that that will be done. Just 60% of payments go to the main carer, and that is not good enough. It means that for 40% of parents on universal credit the money does not go to the main carer, and it is important that that happens.

Other hon. Members have mentioned the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the local connection rules for housing, which often mean that women who have escaped a relationship simply cannot get by and have to return to a violent environment. That is just not good enough.

We also need to make sure that employers support victims of domestic abuse. I worked for the shopworkers union, USDAW, and the reps did some fantastic work learning about the signs of domestic abuse and how to support victims. We are still seeing employers seeking to avoid giving paid leave to victims of domestic abuse; failing to allow them flexible working; and refusing to allow them to change to another branch of the firm if they have had to move away from their original address. Those are all simple ways in which employers can support victims of domestic violence.

We also need to make sure that those who work on the frontline are protected from third-party harassment. In a shocking case, one of my constituents had been abused in a long-term relationship. She left the relationship, and her ex-partner came to the shop where she worked to threaten, harass and violently assault her. Even though she had a protection order against him, her employer told her that it was not good for the image of the company for her harasser to turn up, and if she did not stop him doing it, she would lose her job. We cannot have victims of third-party harassment from any member of the public—and, particularly, victims of abuse—not receiving protection under the law. I hope that the Minister will look at including that protection in this Bill or another that comes forward very soon.

We need to make sure that victims of domestic abuse feel that they can come forward in any situation, whether they are claiming benefits or in work. I hope that the Bill will enable us all to make that happen.