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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham 4:36 pm, 16th October 2019

The Government must act to restore victims’ and survivors’ confidence in the justice system. Since 2010, the Government have systematically gutted the criminal justice agencies, police numbers have plummeted, Crown Prosecution Service funding has been slashed and, as a result, justice has been harder to achieve for victims. Despite the Government’s blatant electioneering in this Queen’s Speech, the public and survivors know that the freshly promised cash is only a plaster on a deeply wounded justice system.

I have been working directly with survivors to develop reforms that would prevent attrition as their cases progress. The reforms will improve survivors’ experiences of the justice system. One in five survivors do not report to the police because they are afraid of further violence from the perpetrator. It is a scandal that victims do not have the confidence in the police to keep them safe, and that was not helped by the 2017 bail reforms. My freedom of information requests revealed that the number of suspected child abusers released with bail conditions actually dropped by 56% in 2017-18 alone. Will Ministers agree to reform the law to introduce a presumption of bail conditions in all cases of violent and sexual offences?

I am pleased that the Government have signalled their intention to take up my recommendation of a police pledge card, which will provide survivors with crucial information about the criminal justice process and a single point of contact. Will Ministers now set out plans for its formal roll-out?

The Government say that they plan to publish and consult on a revised victims’ code and a new victims’ law in early 2020, but that promise was first made in 2015, and victims have endured delay after delay ever since. Why are the Government proposing to postpone it yet again? I am also concerned that the Government are only going to be consulting on it, not actually rolling out this vital law. Reform of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which continues to discriminate against victims of childhood abuse, is also long overdue. When will the Government finally reform the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority so that victims with unspent convictions and those wrongly deemed to have consented to their own abuse can actually claim?

Child sexual abuse is a crime that, according to the Office for National Statistics, has over 2 million victims in this country. There was little in the Queen’s Speech to persuade me that that shocking figure will be halted or reversed under this Government. I am also disappointed that we discovered today that the Government are not progressing with age verification for online pornography.

A strategic cross-departmental response is required to prevent child abuse, secure convictions and support survivors. The Government must invest in sexual violence and abuse services that will support survivors to play a full role in society and, indeed, the economy. The Government should immediately fund the minimum number of services as recommended under the Istanbul convention, combining it with a mechanism to ensure that funding rises to match demand.

The all-party parliamentary group for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which I chair, has found that 89% of survivors say that the abuse they suffered negatively impacts their mental health. Not surprisingly, survivors also report that the abuse affects their relationships, their career and their education. If the Government are serious about addressing the country’s poor mental health, they must train practitioners to recognise and respond to the trauma of child sexual abuse. Following the example of Scotland and Wales, the Government should create a national trauma strategy that encompasses all forms of early-life abuse and adversity.

The Home Secretary talked in her speech about the rehabilitation of sex offenders. I am extremely concerned that the Government’s existing programme is actually shown to increase the likelihood of sex offending upon release, and I am more concerned that the Government held back the report for five years. I hope this Government will do all they can to address that in the forthcoming legislation.

My final ask is that the Government legislate to end the abusive practice of child marriage in the UK. Victims, usually girls, are pressured and coerced into marrying adult men, and they face increased risks of social exclusion, domestic and sexual violence, and limited educational opportunities. The UN has called for the elimination of child marriage worldwide, yet it is still legal right here. It is appalling that this illiberal practice is still sanctioned here, with more than 800 victims since 2015. The Government must recognise that child marriage is child abuse, and they must legislate to protect the childhood and education of children by criminalising all marriages of anyone under the age of 18.

The Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill, the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill, the serious violence Bill and the Domestic Abuse Bill all present an opportunity for the Government to do something that will genuinely improve the lives of the survivors of childhood abuse and sexual abuse, and to prevent others from falling victim to it. Will the Government please act?