Let me take this opportunity to praise the excellent maiden speech made by my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe. She was not only eloquent, but also very IT savvy, and we can all learn from her example in this age of a digital Parliament.
I thank the Government for their hard work in bringing the Bill to the House, and also my right hon. Friend Mrs May for her tireless work on the issue. The Bill is truly a landmark piece of legislation that builds on the work done by the Government to protect victims of domestic abuse, and there is much to welcome in it. By enshrining the definition of domestic abuse on the statute book once and for all, we can eliminate the confusion and hesitation around pursuing domestic abuse-related charges. By strengthening the powers of the police and courts to protect victims and their families from perpetrators, we can help victims to find the courage to speak out and seek help.
Another aspect of domestic abuse has been thrown into even sharper relief by the current coronavirus pandemic. With the lockdown requiring us all to do our part by staying indoors, many victims will currently be experiencing a living hell, trapped inside with their persecutors, unable to escape or take a break, or even to go outside for some fresh air. Potentially, they will be unable to call for help.
Finally, a critical problem for many families—men, women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse—is housing. The all-party group on ending homelessness is calling for everyone who is homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse to have a legal right to a safe, permanent home by extending the automatic priority need category of housing to domestic abuse survivors who are seeking emergency accommodation. That measure is supported by Crisis, the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance, St Mungo’s, Shelter, Centrepoint, and the Chartered Institute of Housing. Under the current situation, survivors of domestic abuse have no guarantee of access to settled housing from their local authority. Survivors have to prove their vulnerability and the extent of the abuse they have experienced to be eligible, which can be traumatic and distressing for them.
Research by the all-party group on ending homelessness found that nearly 2,000 households fleeing domestic abuse in England each year are not being provided with such assistance because they are not considered in priority need for housing. Crisis UK argues that many survivors of domestic abuse are, by definition, vulnerable and should therefore be placed in a priority-need category for housing allocation. Given the lockdown measures currently in place, it would be near impossible for a survivor to gather the necessary evidence to qualify for priority-need housing accommodation. I invite the Minister to consider the case for adding to the Bill the requirement for local authorities to put homeless victims of domestic abuse into the category of priority need for settled housing.