New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons) 7:30 pm, 6th July 2020

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate.

Children are victims of domestic abuse, not just witnesses. In March I held a Westminster Hall debate on this very issue, and that was the start of a series of conversations thereafter. At the conclusion of that debate, I said to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, who is no longer in her place, that I would like her to go away and “grapple some more” with a resolution to include children in the Bill, so today I am really pleased to see new clause 15, which will indeed include children in the definition of domestic abuse. This has had such widespread support from charities and organisations across the children’s sector and the violence against women and girls sector, which have come together to assure us that they are united in believing that children should be included.

New clause 15, on recognising and seeing children as victims of domestic abuse, will lead to a greater understanding that children experience domestic abuse too, and will hopefully lead service providers to ensure that children get the services they need. I thank the Minister for her work on this measure, but the amendment on its own is not enough. We know that children affected by domestic abuse can recover, and lead happy and healthy childhoods, but they need the right support and they need it at the right time. New clause 15 recognises children as victims and helps local authorities to recognise the importance of ensuring that child victims have access to support. However, it will not help local authorities to deliver the support services in question.

There is a huge issue in provision being patchy as it is, and the covid-19 crisis has only exacerbated existing difficulties and inequalities. The Bill currently includes a welcome duty on local authorities to provide support to adult and child survivors in accommodation-based services. It is a step in the right direction, but this limited duty risks unintended consequences, such as removing funding from key community-based services that are absolutely crucial to supporting child victims of domestic abuse. The Government must ensure that community-based services are provided—and, crucially, funded—under any new statutory duty. I therefore also support new clause 23, which will address both the access to services and the funding required to keep them running.

We often think of domestic abuse services, refuges and perhaps the police as the frontline against domestic abuse, but in fact women experiencing abuse are much more likely to suffer a range of negative outcomes, including homelessness, substance abuse and mental health problems, and to be in touch with a wide range of public services. It is therefore important that we ensure that people working on the frontline of public services are able to recognise the signs, provide support and assistance, and highlight issues—with a training programme to raise awareness—so that people get the support they need.

Finally, let me talk briefly about new clause 22. Much has been said on the issue, and I can say no more than that for people who suffer from domestic abuse, support should not be a choice depending on whether they have their immigration status. I support the new clause to ensure that people who have no recourse to public funds in future have that help.