It is an honour to speak on the Bill, which I know has the potential to change the lives of so many domestic abuse victims across the UK. Colleagues may be aware that I sat on the Bill Committee. We heard compelling evidence from a wide range of charities and campaign groups, including Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. I pay tribute to them for the fantastic work they do every day, although it is of course frustrating that their services are required and relied upon by so many victims in the first place.
I also pay tribute to my fantastic colleague, my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield. I know that her bravery in speaking up about her personal experiences has formed the inspiration for many of our speeches today. I thank her and admire her for her courage. I hope that by speaking up I can do my bit to ensure that the experiences of domestic abuse victims remain at the forefront.
It is clear that coronavirus has confirmed and exposed what I already knew to be true, based on experiences with domestic abuse victims in my own constituency: there is simply not enough protection and support for domestic abuse victims. Since December, my team and I have dealt with more cases of domestic abuse than I ever imagined possible. It feels as though domestic abuse is seen by many people as a hidden offence, something that happens in the newspapers, behind closed doors or somewhere else, but not to people on our doorsteps. The harsh reality is that domestic abuse is a very present threat to so many individuals in so many households. It is happening right now, right this minute.
Ultimately, 10 years of Tory austerity has impacted the ability of local authorities to fund the specialist services that support survivors of domestic abuse. I welcome the Bill, but it must go further to provide equal protection for all victims of domestic abuse: men, women and children. A one-size-fits-all approach to tackling domestic abuse will prolong the suffering of victims, so it is vital that we use this opportunity to ensure that the Bill commits to a co-ordinated cross-Government response to domestic abuse. The Bill must deliver the changes that survivors urgently need in all areas of their lives, from housing to healthcare, from immigration access to justice and to welfare reform.
The changes simply must apply to migrant women, who we know face a unique set of acute barriers when seeking support, coupled with the Home Office hostile environment. Migrant women face the unique threat of having their immigration status used as a form of coercive control, which may prevent them from seeking support. I find it hugely concerning that more than half the police forces in England and Wales confirmed, in response to freedom of information requests, that they share victims’ details with the Home Office for immigration control purposes. Surely, it is our duty to protect victims. They should be prioritised ahead of and above immigration action.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic work of Laura Richards and others for all their hard work in relation to new clause 33. Colleagues may be aware that domestic abuse currently costs society at least £66 billion a year, yet that estimate does not include stalking or the psychological impact of stalking. Therefore, the cost is likely to be much, much higher. It is clear that we could save the lives of many, if only the violent histories of domestic abuse perpetrators were actively joined-up. It is vital that our police, prison and probation services are able to identify, assess and manage serial and serious domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers ahead of them committing an offence. The Bill presents a real opportunity to better protect victims, intervene and prevent further abuse, but it does fall short of committing to a multi-agency problem-solving approach by statutory agencies.
To conclude, public protection must be at the forefront. Our current incident-led approach to patterned offences such as domestic abuse and stalking is costly with people’s lives, especially for victims.