Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on such an important subject. In the weeks and months to come, this House will debate the economic recovery from covid-19, and the decisions will mainly affect women. The poor financial situation of women is one of the main factors contributing to the difficulty of leaving an abusive relationship. Today, we have a chance to create a more secure future for the millions of women at risk of domestic abuse across the UK. It is our duty as representatives to understand the environment in which domestic abuse is allowed to manifest and thrive, and to create legislation to protect victims from that environment.
I represent constituents in the London boroughs of Greenwich and Bexley. In 2018-19, the London borough of Greenwich had the highest volume of domestic abuse offences across London. In 2019, Bexley borough reported an 8.5% increase in domestic abuse offences. Such offences, which already number in the thousands in Greenwich and Bexley, are likely to have increased during the covid-19 period. By April 2020, the Met had reported a 24% rise in domestic violence across London and warned that the true extent of offending was likely to be greater. Women in low-income households are 3.5 times more likely to experience domestic violence. While everyone across the UK will feel the financial impacts of covid-19, women will face an increased risk of financial difficulties and be at more risk of domestic abuse, which is why it is so important that we support the Bill today.
In my constituency of Erith and Thamesmead, women’s median earnings are 40% lower than men’s. Some 75% of women’s income in my constituency is absorbed by the median private rent cost, compared with 44% of men’s. If single women are priced out of renting in Erith and Thamesmead, how will they feel financially able to leave an abusive relationship? If women cannot afford basic necessities for themselves and their children due to mainly low-paid or insecure work, how will they feel financially able to leave an abusive relationship? If women are more likely to lose their jobs due to covid-19 and face financial instability, how will they feel able to leave an abusive relationship? The answer is that they will not and many do not.
We have a responsibility in this House to support these new measures to protect victims of domestic violence at a time when there is likely to be an increase in offences. Those measures include secure lifetime tenancies in English housing authorities, which will remove the barriers that prevent victims from leaving their existing social housing tenancy and support them to remain in homes that the perpetrator has left. There is also the framework for the new domestic abuse commissioner to hold public authorities to account and the statutory definition of domestic abuse that will allow victims to report abusive behaviour that may prevent them from leaving a harmful situation, such as control over their finances.
I call on Members to support new clause 22, on access to public funds for survivors of domestic abuse, which would ensure that victims get the vital support and services that they need to escape abuse, regardless of their immigration status. I also call on Members to support new clause 23, which would introduce a duty to commission sufficient specialist domestic abuse services for all victims of domestic abuse so that all victims can receive support within their home, community or local refuge.