Domestic Abuse and Hidden Harms during Lockdown

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 14th January 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:00 pm, 14th January 2021

Thank you for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. Accordingly, I will answer some of the hon. Lady’s issues, and then write to her on the matters that I cannot address, because I am mindful that, as you say, other colleagues would like to come in.

May I deal first with the codeword scheme? I really welcome the fact that the hon. Lady and the Opposition welcome that scheme. It has been really carefully thought through, after really careful work with domestic abuse charities, including Hestia, which has done great work with its own safe spaces scheme. We are clear that the scheme must be victim-led. In other words, when a victim is taken into the consultation room in pharmacies they will be asked by a fully trained pharmacist what they would like to do. For some it may be a 999 call. For others it may well be other forms of help, through the helplines and community services. We will look at the scheme very carefully to ensure that it is working well for victims. It is another source of information and access to help for victims, because we are so aware of how difficult it can be for victims to reach out.

The hon. Lady challenged me on the funding. We have had this conversation before, but the latest figures I have to hand on the funding that we have committed—both the charitable funding that was committed in spring last year and the Home Office’s additional £2 million fund for the helpline services and web-based services—are that a total of just under £27 million has been allocated and, indeed, paid out of Government coffers. That is across the MHCLG, the MOJ and the Home Office. We are working hard to allocate the £11 million, but that was in addition to this funding, which of course is in addition to the funding that is available in normal times.

I am really pleased that, on refuges, part of the funding that has been granted through the Chancellor’s charitable funding that was announced in the spring has allowed just under a further 1,900 spaces in safe accommodation. Clearly, we keep that under review, and want to get to a situation in which the sorts of challenges that the hon. Lady has set out do not apply. That is precisely why we are bringing in the duty on tier 1 local authorities through the Domestic Abuse Bill, and as she will know, MHCLG has already provided funding ahead of the next financial year to help tier 1 local authorities prepare for that.

There are many things that we have done for vulnerable children. In particular, we have worked with social care services and early help services to ensure that they continue to support vulnerable children and young people, along with their families. I have seen this myself, not just in the context of child sexual exploitation and abuse but, for example, in the context of gang exploitation. We have also brought thousands of social workers back on to a temporary register, the Social Work Together online tool, which we have developed in partnership with Social Work England and the Local Government Association to draw on those people’s expertise and experience where needed. We have invested not just in the “See, Hear, Respond” service that the hon. Lady supports, but in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s helplines, Childline and the equivalent for adults.

Finally, ICTGs—the trafficking guardians—have been rolled out over a third of local authorities, and we have been clear that we want to roll this out further. As the hon. Lady will know, the model of use of the national referral mechanism by child victims has changed in recent years with the sad arrival of county lines gangs, so we have been changing the system to try to reflect the needs of those victims, as well as victims from overseas. All of this work is continuing through this pandemic, and I thank the hon. Lady for joining our call to ensure these messages are rolled out across our constituencies to help our victims, wherever they may live.