Women: Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:01 pm on 6 November 2014.

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Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative 1:01, 6 November 2014

(Maiden Speech) My Lords, making my maiden speech today in your Lordship’s House, I stand here feeling very humble, being among those for whose wisdom and intellect I have nothing but the greatest respect; humble, but also feeling very welcomed and encouraged by one and all who legislate and work here. I am very grateful for the kindness and friendliness given to me and would mention in particular my introducers, my noble friends Lady O’Cathain and Lord Leigh of Hurley, and also my noble friend Lord Hodgson.

On entering your Lordship’s House, it seems to be a common experience to be confused and disoriented as to what is where. I was no exception to this, but thought that with the firm compass points of the Victoria Tower in the west and Big Ben in the east, I would soon master the confusion. However, it deepened when, to my surprise, a map of the building stated that the west end was actually the north end. Subsequent scrutiny of maps showed that Old Father Thames was flowing from south-south-west to north-north-east past this wonderful building, instead of west to east as he should have done. This forced me to revise my opinion and to accept that west was actually north.

I realised that perhaps this venerable building was gently introducing me to the important role that is played here of scrutinising, examining and revising legislation before making one’s mind up. That leads me to the important debate today on women facing homelessness, domestic violence and social exclusion. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady King of Bow, on initiating it—and will explain why I, a hedge fund manager, Tory treasurer and donor, should wish to participate.

I will give three brief facts of my career. I started work at 18 as an £8 per week difference account clerk in a London Metal Exchange member firm; I became a Christian when I was 35; and in the last 10 years I have been an active supporter of the Centre for Social Justice, especially of their policies which support families.

However, the background that I would emphasise to your Lordships is my sister’s and my childhood. We were born at the end of the war, and both our parents were alcoholic. My father died from this when I was four, and violence was a part of that backdrop. We were soon bankrupt and, with a mother still struggling with drink, my sister and I experienced the poverty, neglect and shame that are such potent drivers of social exclusion. I benefited from attending the boarding house of Wantage state grammar school, and in this context I welcome the Prime Minister’s determination to help more looked-after children gain places at today’s state boarding facilities. A good education is invaluable for social mobility; hence I am a sponsor and governor of ARK All Saints Academy in Camberwell.

My sister was not so fortunate; she left school at 14 and, in her subsequent years, struggled with broken relationships, alcoholism and depression. I am telling your Lordships this not only to explain why my heart and head would wish to be involved in today’s deliberations, but also to come back to that House role of scrutiny and opinion revision when we consider one another.

Be that all as it may, domestic violence is one of the great unspoken-of tragedies in society today. It stretches across all social divides and disproportionately affects women and children, particularly in our most disadvantaged communities. Research from the Centre for Social Justice highlights how the mental scars caused therefrom can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and crippling addictions: devastation not only to physical health, but also to self-esteem.

Last week I met with Sister Linda Dearlove—it is a tremendously appropriate name—from the Women at the Well charity in the King’s Cross area of London. Many of the women that she helps grew up with abuse and, as adults, have moved from one violent relationship to another. The majority are involved in prostitution or what might be referred to more accurately as survival sex. They need drugs, alcohol, and a bed for the night if they are homeless. When someone hits them, or worse, they assume that it is their fault. They consider their lives to be of so little worth that they often struggle to see the point of having the daily hot meal provided by the charity. When they start to deal with their addictions, the mental health difficulties that the drugs and alcohol had been soothing, albeit inadequately, start to emerge. It is the legacy, in many cases, of deeply troubled childhoods.

It is the slow and careful restoration of the person that grass-roots charities such as Women at the Well, and others of which I am sure your Lordships are aware, excel at. It is vital that government policy recognises the worth of these organisations, the restorative relationships they provide and the length of time required to help people rebuild their lives—as, indeed, my sister has done. We need such pools of kindness all over the country. Obviously, women in this position have to be helped to find safety, and refuges have an important role to play, but effective policy in this area has to be multifaceted. Domestic abuse victims will need support that helps them avoid being re-victimised. This requires them to develop new beliefs about themselves, as well as life skills.

For example, given their experiences, many mothers will find it almost impossible to create the loving family environment they long to give their own children—and the next generation will, all too often, repeat the cycle. Where this is the case, we have to ensure that women who have been the victims of domestic abuse are supported in the very difficult job of parenting. Again, this Government are doing well in that area through their Troubled Families programme, which aims to help over 500,000 families turn their lives around. Domestic violence is an issue in the vast majority of cases.

I will end by saying that it is my intention to contribute to the work of this House, and especially in these vital areas of social policy. As I hope I have already made clear, I will consider it an honour so to do.