Domestic Abuse - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 5:39 pm on 22nd March 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 5:39 pm, 22nd March 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support survivors of domestic abuse and to prevent future abuse.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to open this short debate, which provides an opportunity to discuss the consultation document published on International Women’s Day. For all my criticisms of the Prime Minister, I applaud her commitment on this issue and that of the Minister. Indeed, it was she who negotiated the concession on the Housing and Planning Bill which led to the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill, which had its Third Reading last week.

I do not join in the criticism that this is only a consultation document, because consultation is good. I am particularly pleased that it aims,

“to harness the knowledge and expertise of victims and survivors”.

What is disappointing is that it has taken so long to get to this point.

There is much of value in the document and many of the proposals should help tackle what the ministerial foreword rightly describes as a particularly shocking form of violence and abuse. I commend in particular the recognition that domestic abuse is a gendered crime, overwhelmingly, though not uniquely, perpetrated by men against women especially in its most serious forms, and the proposed new statutory definition’s emphasis on economic abuse—of which, more in a moment. However, Women’s Aid has expressed some concerns about the definition which I hope the Government will look at.

I welcome the emphasis on protecting children and a degree of recognition that there is considerable room for improvement in how children’s services deal with domestic abuse—although it will need to go further here. I was also pleased to see acknowledgement of the need to improve how the immigration system deals with victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds, and the support for Southall Black Sisters, whose work in this area has been an inspiration. It is good to see proposals designed to enable ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Do the Government have a target date for ratification?

That said, I am sure that noble Lords would be surprised if I spent all my time praising the Government, so here come two big “buts”, both of which relate either directly or indirectly to universal credit. First, due to the rollout of UC, the Government have proposed a new funding model for refuges. At present, most of the housing funding element comes from housing benefit, but, as that is incorporated into UC and paid monthly in arrears— often with delays—it will no longer work easily. In its place, the Government have proposed combining refuges with a disparate group of short-term supported housing services and devolving all the funding in a ring-fenced grant to local authorities. This has caused dismay among refuge providers surveyed by Women’s Aid, to which I pay tribute along with other organisations in the field for its work on behalf of victims and survivors. Main concerns include: given that more than two-thirds of women flee to a refuge outside their area, a totally local funding model is inappropriate; the history of the Supporting People programme does not instil confidence in the longevity of any ring-fencing; and, as we have seen with devolution of funding from the national social fund without a ring-fence, this can lead to complete closure of local schemes.

As a joint report of the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Committees emphasised, the unique challenges faced by refuges requires,

“a distinct model of funding, separate to the arrangements for other forms of supported housing”.

Otherwise, the kind of specialist support required by the Istanbul Convention, and in particular that for marginalised groups such as disabled and BME women, will be at risk. Indeed, it is already highly insecure, as noted by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I was then a member, in its 2015 report on the issue.

This is highly relevant to Ministers’ reassurances that there are 10% more bed spaces since 2010 for those fleeing abuse, which no doubt the Minister will repeat later. What that figure hides is the loss of beds in specialist refuges, as competitive tendering and commissioning have driven a trend to larger, more generic providers and funding reductions have meant less funding per bed, thereby making it harder to provide the necessary support for women with complex needs. It is important to emphasise that specialist services are essential in supporting often traumatised women. In its latest domestic abuse report, Women’s Aid warns that such services are already,

“facing a funding and sustainability crisis”.

It believes that the impact of the proposed funding model will be catastrophic. It is therefore welcome that the Government appear to be listening and have now said that no options are off the table. But to provide reassurance, they should go further and drop the proposed local model completely. As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, said recently:

“It is important that we recognise that there is a national dimension to the funding of refuges, not least because people … often are fleeing from the area where they live, understandably, to another area. Also, specialist services could not necessarily be provided on a local basis”.—[Official Report, 6/3/18; col. 1017.]

Indeed, my Lords.

My other big “but” relates to question 35 in the consultation document. It asks:

“What practical barriers do domestic abuse victims face in escaping or recovering from economic abuse and how could these be overcome?”.

I would argue that one of the biggest barriers is the Government’s own so-called welfare reforms, which it is in their power to overcome very easily. Among those highlighted by Women’s Aid are: the reduced benefit cap—which is undermining the exemption of refuges from the original cap because the exemption applies only to the housing benefit element—and the barriers it can create to women moving on to new accommodation; the need for a transitional period of exemption from the bedroom tax for women in a refuge or temporary accommodation, to ensure that suitable move-on accommodation can be secured; and the two-child limit, which could affect a significant minority of survivors.

While conception in the context of an abusive relationship might qualify for exemption, it requires disclosure to a work coach, which can be problematic—just think about having to tell a work coach about that. It requires the victim not to be living with the alleged perpetrator which, according to Women’s Aid, demonstrates a “lack of understanding” of the nature of coercive control. Indeed, the Prime Minister herself said in an International Women’s Day interview with the Independent that,

“we need to remember those women who don’t make that move to leave ... and what support they need”.

What is more, the payment of UC into one account—single or joint—has, in the words of one commentator, reshaped the benefits system into a weapon for abusers. The Women’s Budget Group, of which I am a member, has long warned that,

“the routine application of a single monthly payment can give perpetrators further mechanisms of financial control, putting survivors at greater risk of abuse and limiting their access to the benefit they are entitled to”.

A discretionary split-payment exemption lays the woman open to potential further abuse when the abusive partner’s benefit is then reduced. Such concerns have also been raised by the JCHR, among others, more than once.

In Scotland, split payments are to be routine following a consultation in which some nine in 10 responses recommended this. If the DWP refuses to follow suit elsewhere, it could be accused of aiding and abetting the offence of economic abuse. Will the Minister please take this message back to the DWP? Can she and colleagues in the Home Office and Ministry of Justice do what they can to persuade the DWP that this policy risks undermining the Government’s flagship domestic abuse policy, and that the DWP should include an assessment of the impact on domestic abuse survivors in all future policy impact assessments? My focus on the DWP also points to a wider concern raised by Women’s Aid: that if the domestic abuse Bill is really to transform the response to survivors, we need action across all parts of the public sector—including, for example, health and housing, about which the document says little that is new.

In conclusion, I have identified two ways in which government policy itself might undermine the welcome proposed domestic abuse strategy. In addition, for the strategy to be successful it needs to be adequately resourced, yet it is not at all clear from the document that it will be. The document itself cites research which puts the overall cost of gender-based violence to both victims and society at £26 billion a year—and that was back in 2012. On the principle of spend to save, it makes sense to invest in this policy, but more importantly this is a matter of human rights, equality and social justice.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott Deputy Chairman of Committees, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we go into this very important debate with a tight timeframe, so could I please respectfully ask that all speeches conclude as the clock reaches six minutes, so that the Minister can give the fullest reply possible? Thank you.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:50 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for tabling this important Question for debate. It is a huge area to discuss in such a tightly framed debate. The debate is timely, in that it comes in the wake of the domestic abuse consultation launched a fortnight ago by the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary, which promises to transform our response to domestic violence. As Victims’ Commissioner, this focus on domestic abuse is welcome.

Domestic abuse is spine-chillingly inexcusable in the 21st century, especially when the vast majority of victims suffering this violence—nearly 80%—will never get as far as reporting their abuse to the police. I am the mother of three daughters and have also seen the evidence that children who witness domestic abuse are three times more likely to become victims themselves later in life. They are also more likely to become the perpetrators of the future. Therefore, we have a moral duty to stop this cycle of abuse to protect today’s and tomorrow’s victims through a whole-community response.

September 2019 sees healthy relationships added to the national curriculum. It is also pleasing to see this broached in the Government’s consultation. What some pupils see at home is far from healthy. School will be one of the few places where the counterview is presented to them. We must not shy away from discussing difficult subjects in the classroom. That is why I have also been speaking to advisers at the Department for Education, to ensure that forced marriage and so-called honour-based violence are also part of this crucial agenda. Cultural sensitivities should not prevent our calling out abuse when it is present. Put simply, a forced marriage and honour-based violence are both forms of domestic abuse.

Key to preventing further domestic abuse is support and a safe space to rebuild their lives. I look forward to seeing the findings later this year from the Government’s review of domestic abuse services, which will include funding arrangements for refuges. I hear from practitioners on the ground that the funding does not even touch the sides of what is needed. Women’s Aid tells me that 60% of total referrals to refuges were declined last year and it is feared that this will only get worse with the introduction of universal credit. Universal credit, if implemented as currently planned, will mean that refuges will no longer be paid via benefits and will have to fight their corner for funding alongside all other short-term supported housing services. Therefore, I ask my noble friend the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will work alongside experts in the field before implementing these policy changes.

The Government’s long-awaited national victim strategy is due to be published in the spring of this year. Like many Members of this House, I await it in anticipation and will be giving it close scrutiny. It needs to provide us with the glue that will hold all agencies together in their response to domestic violence. Giving victims statutory rights and access to their own independent advocate are crucial to supporting victims of domestic abuse. We must not isolate tackling domestic abuse from the wider victim agenda. We need to show that we are engaging and developing a pathway that helps untangle all their complexities to make them feel, once again, like empowered human beings. As Victims’ Commissioner, I want to see the Government take such a holistic approach to these issues.

Meeting many victims of domestic abuse and talking to them about their experiences in rebuilding their lives reinforces to me the need to see a co-ordinated response from all agencies, especially housing, health, social services and schools. That is why it was so good to see the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill pass its Third Reading in your Lordships’ House last week and its Second Reading in the other place on Monday. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency; there is far more work to be done. Let us not kid ourselves that the real challenge must be to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse have the confidence to come forward and seek help. This is a colossal step for victims, whether in a violent or coercive relationship or, indeed, both. It takes tremendous courage and is such a formidable turning point in becoming that survivor. After speaking this morning to a 66 year-old lady who was in tears after going through domestic violence, I know that we need to keep working on making survivors safe.

Many survivors insist that they are not courageous. They say, “If I were courageous, I would have stopped these acts”, or, “If I were courageous, I wouldn’t be scared”. Most of us have it mixed up. You do not start with courage and then face fear—you become courageous because of the fear, something I know only too well.

Photo of Baroness Donaghy Baroness Donaghy Labour 5:55 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and I congratulate her on all her work on victims.

The Government’s statement that they are committed to tackling domestic abuse is welcome but, as Jess Phillips said in the Westminster Hall debate, they have,

“always committed morally to this problem, although they have perhaps found committing resources a little more difficult”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/17; col. 56WH.]

It is the resources that I am mainly interested in. The context of the current maze of consultation is a local government system virtually on its knees. The Minister has a distinguished local government background and will be aware of the extent of cuts in local government. I learned yesterday that 75% of local authority budgets on children’s social care were overspent, so where will the money come from?

The Government could end up making a bad situation worse, despite the Prime Minister’s good intentions, because of their misguided funding model; their concentration on increased punishment for abusers rather than rebuilding the lives of abused women and children; their neglect of local government; and some of the implications of the introduction of universal credit, which my noble friend Lady Lister has already referred to. The Government already know this; the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee have raised it. Refuges are closing; the majority of women seeking refuge are being turned away, and the irony is that they do not count as part of the overall statistics if that happens. The Bill is a very long time coming and, almost certainly, will not tackle the uncertainty around funding of refuges. Women who have escaped abuse need specialist help and confidence-building, not just a bed for the night, and government proposals for funding do not recognise the special nature of refuges or the services they provide. It is simply not good enough for the Government to claim that the amount of funding for supported housing is not changing, that it will be a ring-fenced grant to be distributed by local authorities and that it will not be introduced until April 2020. The crisis in the funding of refuges is happening now and needs to be dealt with now.

Women’s Aid put this much better than I can when referring to the forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. It said that the Bill must be underpinned by a sustainable funding future for specialist domestic abuse services, including the national network of lifesaving refuges currently under threat from supported housing reforms. I know that the consultation period on the funding model closed on 23 January, and I would be interested to know what came out of that, preferably with an accurate count of the number of organisations and responses.

Then we wander into what the Government refer to as “other strands of work”. One is to ensure that we have the refuge provision that we need. I can give the Minister the answer now, if she wishes. Secondly, there is a review of domestic abuse services, which says:

“We are reviewing how we provide funding for care and support to make it work even harder”.

That is a worrying phrase. Thirdly, the review of the funding of refuges provision in England will not be available until November 2018. I am relieved that the Government are not ruling out a national model for refuge provision, but why does it have to take so long? How many more refuges will close between now and November?

Fourthly, apparently to inform one of the other reviews, the Government are tendering for an audit of local authority commissioning of domestic abuse services, including refuges. Again, I can give them an answer today, which will save time and effort. A good friend of mine, who has been involved with a women’s refuge for 20 years, described to me the dilemma that the governing bodies of refuges have. Hers was invited to submit a bid under the commissioning process, and knew that the choice was to lower standards to win the bid, or to have to close the refuge. She said that it was the worst climate she had ever experienced—yet there was more demand than ever, as financial pressures were leading to more break-ups, including abuse.

If the audit of local authority commissioning comes with some concrete proposals, well and good. I am pleased that the Government followed through their manifesto pledge on automatic lifetime tenancies for domestic abuse victims—after an unremitting use of the cattle prod by my noble friend Lady Lister.

I am also pleased that the Government are consulting on the Bill, and on the new guidance on improved access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse. Of course that will add to the burdens of local authorities and the police, rather than those of central government, and I am waiting to hear what support they will receive. I also welcome the Government’s emphasis on culture change. I do not underestimate its importance—but I have a real concern that the well-meaning intentions will not be matched by urgent action.

I know how difficult and humiliating it is to acknowledge that one is a victim of domestic abuse—how daunting it is to walk out of that door. If women seek help—and of course, many do not—it should be available immediately, with all the support systems needed to make that person feel loved, respected and whole again.

Photo of The Bishop of Derby The Bishop of Derby Bishop 6:01 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for introducing this important debate. It is crucial that we hold together support for victims and prevention. To get value for our investment we need to push back against the space that allows this crime to happen. I want to offer one or two thoughts about the framework within which resources need to be spent, and about the challenge to the Minister and to local authorities in the complexities that we are trying to deal with. The smaller the budget, the greater the odds against anything working.

Domus—home—is to many people a sacred space where they find their security and identity, and from which they negotiate into the world. That was probably a Victorian creation. The reality is that that private space has often been a space for rules to be made up and power to be exercised in an abusive way. That is a deep reality.

One of the big-picture things we have to consider is how, when we have public values and standards, we enable people to recognise that those should apply in private spaces, and that they should not feel free to run their own circus and make up their own set of rules—often short-tempered and fuelled by drink, drugs or whatever else. Somehow we have to connect the public expectations we can all sign up for, and which many people who get caught up in domestic abuse would sign up for, with the private space in which people sometimes feel free to behave in an abusive way.

The work of refuges is invaluable, and in particular the specialist care—but the point about funding made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, leads to the fact that a refuge is often a stepping stone in a whole process of destabilisation for people. Enormous resources and skills are therefore needed, not just around the refuge but around continuing care and continuing resourcing, for people to become stable and stand on their own feet.

The notion of partnership is crucial. If we are to invest in local authorities having a lead role, there must be an expectation and commitment that those authorities work in partnership with Women’s Aid and other experts on the ground, so that funding is deployed most effectively and the needs and voices of the victims are heard and help us shape the investment. It is the partnerships that allow that connectivity from the professionals and agencies into where the money needs to be deployed.

I will give some headlines from Derbyshire County Council—I work in Derbyshire—about what it is trying to do in this area. The council says that it has made no cuts at the moment, so that is a small sign of hope. The basic problem of victims not knowing where to turn was met by establishing a dedicated team and a phone line. In three months there were 12,000 calls. This is in just one county. The demand is enormous. As we said, there is a hidden demand below those who have the courage to pick up the phone. But it is complicated. In urban areas such as Chesterfield there are drop-in centres, and in rural areas one has to rely on GPs or other public officials. Resourcing all of those people is a massive challenge. There is a male-only refuge in Derbyshire, mainly for victims of arranged marriages. We must remember that, although this is a gendered issue, there is an underside of male victims.

We are trying to push back. In the High Peak area there is a programme in schools to try to identify vulnerable and potential victims. The Minister might like to think about the enormous investment that we make in education for 10 years of character formation for people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, with this 2019 plan, how can we ensure that it is not just some gentle stuff about the perfect relationships that created the Victorian idea of the home? It is about the reality of people losing their tempers and drinking too much—all the kinds of things that fuel this. That is a huge challenge for government and educational authorities.

We in Derbyshire also run a voluntary scheme for perpetrators. It is right to challenge people’s criminal behaviour, but we have to look at the possibility of what I call reformation of character and reach out, as we do to victims, to those perpetrators. Again, that is a huge area of expertise that requires investment. We must not neglect the importance of trying to help people who are perpetrators to climb out of that cycle that they so easily get into.

I have a number of strands that the Minister might like to comment on. How can we deploy funds to give priority to partnerships around local authorities that involve victim input so that we can get value for money? Secondly, how can we make sure that education about relationships can be 10 years of formation about the realities and challenges of relationships, which are tough for all of us, and not just some academic enterprise? Thirdly, how can we make sure that we reach out to those who are properly criminalised when love and power go wrong and seek ways of reformation and reconnection often into families, through connection with children and into society?

Photo of Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Conservative 6:08 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I welcome this debate on the support available to survivors of domestic abuse and how we can prevent further abuse taking place. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on securing the debate.

Not so long ago, the police felt that it was not appropriate to intervene in what was then known as a “domestic”. Now, thankfully, we talk about it, read about it, watch and listen to dramas about it—and I pay tribute to “The Archers” and dramas like “Big Little Lies” for telling these stories about domestic abuse in such brilliant and accessible ways. These open conversations are absolutely crucial to destigmatising the issues.

Whether we realise it or not, I bet that everyone in this Chamber knows someone who has been abused. Someone close to me was bashed up by her husband for years before it finally became known, and then only because of a more serious injury that could no longer be hidden. I am glad to say that her husband went to prison.

The statistics on domestic abuse are alarming. During 2016-17, 82 women were killed because of domestic violence. Nearly 2 million people, the majority women, live with the threat of violence, and 41% of the prison population have witnessed or experienced abuse—an indication of the wider social harm and presence that this crime has in our society. Incidentally, it is worth bearing in mind that 95% of prisoners are men, and the disproportionate monetary cost to women, who make up 42% of taxpayers, should be included in the tally of other costs, including the cost to women’s lives, healthcare services, the economy and our society at large. The new domestic abuse Bill will lead the way in bringing about the change we need. The consultation on the proposals is welcome, and I hope that experts, charities, front-line professionals and as many people affected by abuse as possible, from all walks of life, will contribute to it.

Not all abusive behaviour is physical. Controlling, manipulative and verbally abusive behaviour ruins lives and means that thousands end up isolated and living in fear. I am sure we all welcome the fact that the Bill will provide a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes economic abuse, alongside other, non-physical abuse.

I welcome the recognition of the lasting impact that domestic abuse can have on families by allowing for tougher sentences in cases involving children. I also welcome the better protection for victims by using new domestic abuse protection orders, which allow the police and courts to intervene earlier. It is good news that we will have a domestic abuse commissioner to act as a national champion for victims. I congratulate the Prime Minister and recognise that these proposals build on the work she started in the Home Office. I also congratulate her on hosting an event for victims at her International Women’s Day reception.

It is critical that people fleeing violent partners have a safe place to go. I know that the Government are committed to delivering a sustainable funding model for refuges, so that there is no postcode lottery. Here, I ask my noble friend whether she can confirm the current level of funding across England. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, used, as others have, a briefing from Women’s Aid. Will my noble friend comment on the briefing, which shows that over half of refuges’ weekly costs in England come from housing benefit, with the remainder coming from support funding, which is not ring-fenced? Incidentally, I wish the chief executive good luck in her search for a Labour parliamentary seat, because her expertise in this area would be most useful in the House of Commons.

Is there a way of simplifying the process of competitive tendering to local authorities, which can be time-consuming and complicated, especially for smaller and more specialist organisations? Will the Minister confirm the action that will be taken to ensure that victims are supported at the earliest possible opportunity, before abuse escalates and they are left with no option but to flee their own homes?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a warm and loving home. It is hard for those of us who have safe and happy lives to truly walk in the shoes of those who live with domestic abuse every single day. All of us here want everyone to live free from that threat and every child to grow up safe and protected, just as I did. I very much hope that this work, this consultation and the Bill will provide an important step change in bringing that about.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 6:12 pm, 22nd March 2018

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on bringing up this really important issue of domestic violence. I have no answers—or few—but I have a few observations. I have no answers other than to find a way of incorporating into the very structure of our society the assurance that, if there is an emergency and somebody has to get out of their home, there is always a place that they can go to: a place of asylum; a place of refuge. It does not happen often enough. I know too many people, especially in and around homelessness, who are beaten quite regularly. We bring in the police and all sorts of people, yet very little is done because no opportunity is provided.

About 15 years ago, I saw an advertisement in the Big Issue for the Violence Initiative. I rang them up and said, “I’d like to come along and talk to you”. So I went along, and they were very pleased to see me and said, “We’d like to show you around”. I said, “Great. When do I start the course?” They said, “What do you mean, when do you start the course?” I said, “Well, I would like to start the course”. They said, “Oh, you want to see what it’s like to actually go through a programme”. I said, “The thing is, I’m a 58 year-old man, and I’m so aggressive that if I’m on a train, I’m aggressive if it’s late, for example. I’m about to remarry for the third time and I don’t want to be aggressive like I was when I was bringing up my children, because I will be having a new family”. They were absolutely astonished that this man from the Big Issue should be coming to them to ask for help, and they gave me help.

What I really liked about the help was that for the first time in my life, I could admit to somebody that I was aggressive, that I was overbearing. I might not beat up my children or my wife, but I had my finger in their faces on too many occasions and often destroyed the domesticity that we were supposed to be sharing. It was really interesting that I could be in a place where people said, “You are a victim. You have arrived at this because somebody else has done something to you”.

When I was 18, I came home from my reformatory, from boys’ prison, and one Sunday afternoon I found my father pouring a kettle of hot water over my mother. I rushed into the kitchen, beat my father to the ground, stamped on him, kicked him, did everything conceivable and said, “If you touch my mother again, I’ll kill you”. For the next nine years he did not touch my mother and actually, they grew in love with each other because, basically, let us not forget the fact that violence does not necessarily mean that one person hates another person; it is just that the real world—stuff like economic privation, lack of education, lack of opportunity, insecure housing—often overwhelm somebody who is passionately in love and they take it out on their children and their spouse. Often, afterwards they are crying and incredibly upset by the whole experience.

I gave my father nine years. Unfortunately my mother died very young from cancer due to being a night worker, a cleaner, and trying to hold the whole family together, but it was interesting to see that I established boundaries that my father could never cross again. I am not suggesting in this noble House that we now go around and beat up all the people who have beaten up their children and their wives, but I do feel it is necessary to address the cowardliness, the frustration that is shown towards the weak.

I went on and got married again. I have two beautiful children. I do not beat them up, I do not beat my wife up, I do not act aggressively towards them, and I thank God for the Violence Initiative, which was a private charity. What I would like to see in this debate and from Her Majesty’s Government is a balance in the way that we offer refuges. We must always give somebody the chance of escape, because it could be the thing that saves their life and their children’s lives. I would like to see Her Majesty’s Government put an enormous emphasis on helping people deal with the difficulty of being unable to control their anger and passing it on to their family.

Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative 6:19 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bird, with his always stimulating, fresh-thinking and original approach to this subject. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on securing this debate. There is much to welcome in the Government’s plan to transform the national response to domestic abuse, in particular their emphasis on prevention.

My main point, which I will illustrate with emerging good practice, is that when couples and their children affected by domestic abuse receive the right support at the right time, this can prevent further abuse—this really follows on from what the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said. We need a much greater emphasis on working with abusive men and motivating them to change their behaviour. This can even enable some couples and their families to stay together safely—for these units to be survivors, as it were.

I know that men, too, can be victims, and I am glad that the government consultation acknowledges this, but I will focus on male-to-female violence. As we have heard, the organisation SafeLives, which provided much helpful data for my speech, found that 95% of victims are women and 95% of perpetrators are men. There is never any excuse for domestic abuse and its gravity should never be downplayed to keep families together—but neither should we forget that, while victims invariably want the violence to stop, many want the relationship with the perpetrator to continue.

The presence of children can influence this. After physical separation, a child’s father still exists in her mind and she often has unresolved and mixed emotions. Confused impressions of him affect her other relationships. Children often live in the hope that one day they will have a caring relationship with their father. Perhaps counterintuitively, Stover et al’s research found that, on average, pre-school children fare worse the less they see their father after domestic abuse. They are more depressed, anxious and aggressive. Poignantly, 67% of female survivors maintain contact with the perpetrator for the sake of their children.

Responding to the uncomfortable truth that around 30% of domestic abuse begins during pregnancy, the philanthropic Stefanou Foundation developed “For Baby’s Sake”. This whole-family change programme works with expectant mothers and fathers as co-parents, whether or not they are together. The team helps them end the abuse, overcome its impact and nurture their baby’s and other children’s development. The rollout of two prototype projects in Hertfordshire and the west London tri-borough is being evaluated by King’s College London, with highly promising interim findings. This is a great example of philanthropy, not government, taking the lead, although I am encouraged that the Government have funded a pilot of the SafeLives “One Front Door” model in seven areas across the UK. Instead of treating all family members as separate individuals, a whole-family approach looks at the risks faced by them all and works across the family unit to enable them to move on safely.

The Government consultation also mentions that South Wales Police and Welsh Women’s Aid are piloting the Change that Lasts model. I have previously mentioned to your Lordships my respect for Safety in the Vale, formerly Glamorgan Women’s Aid. It has done much pioneering work with families at medium to low risk, taking a restorative family approach while making safety the top consideration. It has helped two-thirds of families to stay together safely by meeting the needs of the women, children and men involved. We know that children are profoundly affected by living in such households: they are traumatised, which affects their mental health and their ability to do well at school. If they see only a model of deeply unhealthy behaviour, where violence is a prominent ingredient, their peer and future partnering relationships will inevitably suffer. Childhood exposure to domestic violence is one of the most powerful predictors of both perpetrating and receiving domestic abuse as an adult.

Whole-family approaches ensure that we do not forget the need to help perpetrators change their behaviour. The founder of SafeLives, Diana Barran, emphasises prioritising what we would want for our best friend if she were being abused: she should be able to stay safely in her home and community instead of having to flee. The perpetrator should be challenged to change and held to account, switching the narrative away from, “Why doesn’t she leave him?” to “Why doesn’t he stop?” Research shows that some perpetrators have as many as six different victims, but fewer than 1% receive any specialist help. Much more needs to be done to deal with this problem at source. What are the Government doing to ensure a significant expansion of evidence-based perpetrator programmes?

We also need to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. Identification of cases is much improved but prevalence is little changed. Clearly, our response, both as a society and from the Government, does need to be transformed. A significant minority still exists who view violence from male to female partners as acceptable.

Social marketing is vital. Hull’s “Strength to Change” campaign, informed by research from the University of Central Lancashire, makes men aware of how heinous their violence is to their partners and children. It pushes them towards help that holds them to a high standard of accountability and ensures that health and other professionals know where to refer men who are desperate to change. Are the Government supporting awareness programmes that do not just make disclosure easier but starkly bring home to men that violence is never acceptable and that they can and must access non-stigmatising help?

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 6:25 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for bringing this debate before us today. In her opening remarks, she covered a range of areas of concern.

Domestic abuse is a blight on our society. Many women who are victims of domestic abuse live in a state of fear every day. According to Women’s Aid—which I thank for its very good briefing—between 2016 and 2017 there were 93,000 prosecutions for domestic abuse and, where gender was recorded, 91.8% were of males. During 2016, 78 women were killed by a partner or former partner, and 85% of these women were killed in their own home or the home they shared with the perpetrator. So home was certainly not a safe place for them. Those who have to live with an abusive partner suffer repeated and prolonged violence and abuse which can impact on all aspects of their lives and result in severe trauma.

Today’s report from the Inspectorate of Constabulary, which was discussed earlier in your Lordships’ House, says that under pressure police forces are taking days to respond to 999 calls that should be dealt with in an hour. The forces say that they have come under “significant stress” from slashed budgets and increased demand. Almost a quarter of forces in England and Wales are struggling to deal with emergency calls in a timely way. In some cases, crimes that require a “prompt” response—that is, police attending within an hour of the call—are not dealt with for days. In Cambridgeshire, for example, the average “prompt” response time was 15 hours. This could include cases of serious assault, including sexual violence.

The inspectorate puts the delays down to a lack of police officers available to attend the emergencies. This is extremely worrying in the case of women experiencing domestic abuse. They cannot afford to wait 15 hours for a response. A woman will probably be in desperate need of immediate help at the time she rings 999. So having to wait is not an option. In 15 hours it may be too late for her.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham, who led the inspection, has said that she has,

“major concerns that policing is under significant stress. On occasions, that stress stretches some forces to such an extent that they risk being unable to keep people safe in some very important areas of policing. About a quarter of forces are all too often overwhelmed by the demand they face, resulting in worrying backlogs of emergency jobs, with officers not attending incidents promptly, including those involving vulnerable people”.

The announcement of a draft Bill on domestic violence is welcome, as is the consultation. However, concerns have been raised over the narrow scope of the Bill. It needs to focus on the support for victims and not just the criminal justice aspect. Domestic violence is one of the toughest crimes to police effectively and this has become much more difficult, as seen in the report out today, so there must be a drive towards progress in prevention and a future free from abuse.

As I understand it, mandatory sex and relationship education is to be introduced in all schools in England from September 2019. It should have a clear and gendered focus on tackling domestic abuse and violence against women and girls and be delivered with a “whole school approach” to prevention. Communities should be supported to talk about domestic abuse, such as through the Women’s Aid “Ask Me” scheme, and to tackle every-day sexist behaviour. I look forward to the ratification of the Istanbul convention to deal with the root causes of inequality and discrimination that underpin domestic abuse. I believe that will be contained in the new Bill.

Much has been achieved in raising awareness relating to all forms of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. Both Labour and Conservative Governments have brought forward laws which help victims and bring the perpetrators to justice, but more needs to be done, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said. I hope that the new Bill, which I understand will come before your Lordships’ House in a few months, will go some way towards improving the lives of women and children and bring about a better way of life through preventive measures.

Photo of Lord Wasserman Lord Wasserman Conservative 6:31 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on securing time for this important debate. I draw attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. I do so because for a number of years I was employed as an adviser to a multinational company which pioneered some technology which I want to discuss today. I am no longer associated with this company, but I thought it sensible to mention my former relationship and put it on the record.

There are few subjects more worthy of public debate and more in need of urgent government attention than domestic abuse. Domestic abuse threatens the very fabric of our society. It is literally a matter of life and death. According to the Government’s consultation document, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Jenkin, 243 women and 72 men were the victims of domestic homicides between March 2014 and March 2016. That is more than three deaths a week. If the first responsibility of government is to keep us safe, as everyone says, then dealing with domestic abuse, particularly domestic violence, should be among the Government’s top priorities. Sadly, I regret to say that this does not always appear to be the case.

I say this because almost three and a half years ago, on 6 November 2014, I spoke in this House in a debate on “Women: Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion”. In that debate, in which several noble Lords speaking this afternoon also took part, I urged the Government, as a matter of urgency, to commission trials or pilots of a piece of technology known as proximity notification tagging, which I knew from experience in other countries was effective in reducing domestic homicides. Yet, despite the fact that I had useful discussions with several police forces which had purchased this technology and were prepared to trial it, the Government did nothing to get these pilots off the ground, and, in fact, none was launched. But between the date of that speech in this House and today, nearly 300 women have been the victims of domestic homicide. How many more people have to die before we at least trial this technology?

I say straightaway that I do not believe that this technology, or any other piece of technology, is the silver bullet which will eliminate the age-old, and far too common, problem of domestic abuse—of course not. I understand that we need to change the culture surrounding domestic abuse and improve and expand the whole range of non-technological support services for victims, particularly those with special needs. However, changing culture, providing more safe accommodation and recruiting and training more independent domestic violence advisers takes time. In the meantime, there are lives in danger.

For this reason, I particularly welcome the proposals in the Government’s consultation paper for a much more flexible domestic abuse protection order aimed at dealing with weaknesses of the present domestic violence protection orders. I am delighted to see that this new order will be far more flexible both in terms of the conditions that could be attached to it—such as prohibitions against coming into contact with or coming within a certain distance of the victim—and the positive requirements that could be placed on perpetrators such as attendance at alcohol and drug treatment programmes. I am even more pleased that the new order could require perpetrators to wear electronic monitoring tags which would tell us where they were at all times and how much alcohol they have consumed.

There is nothing new in the use of such GPS-based electronic monitoring tags to keep victims of domestic violence safe. In Spain, this technology has been in use in the domestic violence context since 2009. There are currently 2,000 couples in the scheme. Since its introduction, there has not been a single homicide related directly to domestic violence. Similar systems are currently in use in Portugal, Uruguay and Argentina and are now being piloted in New Zealand. These are the tags that I urged the Government to trial three and a half years ago. That is why I was so pleased to see electronic monitoring receive a mention in the consultation paper. But a mention in a consultation paper, welcome as it is, is a long way from implementation across the country.

Rolling out new technology to tackle social problems—like keeping victims safe—is especially complex, even with a technology as tried and tested as proximity tagging. This is because the problems concern people rather than things and because, as in this case, tackling them effectively requires a number of agencies to work together to develop effective operational specifications about who does what, when, to whom and how. For this reason, rolling out this technology will require careful planning and carefully monitored trials or pilots. Because we are dealing here with situations of life and death, however, we cannot wait until the new domestic abuse orders come into force before we begin these trials. I therefore urge the Government to begin now to organise trials of proximity notification tags so that they are able to roll out this technology across the country as soon as the new domestic abuse orders come into force.

As I have already said, electronic monitoring will not deal with the root causes of domestic abuse or the serious harms which domestic abuse inflicts on individuals and their families, but by providing victims with early alerts that their potential attacker is in the vicinity—whether these victims are at home, at work, with friends or on the move—this technology can significantly alleviate the intolerable stress of knowing that one is always at risk of attack. It can save lives, and there is nothing more important than that.

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative 6:38 pm, 22nd March 2018

If more than 100 people each year in England and Wales were killed in terror attacks, there would quite rightly be a national outcry but, as we know, this is how many women are murdered each year by a partner or former partner, yet public awareness of this terrible crime is still relatively low. It is therefore absolutely right that the Prime Minister and the Government are bringing this crime out of the shadows and shining the spotlight on it. I must praise the bravery of the victims and those tireless campaigners and charities such as SafeLives and Women’s Aid, which have already started to change the national conversation.

I spent this morning at a refuge in east London that specialised in women fleeing forced marriage. Listening to those women’s stories was heartbreaking and it is clear that the refuge offers far more than simply a bed. The specialist support it offers, in addition to the accommodation, is a lifeline for those women. I am sure the Government are listening to the widespread concerns about long-term funding for refuges and would not accept a situation where there were fewer places or patchy local provision. Indeed, they are seeking to achieve the exact opposite: more beds and no postcode lottery when it comes to innovative and effective support.

We have to accept, however, that the nature of domestic violence means that many women are fleeing from other local authorities and that some very good refuges would not necessarily be locally commissioned. I hope the consultations on both domestic violence and supported housing are working hand in glove on this issue. The expertise built up over many years must be bolstered, not lost, in these restructurings. Given that the chances of demand for these services across all agencies is likely to go up if the campaign to raise public awareness is successful, I urge the Government to make sure that they properly bake this scenario into their national response and long-term planning.

Very often, the response to domestic abuse has been to expect the victim to escape and to pack her and her family’s bags, and in many cases this is the only recourse. Surely, however, the emphasis has to be focused on how we prevent those women being abused in the first place. I agree with my noble friend Lord Farmer that we need to focus more on the perpetrator, as well as on the victim. I think people would be shocked to discover that all too often the perpetrator remains largely undisturbed, living in the same house with the same job, with no real challenge to their behaviour. They should be the ones facing the disruption and turmoil.

It is absolutely clear that a whole-system approach works. Providing a multiagency and intensive response to these men, holding them to account and working on the reasons why they abuse has improved outcomes and, ultimately, the safety of victims and their children. Domestic abuse will not stop if we do not apply a rigorous and resolute approach to the perpetrators, as well as support victims.

Early intervention and getting to victims and their families before abuse escalates is also crucial. Sadly, this remains incredibly challenging, as it is estimated that those living with high-risk abuse do not get effective help for over two and a half years. It is also true that there are missed opportunities to reach low-risk families sooner. Regardless of whether the first contact was about the actual abuse, each contact with an agency offers a chance to help the victim disclose and get early specialist help.

The NHS spends more time dealing with the impact of violence against women and children than almost any other agency, and it is often the first point of contact for women who have experienced violence. Despite the huge cost to the NHS, it is often not regarded as a health or social care priority, which clearly needs to change. A major priority needs to be enhanced and ongoing training, particularly among first responders and contact staff. GPs in particular are often a gateway to reaching victims before their situation escalates. One woman I spoke to at the refuge this morning had brilliant advice from her GP and got speedy support as a result, but another very vulnerable young woman at the same refuge was told, “Go back to your husband and make it work”. That varying degree in standards of care is simply not acceptable.

Finally, nobody could dispute the terrible and long-lasting impact that abuse has on children, which absolutely needs to be urgently addressed. In addition to a holistic and joined-up children’s services approach, schools and education have a big part to play, as other noble Lords have mentioned. The charity SafeLives estimates that at least one child in every classroom will have lived with domestic violence since their birth, so I absolutely agree that mandatory sex education to be introduced from September, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, pointed out, should have a clear focus on what is acceptable behaviour in relationships and absolutely tackle those uncomfortable subjects head on. Tragically, if that is not provided at home, what benchmark will young victims have for their own behaviour as they grow up?

Big tech companies are very much in the spotlight at the moment, and they also have a responsibility to face up to this issue. Cases of intimate partner abuse are at an all-time high among teenagers. I cannot help but think that the ready availability of extreme pornography that often degrades women contributes to some kind of twisted acceptability in many people’s minds.

It is clear that the road to stamping out domestic abuse for good is a long one, and that this will be achieved only if there is a cultural shift across society that screams zero tolerance. This has to be driven by wraparound and tailored support that does not wait for the crisis but seeks to prevent it in the first place.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 6:44 pm, 22nd March 2018

I hope that noble Lords will agree that any person—man or woman—fleeing domestic violence has the right to access secure accommodation in which they feel safe. In the past few months there has been a lot of fevered comment on the status of refuges, and I want to take a moment to ask the Minister to confirm my understanding of the law.

It is the Equality Act 2010, not the Gender Recognition Act 2004, that provides trans people with legal protection from discrimination and addresses access to single-sex services. The Equality Act 2010 provides an exemption for single-sex services, allowing a trans person to be treated differently from other service users provided that that is a proportionate response to achieve a legitimate aim.

Reform of the Gender Recognition Act will not change that exemption. Violence-against-women services already have robust risk management and safeguarding policies in place—for example, to identify and prevent any lesbian perpetrator of violence against a partner gaining access to a women’s-only service. Such services can and do exclude from group work and shared refuge accommodation anyone who is assessed as posing a risk to other service users—for example, due to anti-social behaviour, a criminal history or drug addiction. Possession of a gender recognition certificate would not circumvent in any way those risk management procedures and exclusion would still be possible.

For several years, many UK violence-against-women service providers have allowed trans women to use their services on a self-declaration basis, and no problems have been reported. Does the Minister agree that the review of the Gender Recognition Act should uphold those protections for all people who need domestic violence services?

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:46 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on raising this very important issue.

I declare a personal interest, not to raise the point that men too can be survivors of domestic abuse—as we have heard, the overwhelming majority of survivors are women—and not to make the point that women are sometimes, albeit very rarely, the perpetrators of abuse, but because I was myself the victim of male violence in a same-sex relationship. It started lovingly but, gradually and almost imperceptibly, the coercive control, the isolation from friends, and the demanding of explanations of where I had been and who I had been with eventually culminated in physical violence.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Donaghy and Lady Newlove, talked about the courage that is required of victims of domestic violence to come forward. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who said that 80% of abuse is not reported. I was a police officer and never understood why people who had been assaulted by their partners wanted to go back to them after being patched up in casualty. I did not understand until I was in one of those relationships myself. Until you are in that situation, you do not realise that you can have love without violence, and sometimes you do not even recognise the situation that you are in.

As we have heard, providing accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse can be complex. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, about two-thirds of women who have to leave the home they share with their abusive partner are often so fearful that they want to go not to the local refuge provided by their local authority but to somewhere where they hope their partner will never find them. As the noble Baroness said, we need to drop the local funding model to ensure that the funding for that is available.

Many local authorities, under financial pressure because of central government funding cuts, seek to outsource the provision of refuges to private companies, which provide only a physical place to stay and no other support. That is not enough. Even then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, in 2016-17 60% of referrals to refuges were declined. However, as I said, providing a safe space is just one aspect of the support that survivors need.

Eighteen years after ending the three and a half year relationship with my abusive partner—even after separating, he repeatedly left messages on my voicemail threatening to kill me—I am sure that my mental health and the ability that I have now to be a loving partner are still adversely affected by the trauma I suffered then but for which I received no help. The trauma of being attacked by someone you love and who you believe loves you, of not feeling safe in your own home, are things that you have to experience to truly understand.

Although refuges are important, community-based responses, outreach advocacy, drop-in services, support for women who wish to stay in their own homes, information and advice—for example, for women who feel that something is not quite right, the same feeling I had, not realising that this was unlawful domestic violence—are just as important, if not more so, for more survivors, than for those survivors who require a safe place to go and live. Very often, children and young people are caught up in these unhealthy relationships and they also need support, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has said.

I regret to say, and I am becoming increasingly frustrated, that it is all too common for the Government to respond to these sorts of issues through legislation as an alternative to appropriate funding. What is needed, as for example in this case, is for both of these things to happen. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Donaghy and Lady Gale, said, these are issues where the funding of people who provide refuges and who provide this emotional counselling support for the survivors of abuse are as important, if not more important. Can the Minister please acknowledge the unique challenges facing those wanting to provide the services for survivors of domestic abuse and give us some hope today that the Government are going to provide long-term, sustainable funding to ensure that support can be provided?

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 6:51 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I make my usual declarations as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. As other noble Lords have done, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett on securing this timely debate on what plans the Government have to support survivors of domestic abuse and to prevent further abuse.

Like my noble friend Lady Lister, I welcome the commitments and the consultation launched by the Government on domestic abuse. To make the domestic violence and abuse Bill a solid and landmark piece of legislation, it is important that, as the consultation exercise works through, we understand the issues in detail. I hope the Government take the same attitude to the Bill that they did to the Modern Slavery Act, which is a landmark piece of legislation, rather than the back-of-a-cigarette-packet approach that they took to the dreaded Housing and Planning Act 2016.

Domestic violence and domestic abuse are wicked and evil crimes which, as we have heard in this debate, result in two women being killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales every week. As my noble friend Lady Gale said, there were over 93,000 prosecutions for domestic abuse in 2016-17. This is a crime that can mean repeated and prolonged violence and abuse for the victims over many years. The abuse can take many forms: emotional, psychological, sexual and economic. It can involve stalking, intimidation, harassment, degrading treatment, coercive control and threats to harm children.

As I told the House during the Second Reading of the secure tenancies Bill, as part of the police service parliamentary scheme I spent some time with the domestic violence unit at Greenwich police station. What I was told there was harrowing and shocking. However, the dedication of the police officers and the staff from the Royal Borough of Greenwich to tackle this issue was exemplary in bringing perpetrators to justice, saving victims from violence and abuse, protecting children, getting people to a place of safety and saving people lives. That deserves the highest commendation. Some of the programme in the Royal Borough of Greenwich is funded by the local authority. I would suggest that, as part of the preparation for the Bill and for the consultation, the Government take a close look at what is going on in Greenwich. It is making a real difference. Rolling this model out nationally could have a transformative effect in dealing with this crime.

One measure that I hope the Government will include in the domestic abuse Bill is to stop GPs being able to charge victims for writing the letters that they need to give to authorities in order to access services such as legal aid or to get housing. Victims are being charged up to £100 a letter. It is just wrong. Although it is a small minority of GPs who do this, we here in Parliament have to say that no GP can charge for such letters. If the matter is not resolved or the measure is not included in the Bill, I and other noble Lords from the Labour Benches—supported, I am sure, by every noble Lord in this House—will table amendments and vote on them to stop this unacceptable practice once and for all.

Work on prevention is also important and that is where we are going to get the change in behaviour that needs to come about. Tough laws to deal with perpetrators and protect victims, as well as work to ensure that people can live free from abuse, are important also. That, of course, should start at home as part of growing up, as your parents set out how you should behave and teach you right from wrong.However, as we have heard, not everyone lives in a loving home with a loving family where they are taught right from wrong and how to treat and respect people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, we need schools also to talk about relationships and how to treat people. They should teach that people deserve respect and that, if you love and care for someone, abusing them behind the closed front door is wrong, wicked and evil—you cannot do that: it is totally unacceptable. We need proper sex education, so that young men—these crimes are committed mostly by young men—understand how abhorrent it is to use sex as a means of abuse; it is totally unacceptable.

As my noble friend Lady Lister said, women’s refuges provide a vital service and serious concerns have been expressed about the security of funding for them. The proposed changes in funding risk the loss of hundreds of places in refuges, with some refuges closing completely. I have no doubt that the Government have no intention of closing refuges nor want to lose hundreds of places due to the changes in the funding arrangements. However, Women’s Aid and others working in the sector believe that that is what the proposals will do. Like my noble friend, I hope that the Government will announce at the earliest opportunity that this dangerous, ill thought out proposal will not go ahead and be withdrawn and that the Government will work directly with the sector to find a solution. If the Government announced that, it be warmly welcomed and a solution could be worked through that is acceptable to everyone and protects these vital places in refuges.

I thank my noble friend for securing this important debate and for allowing the House to discuss this matter again.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 6:57 pm, 22nd March 2018

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lady, Baroness Lister, on securing this afternoon’s debate on an incredibly important subject. I also commend her cattle prod-like approach to this matter over the years—certainly in the time that I have known her. I thank noble Lords for some of the very moving speeches that I have heard, including those by the noble Lords, Lord Bird and Lord Paddick. Some of these things are not easy to say in public, but noble Lords did that. The contributions have been many and varied, which has added to the debate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who spoke in the gap, that I fully appreciate where she is coming from. I will give her a more thoughtful response, probably by letter—I am sure we will have discussions about this anyway.

The statistics are shocking. Domestic abuse affects almost 2 million victims in England and Wales every year. It can be physical, psychological and emotional, and is carried out by those supposedly closest to the victims—as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, often they love them, which is a very strange emotion to have while beating that person to a pulp—in an environment that should be a place of safety and security. Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on the lives of survivors and, as many noble Lords said, particularly my noble friends Lord Farmer and Lady Bertin and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, it can have intergenerational consequences for children.

The Government are committed to doing everything we can to end domestic abuse. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked me what vigour we will put into this. We have for many years voiced our opposition to what is happening to victims of domestic abuse and other forms of abuse, and we will continue to do this with the same vigour.

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, we launched a public consultation on transforming the response to domestic abuse. I was very shocked by what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said about GPs and I hope that he will raise that point during the consultation process. The Government’s aim is to build a society that has absolutely no tolerance of domestic abuse. We want to actively empower survivors, communities and professionals to confront and challenge it, and we are determined to ensure that victims feel safe and supported and can get help to rebuild their lives. Our consultation outlines a programme of work designed to prevent domestic abuse; many noble Lords talked about prevention. It is based on four principles: first, changing attitudes; secondly, protecting victims; thirdly, pursuing perpetrators; and, fourthly, making sure that everyone across the country receives a consistent response.

Many Peers asked what we are doing, going wider than the Bill. We know that legislation alone will not transform our response to domestic abuse. For this reason, the legislative proposals outlined in the consultation will be accompanied by a package of non-legislative action to tackle domestic abuse. We are also providing an additional £20 million for support services in recognition of the need for further funding. But from the speeches I have heard this afternoon, I think we all agree that we need societal change towards this terrible crime.

I want to be clear that the focus of this work is very much on victims and their children. Abuse has a devastating impact on children and we know that adults who witnessed domestic abuse as a child are far more likely to experience such abuse by a partner as an adult. We have introduced a new ground-breaking offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin mentioned. We have placed domestic homicide reviews on a statutory footing, rolled out the domestic violence disclosure scheme and introduced domestic violence protection orders.

This debate has raised some really important points about protection and support for victims. I will try to address the issues in turn, but first I will talk about prevention, which was mentioned by my noble friends Lord Farmer and Lady Jenkin and other noble Lords, and about tackling the drivers of abuse so that we can put an end to this appalling crime. The Government want to oversee a fundamental shift in social attitudes towards domestic violence. We need to ensure that all domestic abuse is properly understood, considered unacceptable and actively challenged across statutory agencies and in public attitudes. We are proposing to enshrine a definition of domestic abuse in legislation, to ensure that it is recognised as more than just violence and includes not only emotional and psychological abuse but economic abuse—which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin said, is an appalling form of abuse that threatens a victim’s economic security and acts as a significant barrier to escaping domestic abuse and rebuilding their lives.

As my noble friends Lady Newlove and Lady Bertin, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, said, we want to act early to equip all young people to have healthy and respectful relationships by helping all schools deliver high-quality relationships education, sex education and PSHE. We want to promote awareness and an improved response across statutory agencies, employers and communities as a whole, so that domestic abuse is rightly recognised as not the victim’s business but everybody’s business.

We want to make it easier for victims to come forward and seek support. We also want the support and protection they receive to enable them to feel safe, to recover and to rebuild their lives. This Government have allocated increased funding of £100 million to support victims of violence against women and girls over this spending review period. This includes funding for a service transformation fund, national helplines, rape support centres and £40 million towards supporting women in crisis, including for refuges. Some £20 million of this funding was announced in the Spring Budget and is specifically for services for domestic abuse victims, £8 million of which will be used to support children who witness domestic abuse and help with their recovery through locally commissioned projects. Some £2 million will support female offenders, 60% of whom we know have experienced domestic abuse themselves. A further £2 million will be used to ensure that victims have better access to support in health settings, and we are seeking views through the consultation on how we should use the final £8 million.

Noble Lords have raised the issue of refuge provision extensively, and I would reassure the House that the Government recognise the critical support that refuges provide to vulnerable people at a time of crisis. We are completely committed to developing a sustainable funding model for refuges and ensuring that there is consistent provision across the country. That is why we are reviewing—I hope this answers many noble Lords’ questions—the way in which refuges and supported housing are delivered. We have heard the need for a sustainable funding model for refuges, which is why we were undertaking a thorough review of commissioning and funding of all domestic abuse services, including refuges in England. We will be working closely with the domestic abuse sector, drawing on its data, knowledge and expertise to make sure that we get this right. That process is ongoing and we have been clear that no options are off the table, as we work with them to ensure that women requiring support in their time of need are not let down.

This goes to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and, I assume, that of other noble Lords. I can guarantee that funding for refuges will continue at the same level as today. We will ring-fence funding for supported housing overall, including refuges, indefinitely. A refuge can be life-saving and we recognise that, when victims of domestic abuse have no option other than to leave their home, a refuge provides a vital place of safety. We have increased bed provision by 10% since 2010, which goes to the point from my noble friend Lady Bertin. Through the proposed Bill and wider programme of work, we also want to do more to intervene early, both with victims and perpetrators, so far fewer victims are forced into the appalling position of having to flee their home and community.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, talked about the implications of universal credit. There is currently a review of the funding model, which will report in the summer. Refuge payments will be made outside of housing benefit and universal credit. As such, we are removing an individual’s liability to pay rent at a vulnerable point in their life.

She also asked about specialist refuges and funding for specialist services. It cannot be right to continue with a system that forces women to cover housing costs themselves, forces them to apply for benefits at a difficult time in their lives and then leaves them with personal debt—we know how important this is. That is why we are not only consulting on short-term support from the accommodation model, but also conducting a thorough review of domestic abuse services to make sure we get this right. This wider review is looking at gaps in provision, including specialist provision, what domestic abuse services need to be available for women to meet their individual circumstances and how we can implement the best system to deliver these services.

We are doing more to support those who have made the decision to leave an abusive situation. The Government’s Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill will maintain the status of survivors living in social housing with an existing lifetime tenancy when they move to a new social property. I pay tribute again to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for raising this issue and for her central role in bringing the legislation forward.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin asked about the postcode lottery. Some local authorities are doing a good job, but to improve our understanding of the national picture, we have appointed an external organisation to undertake an audit of all local authority-commissioned domestic abuse services.

I am completely out of time, but my noble friend also asked about support costs. We totally recognise the vital importance of local funding for support services. While it is for local authorities to manage funding according to local priorities, we expect them to provide the right services to local communities, especially for vulnerable and older people. There are myriad other questions that I have not answered because I have got only half way through my answers. I thank noble Lords again for their contributions, and I shall write to noble Lords in answer to questions.

House adjourned at 7.11 pm.