My Lords, in January, the Government published their landmark domestic abuse Bill in draft form and a package of non-legislative measures to tackle this issue. These include commitments to fund a range of specialist domestic abuse services. Since 2014 my department will have invested £55.5 million in accommodation-based services to support victims of domestic abuse, including refuges. My department is also conducting a review of how these services are commissioned and funded across England.
Although I welcome the draft domestic abuse Bill, I share the concern of charities, local authorities and the Home Affairs Select Committee that without secure, long-term and sustainable funding of refuges and specialist services, the desired outcomes cannot be adequately met. Many victims of domestic violence also have complex needs relating, for example, to drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues. Specialist services must also be made available to underpin the strategy. How will the Government ensure that these providers are adequately funded?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness and her interest in this area, which I know is considerable. On specialist services, she will be aware that Women’s Aid has said that a good job is being done, but that is not to say that more could not be done. Ensuring that we fund adequate bed space is an issue. She will be aware that we are reviewing how that is provided to ensure a balance between accommodation-based services and provision for those who may wish to stay at home, of whom there are some.
My Lords, the briefing I have been given suggests that the situation is rather less positive. It states that services of particular national importance such as those for BME women or disabled women have felt the impact of funding cuts most acutely. Given that, as my noble friend has asked, what will the Government do to ensure that these services, which are absolutely vital to the welcome domestic abuse strategy, are adequately and sustainably funded?
My Lords, I pay tribute again to the noble Baroness, who I know has long taken an interest in this area; indeed, she has helped with legislation recently. She cites disabled victims of domestic abuse, and money is going in to provide a helpline. However, she is absolutely right—we need to ensure that adequate resources are provided. As the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, indicated, a broad range of government departments are involved and hopefully, we can bring all that together during the passage of the Bill to ensure adequate focus and, indeed, adequate resources.
My Lords, I think it must be clear to everyone that the local authority model of funding services for victims of domestic abuse is not working. By the Government’s own admission, this is a £66 billion problem, and that funding is provided by financially hard-pressed councils that have been subject to 40% budget cuts since 2010. Organisations such as Refuge and Women’s Aid have a hand-to-mouth existence at best. This is not the way to serve abused women and their children. Will the Government consider introducing a sustainable funding model as part of the domestic abuse Bill?
My Lords, first of all I pay tribute to the people who work in this area. This Friday is International Women’s Day, and it is important that we acknowledge the great work done across the sector. I have had the opportunity of visiting a lot of local authority provision, and it is very good. The noble Baroness is right, in that it is important that we take care of specialist services and take account of the fact that many victims will not want to have care in their immediate area but to escape it. That is why we are having this review, which will inform the way we provide the service in future. I share with the noble Baroness a desire to look at this in the round—perhaps during the passage of the legislation, which is about to go through its draft Bill stage—to make sure it is properly resourced.
My Lords, as the Minister may be aware, in recent years the reported incidence of all types of domestic abuse has increased by over 90% for people aged over 65, compared with 60% for those aged under 65. Can the Minister reassure me that elder abuse will also be tackled, along the lines of the programme run by the Metropolitan Police on the abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults in London?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the particular issues that apply to elderly victims. Again, we are funding a helpline, but she is right to focus attention on this issue. The Bill, which is now going through its draft stages, will be the opportunity to broaden the scope of the domestic abuse covered. As she will know, for example, coercive control is in the draft Bill. There is evidence that people are more readily reporting domestic abuse, which is one reason for the increased numbers the noble Baroness refers to. Nevertheless, she is absolutely right that, in the round, we have to make sure this is properly resourced.
Can my noble friend pay particular attention to women who live in very rural, isolated parts of this country? Having represented 600 square miles of rural Devon, I know that women who live in farmhouses isolated from other buildings often find it difficult even to leave the property, let alone receive a visitor, without it being noticed. They often suffer without knowing where they can turn or having access to a wider community. Interestingly, the annual day on which they were allowed to go to the local country fair was the one opportunity some of them had to speak to somebody about the problem at home.
My Lords, my noble friend highlights a very real problem and in doing so, indicates just how broad this issue is. As we have heard around the Chamber, there are many different instances and different victims of domestic abuse, indicating the need to really grapple with this issue. We should all welcome the opportunity the Bill gives to look at it in the round. My noble friend is absolutely right about the needs of victims in rural areas.
My Lords, domestic abuse is an appalling, disgusting crime committed behind closed doors. I have raised before the issue of some GPs charging up to £175 for a letter confirming that a victim has been assaulted, so that they can get access to other services. Can the Minister update the House on the progress that has been made in banning this outrageous practice?
My Lords, I recall the noble Lord rightly raising this issue. The new contract is being revised and considered, and is part of that discussion. I do not have any progress to report at the moment but as soon as I do, I will be happy to write to the noble Lord, if I may, and share that information with the House.
My Lords, I welcome all that the Government are trying to do to ensure that organisations working in the domestic abuse arena are funded well. Does the Minister accept that organisations such as Women’s Aid can only function well and provide the fullest of services if all the surrounding organisations are available to support women once they leave or before they leave? Will the Government consider ring fencing the funding for domestic violence with local authorities?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the importance of resources and the need to ensure that we properly fund our partners such as Women’s Aid, Imkaan and Refuge, which do excellent work. We will have the opportunity to look at this issue as the Bill proceeds. The noble Baroness makes a valuable point.