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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for securing this debate and for her continuing efforts to improve outcomes for victims of domestic abuse. I also pay tribute to the way she has championed the cause of victims. I am delighted that her excellent work will be carried on by Dame Vera Baird, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, said, has also been a champion for victims for a number of years.
Domestic violence, as we have heard from everybody, is something that should not be tolerated, because its consequences are dire. It affects all communities, walks of life and ages and, sadly, is very common in our society, as has been stated by a number of contributors to this debate. I welcome the Bill and some elements within it but, in my few remarks, will focus on older people who suffer from domestic abuse.
Age UK has raised a serious concern over the lack of information on older people who suffer from domestic abuse. Before 2017, information was collected up to the age of 59. In 2017, the age limit was extended to 74 for the Crime Survey for England and Wales. This means that older people are hidden in this issue. Perpetrators do not have a cut-off point when their behaviour ceases to be abusive towards a victim. Data needs to be collected beyond age 74. As people live longer, there is a greater need for good, comprehensive data on which to base our policies, legislation and targeted help for victims. Older victims are often likely to rely on the perpetrators of abuse for their care and needs. They are, therefore, less likely to report abuse or even be physically able to report mistreatment. As public services become increasingly digitalised, this large group of vulnerable people risks being left behind and unprotected. If the person is ill, different agencies may already be involved in supporting their needs. It is self-evident that a multiagency approach is needed to address safeguarding issues.
Emphasis on multiagency and partnership working needs to be enshrined in legislation to ensure effective support for victims. The elderly can even be carers themselves, often less able to gain access to help and recover from the trauma of abuse, especially when it is sustained abuse. The elderly in minority communities may suffer disproportionately, as there are often closer ties and the victim is perhaps more intimidated and afraid of reporting abuse for fear of stigma, or language barriers may prevent them from speaking out or knowing where to find help.
We may be failing a large part of our society when we do not include figures for anyone above 74 years of age in the information gathering. There is also a need for better understanding of the abuse suffered by elderly people, as there is a need for better resources. It is disturbing to think that the elderly and vulnerable who are subject to physical violence are not in the figures we currently collect. It has been noted how huge the costs are to deal with this crime, with many agencies and public bodies picking up the pieces. If we do not collect the right data and make better provision for multiagency working, we will not be able to make any reductions in the number of incidents, assist victims adequately, stop abuse from happening or reduce costs.
While the issue of abuse in care homes does not come under the remit of this Bill, perhaps it would be helpful to look at both issues together to see where our systems and procedures are failing the elderly at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives. Issues around domestic abuse of the elderly can often materialise at the point of leaving hospital. If adequate multiagency care is in place, there is less likelihood of the victim having to return to the perpetrator. We need proper and better scrutiny of how domestic abuse is occurring for people beyond the age of 74, and what needs to be done to help victims, including hospital and care support.
It is encouraging that local authorities will be required to work together with neighbouring councils to assist local people, including specialist support for BAME victims, but will the new,
“legal duty placed on local authorities to deliver support to survivors of domestic abuse in accommodation-based services”,
include reference to the special requirements of older people, especially those from BAME communities? Can the Minister say whether the draft domestic abuse Bill will include specific reference to the elderly, including multiagency safeguarding policies with proper sustainable funding?