Moved by Lord Rosser
89: Clause 55, page 35, line 15, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert—“(a) assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for domestic abuse support in its area by all persons affected by domestic abuse regardless of status, duly taking into account the special situation of women and children, with reference to a national needs assessment,(b) prepare and publish a strategy for the commissioning and provision of sufficient support to meet the needs identified in its area by the assessment referred to in paragraph (a), including sufficient specialist support for all persons affected by domestic abuse regardless of status, and(c) monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy and publish such evaluation in accordance with regulations issued under subsection (8).(1A) In preparing and adopting any strategy under subsection (1)(b), each relevant local authority must take account of any strategy to end violence against women and girls adopted by a Minister or Ministers.(1B) The assessment and strategy referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) must include, but is not limited to, the following—(a) the prevalence of and trends in domestic abuse and other forms of violence including that against women and girls, and the demographic of all persons in the area affected by domestic abuse and other forms of violence including violence against women and girls;(b) the needs for support, protection and safety of those who are affected by domestic abuse in the local population;(c) the nature and extent of the need for and provision of specialist support in respect of those persons affected by domestic abuse with presenting characteristics including sex, gender, race, colour, language, religion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, or such other relevant status;(d) the nature and extent of the need for and provision of specialist support to women who are affected by domestic abuse and their children;(e) the need for and provision of refuge services in sufficient numbers to provide safe accommodation for victims, especially women and their children, regardless of status;(f) how refuge services work in collaboration with a whole housing approach in the area that responds to the specific housing needs of victims of domestic abuse and provides a range of housing options for people experiencing domestic abuse that enables them or, where preferred by the victim, the person causing the abuse, to relocate.(1C) The relevant local authority shall allocate appropriate financial and human resources for the implementation of the strategy under subsection (1)(b), including the arrangement of such specialist support as is set out in the strategy.”Member’s explanatory statementPart of a group of amendments aiming to strengthen the Government’s existing statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in accommodation-based services. These would clarify what factors authorities must consider when assessing need and preparing a strategy, define refuge services and ensure wide consultation.
We strongly welcome the duty placed on local authorities in the Bill to support victims of domestic abuse and their children through providing support in accommodation-based services. This group of 12 amendments aims to strengthen and add necessary detail to this duty. The amendments would clarify what factors authorities must consider when assessing need and preparing a strategy, define refuge services, ensure wide consultation and put a national oversight mechanism on the face of the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Woolley of Woodford, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, whose names also appear on all or one or two of the amendments in the group. I would also like to thank Women’s Aid and Imkaan for the briefings they have provided.
Refuge services are a national network providing holistic specialist support for survivors of domestic abuse in a safe and secure environment. That specialist support is related to, for example, physical and mental health, immigration status, children’s welfare and education, financial needs, including debt, and criminal and family justice.
As it stands, the Bill provides that the duty covers support provided to survivors who reside in “relevant accommodation”. “Relevant accommodation”, however, is not defined in the Bill, which simply says that it is
“accommodation of a description specified by the Secretary of State in regulations.”
Draft statutory guidelines have been published, but the definition leaves scope for temporary or generic forms of accommodation with limited housing-focused support, which would not deliver the safe environment and support abuse survivors need. Guidance supporting the Istanbul convention is clear that temporary accommodation and general forms of homelessness provision are not sufficient to meet the needs of women and children escaping violence and abuse. The definition of “relevant accommodation” should align with definitions established in the UK-wide violence against women and girls service directory, which is part-funded by the Government. The only accommodation-based domestic abuse service in the directory is a “refuge service”, which can encompass a range of accommodation types, including shared houses and self-contained and dispersed accommodation. This definition is achieved in this group by Amendment 93, which would insert a short definition of refuge services in the Bill, making clear that they are provided separately for men and women, within single-sex services, and that the address of a refuge cannot be made publicly available or disclosed.
The Bill also gives no assurance about the safety or quality of the support being provided. The draft statutory guidance lists the types of support that need to be provided in safe accommodation, but does not specify which organisations can deliver this support. Consequently, we could see a very wide range of organisations that have no experience or expertise in supporting survivors being funded by a local authority under the duty in Bill. The definition of support must be strengthened to ensure that that support is specialist, in line with the Istanbul convention, which requires states to provide specialist services to meet the specific needs of victims and children, including specialist refuge provision. Without clear definitions there is a real risk that the duty will encourage some councils to fund generic accommodation-based services which do not offer the required specialism and expertise in relation to the needs of women and children escaping domestic abuse. There is already evidence that this is increasingly happening under arrangements currently applicable. This group of amendments would define “specialist domestic abuse support” as delivered by organisations whose organisational purpose is to support victims and/or children and young people impacted by domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls.
Amendment 89 would strengthen the requirements for what must be included in a strategy for the commissioning and provision of domestic abuse support. While discussing this issue, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has a subsequent amendment to ensure that strategy documents are published and provided in accessible formats—something all too often overlooked but crucial. I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord in what he is seeking.
These amendments would also ensure that a strategy under this part takes note of any ministerial strategy on preventing violence against women and girls. This issue is vital, and we will have the opportunity for a fuller debate on it in a later group, thanks to my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett.
A key issue that has been raised throughout the Bill is the need to ensure support for all victims. A later debate will focus on this need for non-discrimination. The provision of specialist services, such as those for survivors from black and minority ethnic communities, is key to this.
Competitive tendering for service provision has increased in recent years. This has been damaging for specialist refuge services, as procurement processes have favoured larger organisations and contracts above small specialist women’s refuges which are expert in meeting survivors’ needs, including those services run by and for black and minoritised women. This group of amendments requires, among other things, that in undertaking their duty local authorities arrange provision of accommodation for all victims, regardless of their status, as set out in the Istanbul convention.
The Bill requires local authorities to establish local partnership boards to oversee how they deliver their statutory duty. While in some areas effective multi-agency partnership arrangements are well established, in others that is not the case, including the exclusion of specialist services in the planning and delivery of services. These amendments seek, among others things, to make it clear that the purpose of the local partnership boards is to establish an equitable partnership that reflects the needs of those impacted by domestic abuse in the local area and works to deliver quality services that meet victims’ needs.
Refuges are a national network of services which, by necessity, support survivors from outside their local area. Local needs assessments cannot be based on local data alone. Over two-thirds of women resident in a refuge are from a different local authority area. This national network of services cannot be assessed, planned, commissioned or funded on the basis of local need alone. The Government have committed to establishing a ministerial-led national steering group to monitor and evaluate delivery of the new duty on local authorities. Amendment 108 would put such a national oversight mechanism in the Bill. It would establish a national oversight group, to include the domestic abuse commissioner, national organisations representing providers of specialist support for women and girls affected by domestic abuse and violence, and representatives from local government, policing and justice, and health bodies. The requirements placed on this group would include undertaking a national needs assessment for refuge services, including a review of provision for victims with protected characteristics, and ensuring that local authorities and local partnership boards were effectively discharging their duties, including ensuring the sustainable funding of specialist high-quality services which meet the needs of victims and their children.
We cannot have this debate without addressing the issue of funding. Refuges have faced a funding crisis for a decade. Women’s Aid has estimated that nearly £175 million is required annually for a safe and secure national network of refuge services that will meet demand, alongside just under £220 million for wider community-based services, which are the subject of a later debate. The organisation to which I referred earlier, Imkaan, estimates that at least £57 million annually is needed to ensure that existing specialist support services for black and minoritised women are sustainable. In the light of these figures, it is not clear how the Government’s funding of £125 million for the existing statutory duty of local authorities to support accommodation-based services in 2021-22 was calculated or assessed.
Adequate, ring fenced and long-term funding for the provision of specialist refuge services will be essential to underpin the statutory duties set out in the Bill. If the finances are not provided, the objectives of the Bill will not be achieved, as statutory duties will not be properly delivered. The funding provided for these statutory duties must meet the full costs. This group of amendments therefore places duties on the Government both to deliver sufficient funding to local authorities to ensure that the needs identified in the national needs assessment are met and to consult organisations representing providers of specialist services in relation to domestic abuse and violence against women and girls when the Government make regulations and guidance to underpin the duty.
The Bill has raised real hope that it will lead to a transformation both in how as a nation we regard and deal with domestic abuse in all its forms and in the determination we show in seeking to stamp it out and provide full support for all victims of domestic abuse. Significantly reducing domestic abuse in all its forms, providing full support for those affected and changing attitudes and culture will lead to significant societal and financial benefits which should not be underestimated. However, achieving that goal cannot be done on the cheap, and the required provision of specialist refuge services is one key area where the resources must be provided if the Bill is to lead to the transformation that we all want to see delivered. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak in support of Amendments 89, 93, 102, 106, 107 and 108. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I hope that I will not duplicate much of what he has said, but, clearly, we are on the same page.
The amendments would strengthen the statutory duty on local authorities to fund support and safe accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse. The desperate need to improve the funding system for life-saving measures for women refugees cannot be overstated. Every fortnight in England and Wales, three women are killed by a partner or ex-partner, yet in England there is currently a 30% shortfall in relation to the number of refugee bed spaces required by the Istanbul convention.
Fifty-seven per cent of referrals to refugee services were rejected between 2009 and 2020. Nearly one in five of all referrals received were rejected because the refugee centres had no space or capacity to support the women and their children. One-third of specialist refugee services for black, Asian and minority-ethnic women have been decommissioned since 2010, resulting in a 50% reduction in bed space capacity.
Secure funding for refugee services remains a critical priority, and this legal duty could be an important step forward in delivering that, but will it change the funding and commissioning crisis that these refugees currently face? There are serious concerns from the Women’s Aid Federation of England and Imkaan that it will not. Those organisations represent providers of refugee services who deliver far more than a roof over a survivor’s head; they provide holistic, specialist support, including that relating to physical and mental health, immigration status, children’s welfare, education, financial needs, and criminal and family justice, to meet the needs of survivors in a safe and secure environment.
The Istanbul convention makes it clear that such specialist services are best delivered by women’s organisations—by expert staff who have in-depth knowledge of violence against women and girls. They are specialist refugee centres, led by and for black, Asian and minority-ethnic women, and represented by Imkaan. These centres of excellence provide support and safety not only from violence and abuse but from racism, immigration control and other forms of oppression which remain structural and systemic in society.
However, as has been mentioned, those services face systemic inequalities in the current funding landscape. Competitive tendering is now commonplace for accessing local authority funds for refugee services. I know that it has been referred to but it is worth mentioning again that these competitive processes are toxic for specialist refugee services, as they favour large organisations over small. Specialist women’s services for refugees are expert in meeting survivors’ needs but are forced to compete against generic housing providers and housing associations, which do not have the expertise to support survivors but can deliver services at a lower cost. Indeed, they might have entire bid-writing teams who can easily undercut specialist women’s services for refugee contracts.
In particular, Imkaan has documented the long history of underfunding and political marginalisation for refugees led by these BAME groups. It reports significant discrimination and disadvantage in commissioning structures and approaches to funding because their specialism is often unrecognised, misunderstood and devalued. However, the duty provides very little direction or guidance to local authorities on how to tackle these problems, which is why these amendments are needed. They set out what a local authority must consider when assessing the need for safe accommodation, preparing a strategy and delivering funding. They will clarify that, when delivering the statutory duty, local authorities must ensure sufficient specialist support to meet the specific needs of women and children experiencing domestic abuse, including those with protected characteristics and insecure immigration status. These requirements mirror much of the existing language in the Istanbul convention. They will guide local authorities to deliver this duty more effectively and help to ensure that it works with the specialist needs of refugees and survivors.
Turning to Amendment 93, currently the Bill requires local authorities to fund domestic abuse support in relevant accommodation. However, it does not define either of these terms, as has been mentioned. Guidance supporting the Istanbul convention is clear that temporary accommodation—generally, forms of homelessness provision—is not sufficient to meet the needs of women and children escaping violence and abuse. There are serious concerns that without a clear definition of “safe accommodation”, unsafe and unsuitable forms of housing could be funded by this duty.
This is not an abstract fear: women and children escaping abuse are living in unsafe forms of emergency accommodation. Women’s Aid, for example, told me about the experience of a woman who contacted them this week after escaping domestic abuse. She is in her twenties, with a young baby, and was placed in mixed-sex accommodation where she felt unsafe and unsupported. There were people there openly using drugs. Thankfully, she found the support she needed in Women’s Aid for refugees. She said that if she had not been offered a place in the refugee centre, she would have returned home to her abuser—imagine that.
Imkaan and Women’s Aid have highlighted that, over the past year, there has also been a rapid rise in unsafe accommodation providers targeting survivors. Some of these have no experience in domestic abuse and cannot produce even the basic safeguarding and risk-assessment information. I am sure that no one in the House would wish to see public funding spent on unsafe forms of accommodation. I know that the Minister will point me to the draft statutory guidance published for the duty, which includes definitions of safe accommodation. However, I share Women’s Aid’s concern that these definitions do not align with existing definitions in the specialist support sector. More worryingly, they do not even recognise that refugee services are women-only services that have to be provided in a confidential location.
These definitions must be tightened in the Bill and must include refugee services. Separate or single-sex services must be provided, with a confidential address. As I have said, a refugee service is far more than a roof: it is specialist support offering physical and emotional safety—an empowerment for women and children that makes it utterly unique. However, the Bill defines domestic abuse support as:
“support, in relation to domestic abuse, provided to victims of domestic abuse, or their children”.
Again, I am sure the Minister will refer to the guidance but this draft does not define specialist support services and therefore could result in a wide range of organisations with, as I have said, no experience in supporting survivors being commissioned by the local authority.
It is positive to see that local authorities will be required to commission support that meets MHCLG’s quality standards, the Women’s Aid national quality standards or Imkaan’s accredited quality standards, but the MHCLG standards do not make any requirements about the types of organisation which should be funded. This is in contrast to the Istanbul convention, which makes it clear that specialist support is best ensured by women’s organisations which have experienced staff with in-depth knowledge of violence against women. Will the Minister commit to working with Imkaan and Women’s Aid to update these standards to ensure that they require organisations to have specialist expertise? I also respectfully submit that the guidance alone will not be enough. The Government already have a National Statement of Expectations and commissioning guidance, which make it clear that local authorities should fund specialist services. Sadly, this does not stop local authorities and other commissioners funding generic services at the expense of specialists. The Bill is an opportunity to change that, and I urge the Minister to accept that, along with the more robust definitions that are needed.
On Amendment 102, the Bill will require local authorities to establish local partnership boards to oversee how they are delivering the statutory duty. While in some areas, strong multiagency partnership arrangements between specialist women’s services, commissioners and other partners are well established, this is far from universally the case. Again, Imkaan and Women’s Aid have highlighted some extremely poor practices in partnership working, including the exclusion of specialist services, particularly those led by and for black, Asian and minority ethic women. I am sure that this House will agree that the expertise and knowledge of these groups is essential for meeting survivors’ needs. These amendments would guarantee that they have a place on the partnership board and that these voices can be heard, so that partnership works effectively to meet the needs of survivors.
Amendments 106, 107 and 108, on national oversight, propose absolutely vital changes to the statutory duty. As noble Lords will know, the Bill will place significant responsibility on local authorities to make the arrangements for refuge provision, but refuges are a national network of services which by necessity support survivors from outside their local area, as the Minister said. Women escaping to a refuge are often fleeing from their local area in order to be safe from the perpetrator. Women’s Aid makes it clear that two-thirds —68.4%—of women resident in refuges are from a different local authority. Can the Minister please explain how requiring local authorities to do a local needs assessment for safe accommodation will work when the majority of the survivors who need it will not be from the area? I am particularly worried about how a purely local duty will work to sustain services led for communities discriminated against because of their protective characteristics, including black, Asian and minority ethnic women, disabled women and LGBT women. These services face challenges in fully localised funding systems and are often run across different local authorities that meet the needs of survivors across geographical areas. The need for these services may therefore not be identified in local needs assessments at all, but they are a vital national resource.
I refer the Minister to a joint report by the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee in 2017, which concluded:
“It is essential that refuges are able to operate as a national network, unrestrained by admission restrictions imposed by individual local authorities and with appropriate coverage across the country.”
The national network of services simply cannot be assessed, planned, commissioned or funded on the basis of local need alone. I recognise that the Government have committed to establishing a ministerial lead and a national steering group to monitor and evaluate delivery of the duty, and this is made clear in the guidance. These important amendments would establish a national oversight group in the Bill and set out key responsibilities. This would include delivering national needs and assessments for services, including the review of provision for victims with protected characteristics, and would require the Government to deliver adequate funding so that the need is met.
Finally, we come to the funding, which has been mentioned before, but we should go over it again. The Government have committed £125 million to support the duty in 2021-22. Women’s Aid estimates that £393 million annually is required, including £173 million for a national network of refuges. Dedicated funding, or specialist refuges led by black, Asian and ethnic-minority women, is essential. As my noble friend mentioned, we estimate that £57 million is needed for those groups.
At Second Reading, the Government stated that the Women’s Aid estimate includes the cost of all services, including those covered by existing funding. Can the Government clarify that they have estimated the cost of providing unmet need for support in safe accommodation? What guarantees can the Minister give us that, once the funding for the statutory duty is delivered, local authorities will be able to continue funding refuges from their core funding, given the enormous budget constraints they already have?
I think we can agree that funding for the duty must be met; it must meet its forecast. I hope the Minister will consider the important concerns that Imkaan and Women’s Aid have raised about this duty and the challenges involved. This is an important opportunity to ensure that no survivor is turned away from the specialist refuge services they need. Changes are clearly needed to ensure that happens.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 89 to indicate broad, cross-party support for this group, which seeks to ensure that the Government’s statutory duty works effectively for this invaluable network of refuge services.
I welcome Part 4, which we have now moved on to, which is only four pages but a key part of this progressive piece of legislation that is going to drive up standards of provision for this vital service. Can I add a brief footnote to the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Woolley? Like them, I am grateful to Women’s Aid for its input into this group.
The key criticism we have heard so far has been that the Bill does not define either relevant accommodation or domestic abuse support. Looking at the Bill, “relevant accommodation” is going to be
“specified by the Secretary of State in regulations.”
For domestic abuse support, the definition is rather circular:
“‘domestic abuse support’ means support, in relation to domestic abuse”.
The thrust of these amendments is to try and focus on exactly what sort of accommodation and services should be provided under Part 4. Without this clarity, there is a risk that councils will fund generic, and sometimes inappropriate, accommodation-based services. As we have just heard, these do not have the expertise necessary to provide the comprehensive range of services needed for families escaping domestic abuse. That is why proposed new paragraphs (e) and (f) in Amendment 89 refer to “refuge services” rather than just refuges.
There is concern that, as currently drafted—in addition to the risks mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser —the Bill could lead to unsafe forms of accommodation that are not designed to meet survivors’ needs being funded under the duty. The Women’s Aid movement has seen landlords using the exempt provisions of housing benefit to access higher rent levels, and providing accommodation which is frankly unsafe. The amendments seek to provide a tighter definition of relevant accommodation to reduce the risk of abuse.
The definition should clarify that a refuge address should never be publicly available or disclosed. That would resolve the challenges that one of the Women’s Aid members is currently facing, with High Court orders threatening to disclose the address of a refuge. Perhaps my noble friend could respond to that point.
Refuge services are developing into a national network of services, supporting survivors who often need to flee from their local area to be safe from an abuser. The data shows that over two-thirds of women resident in refuges are from a different local authority area. That leads to the point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, about national oversight. Without changes to the statutory duty to improve national oversight, we may be putting too much emphasis on local authorities to provide what should be an effective national service.
Finally, many refuges are also engaged in prevention work in local communities. They host drop-in centres and open-access services for survivors. They have become a hub for the services that the Committee has heard are being provided. Indeed, victims of abuse will first go to an open-access service, such as a helpline, before they access longer-term support such as escaping to a refuge. When they have left the refuge, they may go on to access a range of other support services in the community provided by it: floating support or a resettlement worker to help them move on to the next stage in their life.
At Second Reading, my noble friend heard that there are significant concerns about funding this full range of community-based services; it is clear that, in addition to the duty in the Bill, all services need to be available, accessible and sustainably funded to ensure that survivors can access the support they need, when they need it. I hope that she understands these concerns and will be able to respond to them when she winds up this debate.
My Lords, I will speak in support of the amendments in this group and specifically Amendment 89 to Clause 55, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Woolley of Woodford, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. The clause and amendment relate to the important situation regarding the assessment, preparation and publication of the strategy, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of arrangements for domestic abuse support by local authorities.
I too welcome this excellent piece of legislation. I also welcome the briefings that we received from so many effective bodies in this area, particularly Women’s Aid and Imkaan. I thank them very much indeed. I would support the amended Clause 55. While recognising, as we do, that most abuse—and its most extreme examples—is perpetrated by males, we must spell out in the Bill the many protected characteristics which are important for our national provision. As my noble friend Lord Young has just referred to, there is a great danger that some local authorities will provide services just for their areas. There are two obvious dangers with that. One is that many people will want, and indeed need, to move away from their home area. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Williams will be in the same position as I was as a Minister; I encountered many people receiving refuge services who were out of their area—and very happy to be out of their area.
The second key important matter is the specialist nature of some of the services, as required by the Istanbul convention. We should be providing, on the face of the legislation, for such matters as race, national origin, language, colour, religion, social origin, coming from a national minority, age, health, disability or such other relevant matters as set out in the amendment; I know that my noble friend will want to do that. The two key factors—specialisms and the out-of-district service—are essential and we need to provide for them. This is landmark legislation and is broadly welcomed across the House. I cannot see that anybody could realistically disagree with the list of characteristics in the amendment to Clause 55. These are specialisms which need particular attention and are flagged up in the amendment to require local authorities to make provision and develop a strategy in relation to them. I hope that we are able to do that.
As indicated by successive noble Lords speaking on this area, financial provision is also clearly important; it is key, vital and urgent. Without financial support, this will just not work. I hope that that will be taken care of too. I realise that there is provision within the department for an MHCLG Minister to establish, monitor and evaluate delivery of the duty, but this is insufficient. I do not think it would necessarily be sufficient for the Istanbul convention, but it should not be sufficient for your Lordships’ House. We need it on the face of the Bill.
I do not intend to detain the Committee for long but I want to touch on one other topic, which is quite separate and distinct. It relates—I hope noble Lords will forgive me—to provision for Wales. Obviously, the situation in Wales is somewhat, although not totally, different; devolution arrangements and separate laws have meant that it is different. I wonder how that situation is being provided for. What arrangements are in place for discussions on a continuing basis with the Welsh Government and, indeed, the Welsh Parliament, to ensure that it is provided for as smoothly as possible? I would welcome anything that my noble friend the Minister is able to say in that regard.
My Lords, I welcome these amendments and support very much what has been said by other noble Lords before me. My particular interest is in data, and I am delighted to see in Amendment 89—in proposed new subsection (1B)(c), for instance—a really detailed enumeration of the sort of level of data that we should be collecting. The basis on which this data is collected should be specified nationally, so that it is coherent and comparable and we can really start to understand what is happening and, from that understanding, move continuously to improve matters.
A very good example of what happens when you do not do this has been provided by the recent statistics on sexual abuse. The figures for the UK show that in 2019 there were 2,300 reported cases of children being abused by women in England and Wales, which is about twice what it was four years before. The first question we should ask when faced with a statistic like that is: what is going on? Unfortunately, we have no clue, because the police have stopped collecting data on sex as a characteristic when recording reports of abuse. They now record only self-reported gender. So we do not know whether this is something happening to women that we really ought to be paying attention to—an extraordinary rate of increase to which we ought to be preparing a policy response—or whether it is just a fiction due to the way the police have changed their reporting; in other words, whether this reflects the number of male offenders who are now declaring themselves to be women. Either way, we want to know; we absolutely should know. Apart from anything else, when it comes to the subject of the Bill, there will be trans women in relationships with men who are being abused and need looking after. We need to know how to provide for them properly. We may perhaps need specialist arrangements; we need to know the right level of any such arrangements that we should be providing.
If we do not have detailed statistics on sex and gender—and, in other circumstances, on a whole range of other characteristics—we will not be providing what is needed. So, I really support that part of these amendments, and these amendments in general.
My Lords, I support this amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, as well as other amendments in this group in their names. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I congratulate my noble friend on the comprehensive way in which he set out the large number of issues at stake if these amendments are not included in the Bill. I found it a very effective and moving speech.
Housing associations are in a unique position to help survivors of domestic abuse and have been at the forefront of innovative responses during the pandemic, when it has been so difficult to deliver normal services. They have prioritised domestic abuse survivors in new lettings and transfers and worked with refuges to support move-on as well working to keep survivors in their homes safely. It is a further tragedy of the pandemic that we have seen such a surge in instances of domestic abuse.
One of the most important things that the Bill can do is to ensure that all its provisions are underpinned by secure funding, so that no survivor is turned away from the specialist support that they need and there is fair, national distribution of resources. There must be an acknowledgement of the specific challenges faced by BME survivors and migrant women—this has come up so many times in our debates on the Bill. For example, many housing associations provide English classes and support for skills and employment as well as mental health and well-being support. I particularly thank Women’s Aid and Imkaan, together with Stonewater and other housing association providers of specialist support, for their invaluable briefing on these amendments.
I do not want to repeat the details and statistics already given by many noble Lords about the increasing level of need and the reality of the cuts in funding and the inevitable reduction in services and support that results. These amendments reflect what needs to be done to make the Bill the step change in provision that I know the Minister and, I believe, the Government want to see.
In that spirit, I hope the Minister will heed the call for a number of additions. I highlight the need for a tighter definition of “relevant accommodation”, the need to ensure that the support provided is specialist and sufficient to meet demand and the need to make arrangements for the provision of accommodation for all victims, regardless of their immigration status. I also highlight the need to ensure that local specialist services are adequately represented on partnership boards and that a national oversight group, involving all relevant interests, is recognised in the Bill to ensure robust evaluation of the delivery of these life-saving services.
My organisation, the NHF, wants to work together with government to build models that are cost-effective for local authorities to enable the safe removal of perpetrators of domestic abuse from the home, prevent the homelessness of survivors and enable them to live independent lives. In May 2020, the NHF asked the Government to implement a targeted approach to accommodation provision for rough sleepers and homeless people fleeing domestic abuse. Housing associations stand ready to help local authorities fulfil the new duty to provide support and accommodation for survivors.
Amendment 89 and others in this group seek to ensure that there is provision of a variety of housing options for people experiencing domestic abuse, based on choice. Some will certainly need and want a refuge space, and it is vital that these are funded and come with adequate support services to help survivors achieve better health, well-being, employment and housing options.
I echo my noble friend’s concluding remarks on funding: we need to ensure, together with other provision of supported housing for rough sleepers and older people, an annual £1.6 billion of ring-fenced funding, which is needed to allow local authorities to provide these life- saving services. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the Committee that there have been discussions with Treasury colleagues about a specific ring-fenced investment in supported housing in the upcoming Budget.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Young, my noble friend Lord Woolley and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for their thorough detailing of this set of amendments and for explaining in detail—I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for this—the need to get these amendments accepted by our Government. I will speak generally first, and then I will make specific comments about Amendment 108.
I begin with the general point that the statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse must not neglect the reality of this crime, which is that women are the overwhelming majority of victims and survivors and men are the greater number of perpetrators. It really does not matter whether information is being collected right now; the information exists to substantiate this point.
Like other noble Lords, I do not necessarily have the full confidence that local authorities are always in the best place to define the needs of all those who need them. I hope very much that we will uphold our commitment to the Istanbul convention. I am grateful to the many women who took courage to write to me so powerfully, arguing that this legislation will fail them without the adequate financial support for a comprehensive set of services with sufficiently trained professionals. They should not be sent pillar to post and we should not restrict the provision to refuge-based services.
I believe that all individuals must be assessed to ensure that safe services are provided to the survivors and their children. If they so choose, they should be able to remain in their own homes and receive the same protection and care. Experts in the field have remained cautious that this much-weighted legislation will not ensure that all survivors, including those without recourse to public funds, have adequate safety and the provisions they need to keep themselves and their children safe.
Amendment 108 for a national oversight group is very welcome. To be able to monitor how local authorities function and the delivery of services is a significant safeguard. National oversight can also provide a national framework to assess needs and an overview of refuges and other accommodations, alongside the other facilities nationally and regionally available.
I should urge caution that we do not create another layer of talking shop and bureaucracy. Therefore, a thorough assessment of the current structure of oversight may be required to maximise scrutiny. If anything, national oversight may be a powerful tool, given that a postcode lottery of services is a reality for many in urgent need. It may ensure that all parties to such oversight aid effective compliance, particularly with adherence to public sector equality duty and equality impact assessments for commissioning and procuring services.
A long-term sustainable package of funding may prevent further violence and deaths. The success of this legislation will inevitably be dependent on whether the Government intend this legislation to be backed up with fully-funded services to scrutinise implementation with a national and local oversight mechanism.
My Lords, I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I offer the full support of the Green group for this group of amendments collectively. We have already heard very powerful and important testimonies from all who have spoken, but particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in introducing them and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, in making some powerful points about how BAME communities and other minority communities are affected. I have three or four points to make in general terms. It must be repeated, as all speakers up to now have stressed the importance of specialist support, that simple provision of accommodation will not meet the needs of victims of domestic abuse.
I make a point particularly about funding. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, competitive tendering for these services has often been—and he used an appropriate word—toxic. I do not think there is anything on this in this amendment, and it may be a matter of policy more than law, but the Government should consider moving away from the idea of regular competition as an appropriate way of seeing that these services are funded. We should move closer towards a system of having a good, ideally local, service that meets the needs of a community, with an appropriate check to see that that continues. The assumption should be that that funding continues, rather than seeing the huge waste of resources that are put in again and again into bidding to keep contracts. The risk is that you can lose a local service completely, if it loses just one round of contract bidding.
Another point worth making in this context is on the place of refuges in feminist history. From the early 1970s onwards, they were places where we saw the growth and coalescence of a movement. They continue to be a centre for advocacy and campaigning support for the essential services that domestic abuse victims need. If we lose those specialist services, we also lose a lot of that advocacy and campaigning, as well as a depth of knowledge.
I have a final reflection on how we are talking about increasing statutory provision. The Green Party very much believes in localism and decisions made locally, and referred upwards only when absolutely necessary. But we also need a foundation of rights and standards, which is appropriately provided at the national level. Those standards and that statutory provision is not enough; we now that, increasingly, local government is left with barely enough funds to meet its statutory requirements, let alone to provide the extra services and needs that each local community has. When talking about this, it is crucial that we also focus on ensuring that local communities and local government have the funding that they need to meet these statutory requirements—and not just that but to meet the extra, individual local community needs that each local government area has, to ensure that that we truly deliver what the local community asks for.
My Lords, I do not want to go over ground that has already been expressed by so many noble Lords in this important debate, but I emphasise a concern that noble Lords have. In welcoming the Bill and applauding the Government’s attempts to drive this forward in as consensual a way as possible, it could all fail if the funding is not available to enable local authorities in particular, but other services too, to provide the support that has been identified, in all the work leading up to the Bill and in noble Lords’ debates.
That is what makes the amendment of my noble friend so important: it tries to define the provision that local authorities are responsible for much more closely. I hope that the Government recognise that giving greater assurance to noble Lords that local authorities have the ability to deliver the kinds of services we want will be crucial to their response. This is not just about funding—we know that—but we cannot ignore funding. The evidence that has been put forward by noble Lords about issues with refuge bed spaces is convincing.
As I understand it, 64% of total refuge referrals in England were declined last year. We know from the outstanding work of Women’s Aid in its annual survey of support providers that, for most organisations that provide these essential services, the local authority commission did not cover all or most of the cost of running the service. We should think about this: over the last year, as they have had to cope with real issues in raising funds, increased demands on their services and the uncertainty of local government finance, those lifesaving services have been under huge strain. We took the experience of Refuge as an example. Since 2011, it has experienced cuts to 80% of its services. Funding for refuges has been cut by an average of 50% and, as Refuge says, it is far from alone in that experience. The Covid-19 emergency has put further strain on the specialist sector: obviously many providers have had to transform the way in which they deliver services while meeting additional demand.
We all sign up to the idea of a national network of refuges to grow and meet demand but, without much greater clarity over the commissioning and strategic responsibilities of local government and the funding made available by central government, we must be very concerned about whether the Bill, when enacted, will be implemented properly.
I have one other point to make. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had to say about the importance of data collection. As he said, it seems that the police no longer collect data regarding the sex of victims. I think that is a mistake. It also emphasises the importance of new subsection (1B)(a) in Amendment 89 in relation to the information that a local authority is required to obtain. Obtaining the prevalence of trends in domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls is vital to ensure that the full scale of the problem is known and the proper strategies can be adopted.
Overall, we want to hear tonight the Government recognise that in order to make sure that the Bill— a Bill that we really support—will actually work in practice, they are going to have to tackle the issue of local government responsibilities, direction and funding.
My Lords, this is a very good Bill, as I said earlier, and it is excellent to include the references to local authorities. However, good Bills require to be improved, and consequently I support Amendments 93, 95, 100, 102 and 106.
I remind the Government how important it is to include victims of forced marriage and modern slavery in specialist services strategy guidance for local authorities, for the proposed boards and for other organisations. The particular group that needs special support is young people who are being coerced into a forced marriage. Some of these girls are under 18. They are in a particularly difficult group and may need suitable refuges if local authorities do not take them over sufficiently quickly.
In this group of amendments we have of course been concentrating on women and girls, but we ought to remember that 20% of those who suffer domestic abuse are men. Forced marriage does not only affect girls; it affects young men, some of whom may be gay or transgender, and we should not forget that men have need for refuges and for specialist services.
The next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. We do not seem to have the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with us. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.
My Lords, this has been a thorough and wide-ranging debate. I support all the amendments under consideration in this group. Part of the downside of speaking last is that most of the arguments I was going to make have been made so I will not detain the Committee by repeating him—at least, not wittingly.
This is a welcome set of redefining measures aimed at beefing up the statutory duty the Bill imposes on local authorities to provide accommodation support and to widen the definition of what information should be considered in identifying trends and which groups of individuals should be included. They make the Bill more specific and spell out in an inclusive way who local authorities should be aiming to help. Nobody can accuse the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, of overlooking anyone. However, if we are not careful, we can make assumptions about who our typical victim is. Had my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece been well enough to speak tonight, she would have spelled out the plight of women from BAME communities, 70% of whom are unable to access accommodation-based services and rely specifically on specialist community-based services. I particularly support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in this respect. The little phrase “regardless of status” means that no one should be left out and that all victims are helped and treated according to need, not immigration status or anything else.
The amendments spell out the parameters of the assessment, not just what the local area considers they should be. Amendment 108 refers to a national needs assessment and a national strategy. For the first time, we could get a national picture of provision to see where is performing well and where is not in relation to a national yardstick of needs.
However, accommodation is expensive, so Amendment 89 makes clear that the relevant local authority must make sufficient resources available. The Government need to rethink the financial provision for these services. It is woefully inadequate, as many noble Lords have already pointed out. The quality and variety of accommodation is also important, as is who it is for. The injustice of the victim having to move out is also tackled, depending on the wishes of the victim.
Amendment 89 also requires authorities to publish the outcome of their monitoring and evaluation of the strategy of support provision. Data is so important, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. Otherwise, how are we going to know how individual authorities are doing or whether the service they are providing is meeting the need? We do not know how far the provision of services varies by area and, as things stand, we do not know how they are fulfilling local needs. This amendment would help greatly.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out the purpose of these amendments, which, as he said, seek to strengthen the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill. I welcome the strong support for the provisions in this part, which will place a duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. We all want these provisions to work as effectively as they can in delivering much-needed support. The issue before us is whether the framework provided for in Part 4, which would include the accompanying regulations and statutory guidance, is up to the task. I think it is and I will endeavour to persuade the Committee of that.
I will start with Amendments 89, 93, 95, 97, 98, 99 and 100 to Clause 55. This clause places a duty on each relevant local authority in England to assess the need for domestic abuse support for all victims and their children in relevant accommodation. As my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham said, this will be specified by the Secretary of State in regulations. If I were standing here before your Lordships tonight saying that national Government would assess the needs of local areas, there would have been a bit of an uproar. Local authorities are best placed to assess the particular needs of victims and their children in their local area, and in assessing needs, relevant local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims, including those with protected characteristics as well as victims who may come in from outside the local authority area. That last point is an interesting one because, as was pointed out by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, many victims of domestic abuse will come from outside the local authority area because they will be fleeing their abusers.
My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham also talked about—I do not know in relation to what—the question of refuge addresses never being disclosed. If he has any evidence in that regard, I would really like to know. I have been to see many refuges and, while I have been told their general area, I have never been told the address. This is quite a concerning point, if indeed it turns out to be the case. He and other noble Lords also talked about funding. I agree that funding has to be sustainable and has to be enough. Regarding the £125 million that has gone towards this, MHCLG considered two areas: first, the cost of and need for support in safe accommodation; and, secondly, the administrative cost of delivering new functions. MHCLG engaged with local authorities and service providers to reach this new burden estimate.
Local authorities will then need to prepare and publish a strategy for provision of the support, as identified by an assessment of the needs within their area; give effect to the strategy; and monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. The statutory guidance issued under Clause 58, which we have now published in draft, will set out the Government’s clear expectations and requirements regarding the delivery of the duties. Local authorities should ensure that the strategy clearly sets out a holistic approach to delivering the tailored support required by all victims in safe accommodation in their area. This guidance will be clear that local authorities should give effect to their strategies by meeting the support needs of all victims of domestic abuse and their children, based on a robust local needs assessment.
I share the concern of the noble Lord that some particularly vulnerable victims of domestic abuse face barriers to accessing support. As set out in the Equality Act 2010, local authorities are already subject to a public sector equality duty and must already have due regard to how to reduce disadvantages faced by people with protected characteristics and how to meet their particular needs in all the services they provide. However, to further underline the importance of supporting vulnerable victims, we intend to make it clear through guidance that local authorities should consider all the additional barriers that may prevent victims with relevant protected characteristics accessing support in refuges and other safe accommodation when they need it.Local authorities should set out in their strategy an agreed approach to address those barriers, and will need to take the advice of their local partnership board as they do that, working with partners including tier 2 local authorities in their area, specialist domestic abuse providers, PCCs and health bodies.
The guidance will also make it clear that local authorities should set out the different support needs identified through the local needs assessment, and the current provision of support for victims in the local authority area, highlighting any gaps identified. This includes setting out the identified support needs of children within safe accommodation and how they will be adequately met.
We will recommend in the guidance that local authorities have a clear approach to monitoring and evaluating local delivery against their local strategies, and they will need to undertake full evaluations at least on an annual basis to comply with the reporting requirements in Clause 57. We will also recommend that local authorities should publish their evaluation and monitoring approaches and outcomes. My noble friend Lord Bourne asked about Wales. Part 4 deals with devolved matters, so it is up to the Welsh Government to make the appropriate provisions for Wales.
Amendment 96 relates to consultation. This is already required by Clause 55(4), and the duty to consult applies not only to the initial strategy issued under that clause but to all subsequent iterations of the strategy. We will also make clear in the guidance that local authorities must consult the local partnership board, tier 2 authorities within the area, and such other persons as they consider appropriate, before publishing their strategy and any subsequent revised versions of the strategy.
The draft guidance recommends that local authorities should provide a clear consultation mechanism providing an up-to-date version of the strategy, as well as adequate time and a clear timeframe for organisations to review and feed back. In addition, the guidance is clear that local authorities should set out a clear process that organisations and individuals can use to raise concerns about the local strategy and authorities’ approach in addressing the needs identified.
I recognise that there is a balance to strike between providing local authorities with flexibility to meet particular local needs while ensuring a consistent approach to the provision of support within safe accommodation across the country. I believe the clauses as drafted, supported by regulations and comprehensive statutory guidance for local authorities, will provide that balance.
As I have said, we have recently published the guidance in draft, and in doing so consulted Women’s Aid, Imkaan and Refuge. I appreciate that noble Lords, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, local authorities and others will not yet have had an opportunity to examine it in detail. We would welcome feedback and will consider any suggestions for improving the guidance. Once the Bill is enacted, we will then formally consult on the final form of the guidance, as Clause 58 requires, before promulgating it alongside the coming into force of the provisions in Part 4.
I appreciate the intention behind Amendment 102, but I have concerns that we risk building in far too much rigidity and bureaucracy into the composition of the local partnership board and unduly constraining the flexibility that local authorities have to appoint and run their local boards in a way that meets their particular needs.
Clause 56(2) sets out the minimum required members of the board. In addition to a representative from the relevant local authority, the board membership must include at least one person representing the interests of each of the following: tier 2 local authorities in the relevant local authority area; victims of domestic abuse; children of domestic abuse victims; charities and other voluntary organisations that work with victims of domestic abuse in the area; persons who provide or have functions relating to healthcare services in the area; and policing and criminal justice agencies in the area. That list is the minimum requirement, but local authorities will have the freedom to invite on to the board additional members, such as those the noble Lord has suggested in his amendment—accepting that there is considerable common ground between the list in Clause 56(2) and that in Amendment 102.
We think that Clause 56 as drafted adopts the right approach, specifying the minimum required members of the board to ensure the right expertise, but providing local authorities with flexibility to best meet local circumstances, including if appropriate by setting up reference groups to support the board. Relevant local authorities must have flexibility to decide whether an existing board, expanded or reconstituted, can fulfil these requirements, or whether to create a new dedicated board in order to fulfil this duty.
I fully recognise the very important role played by charities and other voluntary organisations that support domestic abuse victims and their children. They have a great deal of knowledge and expertise built up over many years, and that is why we have included in the Bill representation from those bodies in the minimum required members of the board. We will set out in the statutory guidance that boards should ensure that the views of specialist domestic abuse organisations that provide dedicated support to victims with protected characteristics and unique or complex needs are heard. However, as every area is different it is appropriate that local authorities retain the flexibility to decide what that should look like in their area. Adding more requirements to the Bill risks creating unwieldy boards and unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for local authorities, while also reducing their flexibility to set up local partnership boards in the way that works best locally.
Amendments 106 and 107 relate to Clause 58, which places a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities in England relating to the exercise of their functions under Part 4. Noble Lords wish to ensure that Parliament can scrutinise the guidance. As I have indicated, we have already published a draft of the statutory guidance on the Domestic Abuse Bill website for noble Lords and others to scrutinise. We are happy to hear views on it. It also makes it clear that local authorities should consider relevant national guidance, including the VAWG National Statement of Expectations, as they fulfil the duties in Part 4. I appreciate the intention behind the amendment, but subsection (4) already places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult with the domestic abuse commissioner, local authorities and other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate before issuing or revising such guidance, except where the proposed revisions are insubstantial.
I reassure other noble Lords that we intend to consult widely, and the Government will formally consult on the statutory guidance once the Bill receives Royal Assent. However, in common with many other provisions in legislation providing for statutory guidance, we do not believe it is necessary to include the formal provision for parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill sets out the scope of the duties on tier 1 local authorities. The purpose of the guidance is to provide practical advice to local authorities in respect of the implementation of this duty. In examining the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not take issue with the approach taken in Clause 58.
Finally, on Amendment 108, I agree with the noble Lord that national oversight is important. The Government will establish a ministerial-led national expert steering group, of which the domestic abuse commissioner will be a member, to monitor and evaluate delivery of the new duties. We will develop and publish terms of reference to make clear the membership, role and remit of the group to ensure that the right level of knowledge and expertise is in place. The group will review provision of domestic abuse support in safe accommodation for all victims, including those with protected characteristics, and services that serve a national rather than local need to ensure the consistent service that victims and the Government expect. It will also consider whether monitoring information suggests that any areas require further support to implement the statutory duty effectively. The diverse expertise of the group membership will support the chair to address areas requiring additional support, including advising Ministers whether changes are needed to the statutory guidance. The group will also publish an annual report summarising progress across the country, sharing best practice, and setting service standards.
Now that I have explained the Government’s intentions regarding the implementation of the new duties in Part 4, I hope noble Lords will agree that there is little between us in practice. Many of the issues raised will be addressed through the statutory guidance and we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that there needs to be effective national oversight of these new arrangements. Our national expert steering group will provide that. I hope that, with those words, he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I should be very grateful if the Minister would provide details of the information that the Government anticipate will be collected by local authorities, as illustrated in some of the provisions proposed in Amendment 89. I would be very happy for her to do that by letter but I should very much appreciate having that before Report.
First, I thank the Minister for her very full reply. I also thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate.
I suppose that, in summary, the issues we have been talking about have related to definitions—for example, of “relevant accommodation” and “specialist domestic abuse support”—and to non-discrimination against, for example, specialist refuge services and the need to support all victims, not least those with protected characteristics. There is then the issue of refuges being a national network of services and not just being about local needs and what local authorities are doing. There is also the issue of resource, including funding. The point was made very powerfully by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath that we will not achieve very much with the Bill if the necessary money is not provided to make sure that the Bill’s intentions can be delivered properly and in full.
I rather got the impression from the Government’s reply that, basically, none of the amendments have any merit with regard to being put into the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister said that the Government agree with the thrust of a number of them, but what slightly concerned me was that one or two of the points made in the debate, and I think that I was among those who made them, indicated that there is a feeling that the guidance that has been issued so far—for example, on definitions—does not exactly deliver. The reasons why we felt that were set out in some detail, but I do not think that we have had a response to that point this evening.
If I did not misunderstand the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, I think she said that there would be consultation on the statutory guidance once the Bill got Royal Assent. Many people would like to see some discussion on the guidance at a point when some changes can be made, before the Bill gets Royal Assent. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to have some discussions about this group of amendments before Report, perhaps indicating what the Government’s intentions are in respect of the statutory guidance that has been issued—whether they see any areas for further change and amplification of what is in there, in line with some of the comments made in this evening’s debate.
I will obviously leave things at that. I have a feeling that we will return to these amendments on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 89 withdrawn.