Amendment 101

Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 1st February 2021.

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Baroness Burt of Solihull:

Moved by Baroness Burt of Solihull

101: After Clause 55, insert the following new Clause—“Local Welfare Provision schemes(1) Every local authority in England must deliver a Local Welfare Provision scheme which provides financial assistance to victims of domestic abuse.(2) The Secretary of State must issue guidance on the nature and scope of Local Welfare Provision schemes and review this twice each year in consultation with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and other such individuals and agencies as the Secretary of State deems appropriate.(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must provide local authorities with additional funding designated for Local Welfare Provision, to increase per year with inflation.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would allow victims of domestic abuse to access a local welfare assistance scheme in any locality across England.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment 101 is the first in a group of amendments concerned with ensuring that local authorities can help local victims of domestic abuse and their children, and other victims who flee into the area. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for supporting this amendment.

Amendment 101 talks specifically about emergency financial support to victims while Amendments 106 and 107, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell, and Amendment 176, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, deal with a wider range of provision and co-operation between service providers. I support those amendments, but in the interests of brevity I will leave it to those noble Lords to introduce them.

The point of Amendment 101 is to deal with the issue of women and children particularly who may live or arrive in a local authority area, perhaps just in the clothes that they stand up in. In the Bill the Government recognise the concept of economic abuse, which is a very welcome step. The amendment looks at how to tackle economic abuse when it is used by the perpetrator as an instrument of coercive control—for example, when a woman is deprived of funds so she cannot flee with her children. Local welfare schemes can offer welfare assistance in such emergencies but they vary in extent and quality, from holistic wraparound support systems to underfunded, underused schemes that often get forgotten. Women’s Aid research found that one-third of survivors leaving an abusive partner had to take out credit to do so. Smallwood Trust estimates that 70% of its applications for funds are received from women who are fleeing, or have fled, domestic abuse.

Emergency funding used to be provided by the Department for Work and Pensions in the form of the discretionary social fund, with community care grants often used to help survivors to set up and start again. However, since the responsibility for paying these grants has shifted to hard-pressed local authorities, whose income has been slashed by 60% over the last eight years, and any statutory obligation has ended, the existence of any funding help at all has become a postcode lottery. Since central government devolved the responsibility for payment to local authorities in 2013, the number of people receiving crisis support has plunged by 75%.

This amendment is supported by the crisis and destitution sector, including the Children’s Society and the Trussell Trust, as well as financial sector experts such as the Lloyds Bank Foundation, the Smallwood Trust, and Surviving Economic Abuse. By enabling this new clause to form part of the Bill, the Government would be holding out a financial lifeline to survivors so that they can afford to escape to safety with their children. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee) 8:45 pm, 1st February 2021

My Lords, I am very happy to have put my name to this amendment. I support entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has just said, so I will not weary the House at this time by repeating any of it.

Local welfare provision schemes are vital to the ability of the Domestic Abuse Bill to offer what is needed in local authority areas, particularly in emergency situations, but also more broadly. It is very important that local authorities have sufficient funding. Again and again during debates on the Bill we have listened to those who have said, quite rightly, that the Bill is a good Bill but, unless it has the money, it will not work. Again and again we get very good legislation, but it does not get implemented. The main reason for the failure to implement good legislation is the lack of funding. We absolutely must not find ourselves doing that with this very good Bill. I would only add to it to please, please include welfare provision for victims of domestic abuse and those who suffer from forced marriage or modern slavery.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to Amendment 101, which in some ways follows on from my group of amendments on social security, debated last Wednesday.

If we had a decent social security system that provided genuine security to survivors of domestic abuse, including economic abuse, and still had a national emergency scheme like the Social Fund, we might not need local welfare assistance schemes. As it is, such schemes, which constitute the final safety net—leaving aside charitable support—are in a parlous state, despite the welcome injection of cash to help cope with the pandemic.

When local welfare assistance schemes were introduced to replace the national Social Fund, the Government refused to make them compulsory or to ring-fence the money allocated, despite your Lordships’ best efforts. It is no surprise, therefore, that when local authorities are strapped for cash because of years of cuts, research by the Children’s Society last year found that one in seven local authorities does not even run a scheme any more. It found that, of 121 authorities that provided spending data, about three-quarters spent less than half their allocated budget on local welfare assistance schemes. That budget has itself been cut, so that overall, it stands at less than half the money that was allocated to the Social Fund it replaced.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has pointed out, the lack of any regulation has given rise to our old friend the postcode lottery, which is particularly damaging to domestic abuse survivors who might find themselves excluded by local connection criteria if they have moved local authorities to escape their abuser. A woman might find herself excluded because she is subject to the “no recourse to public funds” rule. It is essential that any guidance issued under this amendment, should it eventually pass, ensures that these groups are covered.

More generally, domestic abuse survivors need the security of knowing that they can get appropriate help from local authorities and not just help in kind which may well not be appropriate. It is not good enough that we have to rely on a charity to provide basic information on state local welfare assistance schemes because central government have taken the Pontius Pilate approach and washed their hands of all responsibility for the schemes, ignoring the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in a previous Parliament.

Paul Maynard MP on the Government Back Benches is leading a cross-party call tomorrow in the Commons for a review of local welfare assistance schemes, supported by among others former Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith. Mr Maynard stated:

“We need to ensure we learn the lessons of the pandemic to embed a better provision of emergency support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

This amendment would at least require central government to exercise some responsibility towards this particularly vulnerable group of people and it therefore deserves support.

I also want to speak briefly in support of Amendment 176, leaving it to the sponsors of the amendment to make the case more fully. I am sure no one would dispute the importance of specialised domestic abuse provision for a range of minority groups, including particular provision by and for domestic abuse victims and survivors. It is just such provision which has been particularly vulnerable to funding cuts and changes in commissioning practises in recent years, as was discussed earlier. That is sufficient reason for supporting this amendment, but it would also go some way to redress the balance, following the welcome introduction in the Bill of a duty on local authorities to assess the need for accommodation-based services by ensuring the duty in this new clause covers community-based services. As important as accommodation-based services are—they are very important—the Justice Secretary noted at Second Reading debate in the House of Commons that 70% of domestic abuse victims never set foot in a refuge. Many of them will seek support from community-based services.

The Government say they need more evidence about the need for community-based services and that nothing can be done until the domestic abuse commissioner designate has completed her investigation. However, the domestic abuse commissioner herself and organisations on the ground insist there is ample evidence to make legislative provision now. What further evidence do the Government need?

In Committee in the Commons, the Minister assured MPs that

“the Government are committed to addressing”

Whatever the domestic abuse commissioner’s findings are,

“that the commissioner will publish her report under clause 8”,

and the Government are

“required to respond to it within 56 days.” ”—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 11/6/20; col. 249.]

That is all well and good, but this Bill will be on the statue book by then. The chances of another Domestic Abuse Bill coming along in the near future must be slim—just look at how long it has taken us to get to this point on this Bill. I hope the Government will listen to the experts, the domestic abuse commissioner designate and organisations on the ground and extend the duty on local authorities to assess the need for community-based services and accept this amendment as a way of doing so.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 176 and 177, in my name, and I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, for their support. Amendment 176 is broad, and, to try to help the House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby will speak to non-discrimination and the need for specialist services; the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will speak on community-based services and how they support victims and provide perpetrator programmes; and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, will speak to the unintended consequences that the Bill risks having.

As I said last week, I am delighted that it is my Government who are putting forward this Bill, which has my strong support. I thank Barnardo’s and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, among others, for their help and advice.

At the outset, I welcome the announcement today of £40 million funding for community-based sexual violence and domestic abuse services. The Government have acknowledged the effect that the pandemic has had. This welcome government support only strengthens my argument that community-based services need long-term and sustainable funding. I hope the Government can solidify their good intentions by announcing that they will place community-based services on the same statutory footing as accommodation-based services.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, was right just now. On 16 June last year, the domestic abuse commissioner designate wrote to the Domestic Abuse Bill Public Bill Committee in the other place to follow up on her oral evidence to it. I am happy to quote from her letter:

“As I said in my oral evidence, I strongly welcome the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s proposal to require Local Authorities to provide accommodation-based services, but it must go further. In order to address the breadth of domestic abuse services, the statutory duty must encompass those community-based services that are accessed by the majority of victims, survivors and their children, and must also include quality provision for perpetrators. I have very real concerns about Local Authorities redistributing their funding simply to meet the statutory duty, and therefore deprioritising those critical community-based services that can intervene earlier and prevent a survivor from being forced to flee to a refuge. There is already ample evidence to support this, and while my mapping work may well add to this evidence base, it is wholly unnecessary for Parliament to wait for it to complete before considering this issue.”

This is very clear. The commissioner designate acknowledges that the exercise will provide useful analysis of spending by local authorities on community-based services, but, crucially, she says that Parliament does not need to wait in legislating. She said this in June, and she has not changed her mind. This governmental concern about waiting is not shared by the commissioner and so many others, and I ask my noble friend the Minister to look at this again.

The other main concern has been the need to consult other public authorities. The new clause in Amendment 176 is structured so that it would improve service provision with immediate effect, with public bodies able to take into account relevant circumstances in deciding what constitutes “reasonable steps” and sufficiency. Taking new information into account, the nature of what constitutes “reasonable steps” and sufficiency will change accordingly as and when the outcome of any consultation or mapping exercise becomes available.

Many agencies are needed to tackle domestic abuse: among them are the police, housing, children’s services and the NHS. A multiagency approach is critical to ensuring that victims of domestic abuse are able to live and rebuild their lives free of abuse. The amendment brings these agencies together in a holistic approach.

The path to tackling domestic abuse is ensuring that all victims, adults or children, are able to access the support they require to recover from the trauma that they have experienced. For some victims, fleeing their home and seeking refuge in safe accommodation —a truly traumatic event in itself—may be their only option. Of course, this is no easy decision to arrive at: they may move miles away from their support networks and abandon their possessions and, sometimes, livelihoods, and their children may be taken out of their school—all for the pursuit of safety, while the perpetrator remains in the comfort of their own home.

For many victims, leaving home is just not an option: 70% of domestic abuse victims never set foot in safe accommodation, and it is clear that victims who are disabled, elderly, BAME or LGBTQ all face additional barriers to accessing safe accommodation—not to mention the vast number of child victims who are trapped. This is why I urge the Government to be bold and ensure that the Bill will help as many people in need as possible.

As I said at Second Reading, I am concerned that community-based services will become the poor relation. People will suffer; children will suffer. They will not be educated to know what is and what is not a healthy relationship. My amendments are an effort to find a way of ensuring that this becomes a landmark Bill that includes community-based services in a statutory duty. Children are at risk and I am endeavouring to ensure that they are at the heart of the Bill. The Government took an incredibly important step by recognising children under the age of 18 as victims of domestic abuse. However, they also need to receive support to ensure that the cycle of domestic abuse can be broken.

As it stands, the Bill will not ensure support for all children. Research from Action for Children suggests that there is significant variability in the level of provision for children and young people impacted by domestic abuse, both between and within local authorities in England and Wales. Children face barriers to accessing support in two-thirds of the local authorities included in the study, and there were no specialist support services at all for children in more than 10% of those local authorities. The Children’s Society found that only 39% of local authorities were providing a specialist support service for under-16s experiencing abuse in their own relationships, with 26 local authorities providing no specialist support for this age group.

Where support exists, it can and does change lives. Access to meaningful support is important for children’s long-term recovery. My fear is that, by excluding community-based services, we are in danger of creating a two-tier system of support which could result in victims having only one option left if they need support: that is, to place themselves at great risk by fleeing home. It could also result in diverting funding away from community-based services to ensure that the new duty on local authorities is fulfilled.

To truly tackle domestic abuse, we must be bold. We need to take a holistic, whole-family approach, with targeted interventions; to support adult victims to rebuild their lives; to support children experiencing domestic abuse; and to ensure that perpetrators have access to quality programmes to prevent offending and reoffending. This holistic approach is working in Norfolk and west Sussex. Barnardo’s Opening Closed Doors programme, funded by the Home Office, is working well in five local authorities in south-east Wales. By putting accommodation and community-based services on the same statutory footing, and placing a duty on the key public agencies which commission domestic abuse services, including local authorities, police and crime commissioners, and health, we can ensure that a holistic approach is available throughout the country.

The new clause proposed by Amendment 177 will ensure that the duty works in harmony with Welsh legislation. In Wales, health boards and local authorities are devolved. The new clause will require police and crime commissioners in Wales, who are not devolved, to take reasonable steps to comply with co-operation requests from Welsh local authorities or health boards on domestic abuse service provision. This will ensure co-operation in Wales between the key bodies with responsibility for such provision and aims to improve the provision of joined-up holistic services, to ensure a level of equivalence with the changes proposed by Amendment 176.

Amendments 176 and 177 are not only supported across this House; they are supported by the designate domestic abuse commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, the Children’s Commissioner, a range of police and crime commissioners, the British Association of Social Workers, and many organisations supporting victims and working with perpetrators. I reiterate that we have waited for this vital piece of legislation and I appeal to my noble friend the Minister: let us be bold and help as many people who need support as we can.

Photo of The Bishop of Derby The Bishop of Derby Bishop 9:00 pm, 1st February 2021

My Lords, I add my voice to those who have already welcomed this Bill and thank the Minister for the Government’s responses so far. I support all the amendments in this group but address my comments to Amendment 176, to which I was pleased to add my name. I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and commend his clear and passionate introduction to this amendment.

Although this Bill is welcome and long overdue, its success as legislation must ultimately be measured in how far it improves on current outcomes in supporting survivors of abuse. To that end, Amendment 176 seeks to strengthen the Bill to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse can equally access the protection and support measures they require.

I too support the Government’s good intentions in including a statutory duty to provide accommodation-based support and appreciated the earlier debate on that provision. However, I fear an unintended consequence: in placing the focus on that support, we risk undermining the funding and provision of specialist community-based services, notably including for many children who are victims of domestic abuse.

Community-based specialist services allow people to remain in their homes and retain the local, family and faith support networks that are often essential to recovery and resilience. Where we can provide essential support without survivors being forced to leave their homes unnecessarily, surely it is highly desirable to do so. There are already too few of these community-based services, often poorly and precariously funded, and it would be a bitter irony if this Bill were to further undermine this situation, to the detriment of a great many of the most vulnerable survivors. I highlight in particular those issues around children and migrant families as examples.

I restrict my comments to English provision, as I have received no request to speak on this amendment from my colleagues in the Church in Wales. It is a great privilege for me to serve as vice-chair of the Church of England Children’s Society and to know of the crucial work done by specialist children’s services, which has been referred to already in the debate.

Keeping children in their homes and schools is so important, so I echo the appreciation of work done already in this Bill, recognising that children can be victims of domestic violence in their own right. We cannot allow that work to be undermined by the services on which those children rely becoming in any way deprioritised by local authorities redistributing limited funding to meet a statutory duty on accommodation-based services.

This situation becomes particularly acute when it comes to migrant women and their families. Migrant women are unable to stay in much refuge accommodation due to its no recourse to public funds restriction. Only 5% of refuge spaces listed last year were available to migrant women, in specialised black and minority-ethnic refuges. Moreover, such specialist refuge provision for black and minority-ethnic women is very limited across England. It is mainly concentrated in England and is oversubscribed and precariously funded.

Of course, there are other amendments that focus on safe reporting, NRPF and leave to remain for migrant women—I appreciate listening to those debates—but this amendment is separate from those issues, for it focuses on a duty on local authorities, police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to take reasonable steps to ensure sufficient provision for all survivors through community and specialist services, as well as accommodation-based ones.

I started by saying that the success of this legislation must ultimately be measured by how far it improves current outcomes in supporting survivors of abuse. It would be a tragedy if we were to pass this legislation, only for community-based services thereafter to be further restricted in their provision of this necessary support. I therefore hope that the Minister can provide us with assurances that these services can be supported as this amendment proposes. If the Minister is unable to give such assurances now, I hope that ahead of Report there will be engagement and conversation with us on these important details concerning community- based provision.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, Amendment 176, to which my name is attached, inserts a new clause that requires local authorities, police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to take reasonable steps to ensure sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services in their local areas in both the community and refuges. This must include sufficient provision of services for children and young people, survivors with protected characteristics and migrant survivors as well as perpetrator programmes. The duty on local authorities under this amendment would improve service provision with immediate effect. Relevant public bodies would take relevant circumstances into account in deciding what constituted reasonable steps and sufficiency. As and when the outcome of any consultation, mapping exercise or guidance from the Secretary of State becomes available, the nature of what constitutes reasonable steps and sufficiency can change accordingly. As has been said, the domestic abuse commissioner-designate is undertaking a mapping exercise, but as the noble Lord, Lord Polak, has pointed out, she supports the new clause. She has said that she does not think that the mapping exercise needs to take place before the duty in the new clause, if added to the Bill, comes into force.

In speaking to Amendment 176, I want to talk in particular about adult victims and perpetrators in the context of the provision of community-based services. As we know, the majority of survivors of domestic abuse—some 70%—access support in community settings. The duty on local authorities in the Bill in respect of accommodation-based services will be of little statutory benefit to them, hence this amendment. In the last year, 65,000 adult victims, and I think about 85,000 child victims, at the highest risk of serious harm or murder received support through such community-based services. Community-based services are crucial because no one, if they can avoid it, wants to leave their home and their possessions and uproot their children from school—to effectively go into hiding—as a result of domestic abuse. Many would think it should be the perpetrator who should be uprooted. There is a danger that without the emphasis in this Bill being on the provision of community-based services as well as accommodation-based services, the latter will become the default option for adult and child victims, because the statutory provision—the duty on local authorities in respect of accommodation-based services—risks encouraging local authorities with limited resources to divert vital funds away from services provided in the community, such as advocacy, independent domestic violence advisers, outreach services and dedicated children’s services, to those services for which there is a statutory duty.

Currently, community service provision for even those victims at the highest level of risk of serious harm or murder is lacking, with 300 more domestic violence advisers still required as a minimum to help current victims to be safe. The availability of outreach workers for victims at lower risk levels is patchy across the country.

Support in accommodation is also much more expensive per service user than community-based support. Estimates suggest that each use of an accommodation-based service costs around £3,500, whereas community-based services cost an estimated maximum of just under £800 per user.

Estimates by the organisation SafeLives highlight the significant gap between what the Government have committed to combatting violence against women—a spend of some £100 million over four years—and their own calculation that £1 billion in total is required to fund the necessary provision just for adult victims of abuse.

With 2.4 million people experiencing domestic abuse every year, at considerable cost according to the Home Office’s own estimates, putting the required and necessary human and financial resources into combatting domestic abuse would recognise the significant impact that domestic abuse has not only on individuals but on the state, which then has to address all the local and nationwide issues that follow on from domestic abuse. Hence the importance of community-based services.

Last year the Government pledged £10 million for perpetrator programmes. However, very few areas commission perpetrator programmes. Less than 1% of perpetrators receive an intervention. Responses to freedom of information requests from Barnardo’s to English local authorities showed that levels of provision are highly variable. Some local authorities are providing rehabilitation services at a rate of 24.6 perpetrators per 10,000 of population. Others are providing them to just 0.1 perpetrators per 10,000 of population, and some are not providing any rehabilitation services at all.

A recent survey of front-line practitioners across England and Wales identified a lack of funding for perpetrator services as the biggest barrier. To respond properly to perpetrators and prevent reoffending, perpetrator interventions would cost a total of £680 million. If specialist quality-assured programmes for perpetrators are not provided, the current statutory duty will fail to place appropriate emphasis on the person causing the harm, instead placing the onus on the victim to leave their home, disrupt their children’s lives and potentially isolate themselves from their community networks and work. The Bill must ensure that all adult perpetrators have access to effective quality-assured perpetrator programmes to prevent offending and reoffending.

When this Bill was going through the Commons, 120 specialist community-based support services from across the country wrote to the Government and MPs to say:

“Our services have remained open during COVID-19—our staff have moved heaven and earth to make that so—ensuring we don’t let victims of abuse down. Now we look to you to continue that commitment by pledging to recognise the huge contribution of community-based services in the Domestic Abuse Bill”.

That is what Amendment 176 would enable the Government, and this House, to do.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 9:15 pm, 1st February 2021

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 176 and 177, to which I was pleased to add my name. My three fellow sponsors have made such a good job of the case for the prosecution that I will try not to sound like a worn record. I am also very conscious, listening to proceedings on this Bill, that the neverending stream of amendments could be viewed as an unwitting discourtesy to what are clearly the Government’s good intentions. It sounds like the digestive rumblings of an incontinent House, which always seems to find something to complain about. However, we are not just complaining; we are trying to articulate the case for something we think is important.

These amendments share an important characteristic with Amendments 51 and 54, which I spoke to last week: they have the express support of Nicole Jacobs herself. These amendments, like those, are designed to enable her to hit the ground running, and to use the once-in-a-generation opportunity afforded by getting this Bill on to the statute book to put critical pieces of infrastructure and support in place as early as possible.

We all recognise that delivering accommodation-based services is not enough by itself, welcome though it is. They are essential and important, but they support, and will only ever support, a minority of domestic abuse victims and their families. It is community-based services that can interact with and support victims, with a complex interlocking range of specialist interventions. As I have discovered, it is an area rich with impenetrable—for an outsider—acronyms, such as: IDVAs—independent domestic violence advisers; YPVAs—young people violence advisers; ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisers, and IRIS workers. That is nothing to do with eyesight, but stands for identification and referral to improve safety. Behind these acronyms exist a wealth of specialist knowledge and sensitive and targeted support, which, as other noble Lords have mentioned, look after the needs of 70% of domestic abuse survivors, supporting them in the community, while only the remaining 30% are looked after in refuges.

Nicole Jacobs’s plea is for the Bill to be balanced in placing equal emphasis on the provision and financing of accommodation-based and community-based services in England and Wales. Without this, she is concerned that there will be unintended consequences, as the right reverend Prelate said, and that focusing more on one area than on both will create a form of unhelpful tension or competition, or will force local authorities into making difficult and unpleasant choices. That will do nothing to help the majority of domestic abuse survivors.

The commissioner is also saying that the urgency in remedying this potential imbalance is sufficient to justify acting now, rather than waiting for the mapping exercise to be completed. Nicole Jacobs is an expert. She was appointed because she is an expert. She knows this field inside-out, and if she is saying that we are in danger of getting the balance wrong, she deserves to be listened to, and listened to seriously. Given the strains that the last 10 months have imposed on all of us but, above all, on so many families and relationships already close to breaking point, it is imperative that we act sooner rather than later.

The 70% of domestic abuse survivors and their families who are supported in the community are foremost in the commissioner’s mind. We speak for her but, most of all, we speak for them. I hope that the Minister can work with us before Report to look at this and, above all, to listen to the expert herself— Nicole Jacobs.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I speak to Amendment 176 and congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak on introducing this amendment and gathering such cross-party support for its proposal. It clearly goes further than the original amendment tabled in this area, requiring not only local authorities, but police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to ensure sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services in their local areas.

At Second Reading, I spoke about the importance of our obligations under CEDAW and the Istanbul convention, and how both make clear that violence against women and girls, especially domestic abuse, is a form of discrimination against women. It is even more so if the survivors are from an ethnic minority, migrant, disabled, or identify as LGBT. As such, the Government have international obligations to work to prevent domestic violence and provide sufficient specialist services to protect survivors and prevent it happening.

As we have already heard, there is a concern that, if the most welcome duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services in the Bill is not matched by an equal statutory duty to make provision for specialist community-based services, many women, especially those who manage to stay in their home, will not receive the help that they need. It is important that as many survivors as possible are safely able to stay in their own home.

Many of the organisations working in this sector argue that the majority—around 70%—of people experiencing domestic abuse and receiving support do so via community-based services. They provide a vital lifeline, including specialist services, such as independent domestic violence advisers, who advocate on behalf of survivors, drop-in services for children, helplines and so much more. The work of such services helps combat domestic-violence-driven homelessness. They enable victims to stay near support networks, schools and jobs, wherever possible. I welcome and support the proposals in this amendment and hope that the Minister considers them favourably.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of this group of amendments, in particular Amendment 176 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and other noble Lords. It seeks to ensure the provision of community services for as many victims of domestic abuse as possible. Noble Lords have spoken eloquently about access to community services for children and other groups, but I want to speak briefly about the issue of access to community services for older people.

I believe that this amendment will help to ensure that services for the elderly, who have not been looked after as well as they should have been, will not face any further disadvantages in the commissioning process. I am grateful for the briefing I have received from Hourglass, a charity devoted to safer ageing and the prevention of the abuse of the elderly. The charity makes clear what we all know, which is that there has been a very low level of uptake of services by older people who are suffering domestic abuse. Sadly, we know that such abuse does not apply just to younger people and those in adult life; it is all too prevalent in older life as well, so people need access to services that are appropriate to their needs, regardless of their age.

The Bill currently sets out a duty to be placed on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services but not, as we have been discussing, community-based services. As has also been said, this can lead to a situation where the former services will be prioritised to the detriment of community-based services. This amendment will ensure a balance between them.

The fact is that older people are much more likely to access community-based services rather than refuge services. Women’s Aid has said that, from 2010 to 2017, only 2.7% of service users were over the age of 65, with 2% using community-based services and 0.7% refuge-based ones. The lower number of older people, especially men, who are accessing services mean that they need to be protected. That means ensuring proper access to community-based services. I also support the amendment seeking to extend the statutory duty beyond local authorities to police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups.

I want to highlight the low level of service uptake by older people, so we must not do anything that might reduce those services or put barriers in the way of increasing access. The reasons for the low level of uptake more generally should be closely examined and more should be done to ensure that everyone can come forward and get the help and resources that are appropriate to their circumstances. The provision of properly funded community-based services is vital if all victims of domestic abuse are to be properly looked after. I believe that the amendment will go some way towards addressing that.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and to endorse what he has said about the risks of abuse in relation to older people. We have two later groups of amendments where we will be able to debate these issues, so it is important to ensure that we do not miss out or fail to take seriously enough the very real risk of older people who can be the victims of many forms of abuse. However, little attention has been paid to them in past years.

I support Amendment 176, for the reasons other noble Lords have given. We saw in our debate on the group beginning with Amendment 89 the strong support for the requirements on local authorities in Part 4 to ensure sufficient provision of specialist accommodation in relation to domestic abuse. There is no question that this is an important element in the Bill, but there will be a real problem if community services are excluded. We know from legislation passed over many years that the problem with listing one specific set of services and excluding others is that local authorities will inevitably give priority to those services listed in legislation. The charity SafeLives has set it out very well:

“We have very serious concerns that, while well intended, the Government’s duty will push Local Authorities into reducing, rather than sustaining, vital services, leaving more vulnerable people in abusive situations. We are not making an argument against refuge, which is the necessary response for some women. However, mandating Local Authorities only to provide accommodation-based services runs the significant risk that the vast majority of adult and child victims who need a service will find that their options have narrowed.”

We heard the Minister say at Second Reading that we should await the expiration of the current community-based support landscape and that, following that, the Government would work with the commissioner to understand the needs and come back with options. However, we have heard tonight and on a number of occasions that the commissioner has said that the Government do not need to await the outcome of this exercise, because there is already strong evidence on the projected demand and actual provision. Will the Minister agree to amend the Bill to embrace community services? If she is not willing to do so, can she say how community services are to be protected?

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative 9:30 pm, 1st February 2021

My Lords, it may be late in the evening but the passion and energy in the speeches we have heard have not dipped at all. I will speak in support of Amendment 176 and join others in sending a very strong message to the Government that decoupling accommodation-based services and community-based services by law could have a severely detrimental effect on the very people this Bill is trying to help and serve to undermine the spirit of this legislation. Others have made such eloquent speeches; I do not want to repeat them given the time of evening, but I support them wholeheartedly.

Introducing a statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge services is welcome, much needed and based on the right intentions, but refuge is essential for only a small number of domestic abuse victims; far more deserve to stay in their home, as we have heard. Instead, we should remove the perpetrator who has caused the harm. Expecting adult and child victims to leave their possessions, friends, community and family to move to a hidden house with other traumatised victims cannot be the extent of our ambition in this era.

To reiterate a point that many have made in this debate and others, long-term, strategic funding must be put in place for these services. The surge we have seen in this pandemic has placed huge financial pressure on many of these organisations; we must be realistic about that. It is for this reason that many of us this evening, as well as the designate domestic abuse commissioner, are asking for reasonable measures to be put in the Bill to ensure that local authorities take steps to guarantee sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services, not just in refuges but in the community.

Other noble Lords and I have had long and detailed conversations with my noble friend the Minister. I am genuinely grateful for her time and commitment. There is no sense of “the computer says no” or having a tin ear; I know she is listening and cares deeply about this issue.

I know this issue is not straightforward. If it were, the Minister would have fixed it. I back this amendment but a compromise could be made by extending the remit of local partnership boards so they could assess the need for community-based services. This remit could also be extended to reporting back to government on multi-agency working at a local level to help provide greater oversight in ensuring that local partners comply with the statutory guidance accompanying the Bill.

The very essence of this Government’s approach to domestic abuse serves to underline how much value they place on services in the community that seek to prevent and stop the cycle of abuse. The Home Secretary herself spoke about changing the narrative from “Why doesn’t she leave?” to “Why doesn’t he stop?” Community-based services are the answer to this and, if anything, they should be elevated and not downgraded. Therefore, I urge the Government to think again.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 176 and 177 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, to give my support. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the children’s charity Barnardo’s. Barnardo’s and many other charities supporting child and adult victims of domestic abuse support the changes proposed in these amendments.

Following the debate in the other place, the Government rightly amended the Bill so that it recognises that children are victims of domestic abuse and not just witnesses or bystanders. Like many others, I am grateful to see this, as it shows common sense and joined-up policy. I congratulate the Government because the impact of domestic abuse on children must not be underestimated. It is the most common reason for children to be referred to local authority children’s services and it often creates trauma—and childhood lasts a lifetime. However, we know that, with the right support, children can recover from experiences of domestic abuse and can break the cycle and go on to live positive adult lives.

The danger with the Bill as drafted is that it offers this support only to some children, notably those who are in refuges or other safe accommodation. It does not secure support for the majority of victims, including children, who remain in the family home or elsewhere in the community. This can have some very damaging consequences, so we need joined-up thinking here too.

In the current financial situation, where funds are extremely tight and will remain so for some time, resources will inevitably go to services underpinned by a statutory duty. Under the Bill as drafted, the available resources would be concentrated in refuges and safe accommodation; very little would be left for the majority of victims in the community and those who continue to live at home. This could send out the message that in order to access support, you have to flee your home along with your children. This is surely not the message we want to send to victims.

There is a further question of how domestic abuse affects different communities. Evidence from Safelives suggests that victims from black, Asian and other minority communities typically suffer domestic abuse for almost twice as long before getting help, compared with those who identify as white. Disabled victims are often less able to leave their homes, so the impact is especially significant for them too. We also know that in some communities, there is a stigma attached to leaving your home and that services are not always culturally sensitive to this or able to engage effectively with those who need support.

The other problem here is one of missed opportunity. Victims, including children, will not reach the point of support until they are beyond crisis point, which is what often happens at the moment. This means that we miss the chance to support them early, to help families stay together and live in their homes safely, and to prevent the need for costly services.

We need to remember that time is much slower for children. Every day, every week that goes by in a dangerous home without support is eating away at their childhood, causing stress, anxiety and mental problems, and the longer they suffer trauma, the longer it will take to recover. Barnardo’s knows this. This has been the harsh reality for many families during the current lockdown. For all these reasons, it is vital that we use this once-in-a-generation Bill to secure support for all victims, adults, and children especially, from all backgrounds, wherever they live. This is why I support these amendments. They will help to make sure that support is available in the community, where it is desperately needed. I have much respect for the Minister and I hope that she and the Government will show compassion, consideration and empathy in the Bill for these vulnerable, forgotten victims who suffer domestic abuse while living in their own homes or in community-based services.

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Non-affiliated

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Benjamin and Lady Bertin. I have been a practitioner at the front-line of statutory and voluntary social work for more than 40 years. I have worked with victims and survivors of domestic violence and abuse. It is a privilege to see the Bill progressing. I am truly grateful to all noble Lords who support Amendments 101, 176 and 177.

Amendment 101 looks at the impact of economic abuse. This group of amendments is concerned with local welfare provision, including emergency financial services for victims, survivors and their children and would assist some of the most vulnerable women and children who are often left with nowhere else to go. Amendment 176 would extend the duty on local authorities to mandate specialist provision to work alongside organisations which have been working despite suffering drastic cuts. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, spoke of the 120 organisations that have written to Members in the other place. This amendment would put a statutory duty on local authorities to assess the need for community-based services on an equal footing. In my previous contribution, I highlighted, like other noble Lords, the staggering number of women who never seek refuge-based services, so I too welcome the £40 million announced by the Government. Will the Minister add £17 million so that it will be easy for these organisations to provide the relevant services?

Placing a duty on local authorities to work in partnership with long-respected organisations with specialist knowledge and skilled staff to deliver local welfare provision will be a critical component in safeguarding care and support for victims and survivors. We know that many local authorities have decimated the specialist services that for decades provided essential support and counselling for all women, including those of minority heritage who may require additional specialist services and expertise to deliver a more focused intervention arising out of their cultural, faith and linguistic requirements.

Some 8.7 million people experience economic abuse. The five-week delay in the payment of universal credit may preclude many survivors deciding to seek support. Economic sanctions and restraint by perpetrators have been powerful tools. The likely consequence is women victims and survivors holding back from seeking the help they need, so recognition of economic abuse in the Bill is welcome.

Amendment 101 would enable women to have their rightful dignity and care and would provide a necessary, immediate lifeline and relief by ensuring that all survivors can access local welfare assistance, including women victims and survivors with no recourse to public funds, who must not be excluded from safeguarding because of their immigration status. It is a great honour to support this group of amendments.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 9:45 pm, 1st February 2021

I will speak in support of Amendments 101, 176 and 177 to this absolutely excellent Bill, which is so clearly and urgently needed.

My experience has taught me for some time that the best method of dealing with domestic abuse is to ensure that there are properly co-ordinated approaches, particularly among the specialist services, at a local or community level, underpinned by clear national powers and funds properly targeted at the right priorities. To this end, it is important not only that funds are directed at providing financial assistance to the services that protect and deal with victims in every local authority but that the local authorities and the various justice agencies work closely together to provide integrated specialist services to try to prevent domestic abuse and to deal with the consequences, particularly for the victims, including child victims. I therefore strongly support Amendments 101 and 176.

I will add a word about Amendment 177. Unfortunately, because of the way in which devolution has proceeded in Wales, there is a very complex distribution of powers. It gives rise to what is aptly described as a “jagged edge” at the interface between those services for which the Welsh Government and Senedd are responsible, such as local authorities, health boards, social care and Cafcass, and other services, such as the police, for which the Home Secretary is responsible. As set out in the report of the commission I chaired, which was published last October, a long-term solution may be to devolve justice to Wales, but that is not a subject on which I wish to say anything this evening. What is important to address in the meantime is the working together of the relevant bodies; in particular, the co-ordination of the different legislation in Wales and the different structures of government.

In the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, we drew attention to the leadership that the Welsh Government could show in deciding to tackle this, and to the success of the subsequent legislation—the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015—and the various other initiatives taken in Wales. The Act imposed on local authorities in Wales duties to prepare and implement strategies to tackle domestic abuse and to pursue other initiatives. The commission drew attention to the collaboration between the police and the Welsh Government in addressing these and similar issues, and to the structures that existed at local government level for this. Despite that, I think that this amendment is necessary to ensure that there can be no doubt about the statutory underpinning of the current structure of devolution of these distinct services.

This Bill—here and in other places—needs to ensure that until the jagged edge is eliminated, provision is made to strengthen the interface while acknowledging distinct governmental responsibilities. Amendment 177 is therefore particularly to be welcomed. Getting the legislation right so that it addresses the jagged edge is one thing. What is important, as Welsh Women’s Aid has so eloquently stressed, is ensuring that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, and the Welsh Act are implemented in a co-ordinated manner, that the services work together and that, above all, as so many noble Lords have said, there is proper funding, for without that none of this will work. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept all these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I support all these amendments, which are very sensible and practical. I will take them in reverse order.

Getting the PCCs involved is a great idea—I am just astonished that it is not happening already. The earlier grouping considered the provision of refuges for people fleeing domestic abuse. I support the comments of my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle on that, but I stress the importance of seeing refuges as part of an ecosystem of services available for survivors. I have visited refuges; they do their best and, obviously, they are safe and protected. At the same time, however, it is much better for survivors to stay in their own homes if they want to. The perpetrators—the abusers—ought to be the people who get ostracised from their communities and thrown out of the family house. I do hope that this will be possible. It would need adequate provision by specialist domestic abuse services, as would be required by Amendment 176, which I strongly support.

In those situations where a person does have to leave their local area, Amendment 101, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, would ensure that they do not fall into destitution while they start piecing things back together. I was very struck by the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Polak. I liked his urging the Government to be bold. Quite honestly, this is a great Bill and if they were to make it really wonderful, it would look so good for the Government; let us face it, they need some good optics these days. To be bold on this and actually do something for children—to mop up the school meals mess—would look great. So, I urge the Minister—all the Ministers—to think very hard about accepting almost all the amendments, which are being put in what I would call a very helpful way, to make this very good Bill a great Bill.

Photo of Baroness Sanderson of Welton Baroness Sanderson of Welton Conservative

My Lords, I too will speak to Amendment 176. I am sorry, but I would also like to make a couple of points regarding the mapping exercise by the designate domestic abuse commissioner.

My noble friend the Minister said that the Government need to see the final results before they can work out how to develop proper options to support victims. While I have tremendous respect for Nicole Jacobs, this is to my mind a reasonable argument. The Government need to see the in-depth data. They cannot just rely on projections before providing the necessary provisions. However, they do not need the results of this exercise to understand the commissioner’s very real concerns that local authorities will redistribute their funding to meet the statutory duty at the expense of community-based services.

As I said at Second Reading, the duty on accommodation-based services was made with the very best of intentions, but if it sends a signal to local authorities that refuge is the easy option—we are funding it; it is easier to provide; there is a duty—we really could be creating a two-tier system. So, while I accept the need to await the final data, I would like to ask my noble friend whether the Government are looking at other options to avoid this outcome, be that by a future review of the duty now that the main commissioning bodies, including the PCCs, have said they would welcome an extension, or by a requirement for the statutory tier 1 board to include community-based services in its needs assessment and annual strategy.

Even if the statutory duty does not apply, this would recognise the fact that accommodation and community-based services need to be looked at in the round, not least because a lot of referrals to refuges come initially from community-based services. The better-performing local authorities already do this, but all too often that is because they have someone good in post. Extending the responsibilities of the board would take the responsibility away from the individual and provide a better framework around commissioning, particularly for those lesser-performing authorities—the ones which, frankly, are more likely to reach for refuge as the easier option.

Finally, if the duty cannot be extended, will the Government look at different funding options for community-based services? Today’s announcement of £40 million for specialist support services is incredibly welcome but it is still set in the context of Covid. At Second Reading, my noble friend said that the Government were developing a victim funding strategy. I realise that it may be too soon to give further detail but I hope this will look at the problems of too many one-year contracts, which mean ongoing uncertainty and less room for innovation and longer-term strategic thinking, particularly with regard to prevention and perpetrator programmes.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 176 in the name of my noble friend Lord Polak.

Extending the current statutory duty to police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups is a welcome step that the Local Government Association has previously called for. There needs to be a mutual duty on a range of organisations to ensure that there is provision of emergency accommodation and community support service, and not just a duty placed on tier 1 local authorities. However, it remains my view that imposing a statutory duty on local authorities that is overly prescriptive and does not allow for local flexibility is not the best way of improving services. An improvement-led approach is the best way to provide local domestic abuse services.

The £40 million for specialist services has already been referred to, and is most welcome. However, it is not clear whether the funding made available in the government spending review will be adequate to meet the needs of all domestic abuse victims, as the allocation of funding per area is still to be announced. A statutory duty to deliver community-based services and specialist services will not be effective without a clear commitment from government to provide adequate and sufficient funding, as many speakers have said today. There is a need, long called for, for wider investment in prevention and early intervention services, community-based support and perpetrator interventions. Additional investment in these preventive services is vital.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, many important points have been made in this debate. In particular, I hope my remarks on Amendment 177 will supplement the points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

I was glad to hear from Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and chief whip in the Senedd, in her letter to me of 29 January that the designate domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, has agreed to hold regular meetings with the Welsh Government to discuss how to further improve the prevention of domestic abuse and support victims in a devolved context. The Welsh Government are a strong advocate in eradicating all forms of domestic abuse.

Sadly, calls to Wales’s national helpline, Live Fear Free, rose by nearly 50% in the first wave of the pandemic, call time trebled and callers often reported more frequent abuse with shorter escalation periods. Visits to the Live Fear Free website increased markedly too. I am glad to know that Her Majesty’s Government are working closely with the Welsh Government, because it is crucial that the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 are complementary and enable all victims of domestic abuse across England and Wales to have access to the specialist services that they need, wherever they live.

We must leave no gaps in the legislation for victims of domestic abuse to fall through. I hope the Minister can assure me that both non-devolved and devolved public sector actors can work together to ensure that our service models are aligned and that equivalent funding is allocated to support domestic abuse services in Wales.

According to Welsh Women’s Aid, even before the pandemic over 500 survivors were unable to access refuges due to lack of space, capacity and resources. Now, when many do not have access to their usual support networks, it is more important than ever that we leave no one behind. Domestic abuse survivors in Wales must be able to easily understand how the devolved and non-devolved competency areas interact and have confidence that they will have access to the services they need, when they need them.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 10:00 pm, 1st February 2021

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, my noble friend Lord Polak, and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have spoken to one of the core aims of this Bill, which is the provision of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children and, in particular, the provision of community-based support.

I am going to start with Amendment 176, because it has been the most spoken about and most clearly addresses this objective. If there is one thing on which we are all united—the central tenet of this Bill—it is that domestic abuse victims receive the support they need. This can be seen in the new statutory duty, included in Part 4 of the Bill, to provide support to domestic abuse victims and their children within safe accommodation. However, extending the duty in Part 4 is not without its challenges, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said.

The duty as it stands applies to tier 1 local authorities in England, and as such there is no ambiguity in where responsibility and accountability lie. Amendment 176 proposes something rather wider, applying to local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. The drafters of the amendment are to be commended for seeking to navigate the devolution settlement in Wales, and I suspect that Amendment 177 is intended to complement Amendment 176 by addressing the position in Wales.

In placing a duty across three categories of public authority, the amendment could risk creating uncertainty about where the responsibility for discharging the duty actually resides. To that extent it lacks the clarity of the Part 4 duty, although I note the provision in the new clause for conflict resolution. I do not suggest that this is an insurmountable problem with the amendment.

It is important to recognise that there are already significant community-based support services available to victims of domestic abuse and other crime. Since 2014, Ministry of Justice funding has helped police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime within their local areas, addressing the specific local needs identified within their communities. This funding totalled £68 million in 2019-20. The strong knowledge held by police and crime commissioners about demographics and crime in their local areas allows them to allocate funding to those victims in need.

Clearly, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups also have a role to play, as have others. I recognise, however, that the current commissioning landscape is complex. I understand the need to ensure that whatever arrangements are in place, they are delivering comprehensive service provision and that the needs of victims are being met. It is essential too that perpetrators are held to account for their actions and challenged to make long-term, meaningful changes to their behaviour.

However, I put it to noble Lords that Amendment 176 is putting the cart before the horse. We cannot and should not legislate before fully understanding the current landscape of provision, knowing where the gaps are, how best to fill those gaps and what it is going to cost, as my noble friend Lady Sanderson said. This is the methodical process we went through before introducing the provisions in Part 4, backed up by £125 million in new funding. We need to adopt a similar process to community-based support.

For this reason, I welcome the domestic abuse commissioner’s commitment to leading a detailed mapping exercise into the current community-based support landscape, the pilot of which has already commenced in four local authority areas. That work is due to be completed towards the end of this year. The Government are committed to addressing the findings of this review and, should we find that there is a need for legislative changes, it is right and proper that we should consult on those so we can consider the views of the affected public authorities. In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, there will be further opportunities to legislate in this area, including the upcoming victims’ law.

This exercise will do for community-based services what the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government did for accommodation-based services in significant depth before establishing the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill—I was a Minister in MHCLG when the whole process began. It held lengthy consultations with local authorities, the domestic abuse sector and victim support organisations before committing to the best course of action. Only through thorough engagement and investigation was it possible to understand whether legislative change was truly necessary and design a statutory duty that would appropriately address the needs of victims.

I recognise the concerns that the statutory duty in Part 4 may affect the existing provision of community-based services. As I have indicated, we are allocating £125 million to local authorities in 2021-22 to fund the new duty. As my noble friend Lord Polak said, the recent spending review has also secured an additional £40 million to victims of crime, including domestic abuse, in the community. Those details were announced today. This is on top of the additional funding we have provided to meet the immediate needs arising from the pandemic. I hope this provides reassurance that the Government take seriously their commitment to supporting all victims.

Of course, the argument can be made for more investment, but noble Lords will understand that we cannot make the case to the Treasury without the evidence to back it up. The commissioner’s mapping work is central to having that knowledge and understanding to enable us to make the case for more money. I know that Nicole Jacobs takes a different view, and it is an area where we will respectfully just have to agree to differ. It is her role to advise the Government and it is our clear responsibility to back up any new statutory duties with clear evidence of unmet need and a full understanding of the costs involved.

Additionally, the new domestic abuse strategy, complementing the refreshed violence against women and girls strategy, will further focus government attention on the needs of domestic abuse victims and perpetrators. Alongside this, the refresh of the national statement of expectations, due to be published later this year, will set out best practice for commissioning all violence against women and girls services. Finally, we are launching a victim funding strategy, to be published this year, to ensure that funding and commissioning practices for all victims are as effective as possible. I agree with my noble friend Lady Sanderson on the need for sustainable funding.

Amendment 101 seeks to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse have access to a local welfare assistance scheme in any locality across England. We understand the importance of local welfare and assistance to provide an emergency safety net at times of unexpected need. Local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities. That is why changes were introduced in 2013 to give local authorities the maximum flexibility to deliver emergency support as they see fit, according to local needs. The 2014 local welfare provision review found that local authorities were able to effectively target support at those who needed it most, joined up with wider social care.

The Government have provided local authorities with £131.7 million for local welfare assistance through the local government finance settlement in 2020-21. It is for local authorities to decide how best to use that funding, but in doing so they should ensure there is support for those most in need, including domestic abuse survivors.

We are committed to ensuring that people experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse have the local support they need. In particular, economic hardship should not be a barrier to someone leaving an abusive partner. In addition to local welfare support, those escaping domestic abuse can seek financial support through the welfare system.

Finally, on Amendment 177, I recognise the need for effective partnership working across the reserved-devolved demarcation line in Wales. I put it to my noble friend that the mechanisms are already in place to enable PCCs to co-operate with local authorities and health boards in Wales, including through community safety partnerships and the forthcoming new serious violence duty. While PCCs will not be subject to the serious violence duty, as with their existing functions in relation to community safety partnerships, PCCs may choose to collaborate with local partnerships and take a convening role to support the development and implementation of the local strategy.

Given these considerations, the amendments are, I suggest, premature. The Government recognise the importance of community-based services for those affected by domestic abuse. As I have said, we are committed to investigating, in collaboration with the domestic abuse commissioner, what needs to be done to ensure that victims who stay in their own home with their children are receiving the support they need. So that this work can go forward, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s response, particularly on Amendment 176, for which I thank her. None the less, does she not accept that favouring accommodation-based services, as set out in Part 4, is bound to impact on local authorities’ spending decisions and make them move funding towards accommodation-based services at the expense of community-based services? How will the Government ensure that a proportion of the additional £125 million goes to community services? Will it not be possible for us to give Ministers regulation-making powers to bring in a duty on community services after the mapping exercise has been completed? That would at least give us some way to ensure that the Government have statutory provision in the light of the mapping exercise.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the Part 4 duty in the Bill does not preclude the provision of community-based services. I understand what the noble Lord is saying: because local authorities have the duty to provide accommodation-based services, that means they will not provide community-based services. However, I do not think it does. There is a recognition that we need to explore this further, hence we have committed the domestic abuse commissioner to doing this mapping exercise. That work clearly needs to be explored, but it is very hard to make a bid to the Treasury without knowing exactly where the gaps lie. That is not to say there are no gaps—I am sure there are— but we are just not clear on what the actual ask of the Treasury will be.

As to whether we can ensure that some of the money given to local authorities goes to community-based services, local authorities clearly know the needs of their area, and I hope that they would allocate the money accordingly.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, the Minister gave the arguments that were given when the Social Fund was replaced by local welfare assistance schemes. Can she explain how the one in seven local authorities that do not have a local welfare assistance scheme will assess and meet the needs of domestic abuse survivors through such schemes when they do not exist in their area?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Baroness asks a very pertinent question. If those schemes do not exist, how are they going to be provided for? I will do some digging before Report and perhaps I can get back to the noble Baroness with some of the fine detail.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

I thank all noble Lords for this wide-ranging and well-informed debate. I promise not to detain noble Lords, but I sense a groundswell of support from all sides of the House and from outside the House, including from the commissioner herself, for this issue of community- based services, and concern about the unintended consequences of decoupling community-based services from accommodation-based services.

I know that the Minister is doing her absolute utmost to make this Bill the best that it can possibly be, but I do not recognise her comment that local authorities are utilising local welfare funds effectively—the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, came back on that point after the Minister’s response. The Minister raised the practicalities of implementation and asked for evidence to back this up if she is to go back to the Treasury and ask for some more money. We might well get our heads together and see if we can give it to her. That would be a great solution on all sides.

In the meantime, we will reflect carefully on what the Minister said and, of course, reserve the right to return to the issue at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 101 withdrawn.

Clause 56: Domestic abuse local partnership boards

Amendments 102 to 105 not moved.

Clause 56 agreed.

Clause 57 agreed.

Clause 58: Guidance

Amendments 106 and 107 not moved.

Clause 58 agreed.

Amendment 108 not moved.

Clauses 59 to 61 agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.17 pm.