Amendment 4

Domestic Abuse Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 8th March 2021.

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Baroness Campbell of Surbiton:

Moved by Baroness Campbell of Surbiton

4: Clause 2, page 2, line 29, at end insert—“( ) A is a carer for B who is a disabled person.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment and the amendments at page 2, lines 34 and 37, in the name of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, would bring the relationship between a disabled person and their carer within the definition of “personally connected”.

Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench

My Lords, in moving Amendment 4 to Clause 2 I will also speak to my Amendments 5 and 6. These amendments would bring the abuse of disabled people by carers within the scope of domestic abuse under Clause 2. I should mention that I have also tabled Amendments 46 and 47, which would make identical changes in relation to controlling or coercive behaviour under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. They will be discussed on another day.

I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and her officials for our recent meeting, which was very helpful in clarifying our mutual concerns, which I will refer to in a moment. Sadly, I have heard nothing further since, so I assume that the Government are not yet convinced that the Bill should include disabled people and carers. I hope that, after hearing today’s contributions, the noble Lord the Minister will commit to return at Third Reading with an alternative clear offer, otherwise I am afraid that I will have no other option than to divide the House.

Amendment 4 has cross-party support. I am grateful to all co-signatories for their advice and backing on this issue, and to many other Members across the House who also wished to be co-signatories. Since Committee I have given the issue a lot of attention, consulting, among others, organisations dealing with disabled victims of domestic abuse. I also sought a legal opinion from lawyers specialising in social care and disability discrimination.

The vast majority of carers are caring, compassionate and utterly loyal. We owe our lives to them—I know I do—but in a small number of cases this is not so. Domestic abuse is not limited to family members or sexual partners. That is what we used to understand by the term; today, we know better. Disabled people of any age can be abused by those on whose care they rely. These relationships often involve an imbalance of power and are just as susceptible to abuse as those between family members or partners. Disabled people may be wholly dependent on another to live an independent and active life, 24 hours a day. That dependency and the trust that it requires makes them an easy target to exploit or abuse.

The Joint Committee on the draft Bill recognised that abuse by carers “mirrors” abuse

“seen in the other relationships covered by this Bill”, and, importantly, occurs in a domestic setting. It recommended amending Clause 2 to include all disabled people and their carers, paid or unpaid.

Some of our closest and most intimate personal relationships are with those who care for us. Many carers see us naked in the shower, have access to our bank accounts and observe us at our weakest, physically, mentally or emotionally. This can make us feel very vulnerable. They are often privy to things that we do not share even with our family or partners.

I speak from 30 years of personal experience, but not only from that: I am also as a former CEO of the National Centre for Independent Living, working with thousands of disabled people who managed their carers, often termed personal assistants. I remember one haunting example of abuse of a severely disabled man without speech who came to me. He had a communication board that was regularly removed from reach so that his carer was not interrupted. He was too afraid to complain because, as he put it, of the “likely consequences”. Evidence from Stay Safe East and other organisations clearly demonstrates that such abuse continues today.

To deny such people the protection of this Bill would be wholly unjust and discriminatory. The abuse is no different. As the legal opinion says, it is also likely to be unlawful discrimination contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 3 on inhuman or degrading treatment, or Article 8 on respect for private and family life.

If the Government wish to exclude disabled people from the Bill they must show a genuine reason for doing so and for why it is appropriate and necessary. I have not yet heard a convincing explanation. I ask the Minister: who was consulted in the disability sector? I know that government officials spoke to carers and women’s groups. While they are often the primary carers, it is equally important to get the views of those in receipt of care.

The Government’s main objection, indicated in my recent meeting with them, is that including disabled people and their carers “would change the definition”, and while they accepted that the abuse is the same, they felt, in their words, that it was “not domestic abuse as people understand it”. I find this completely bizarre. It is hard to believe that the public would make that distinction. If the abuse takes place at home, in a relationship akin to family members or partners, that is abuse in a domestic setting and warrants the same protection.

The other objection is that it would widen the scope of the Bill too far, including all sorts of carers, such as a friend who does the weekly shop. This completely misses the point. Caring for a disabled person might start with friends or neighbours popping in occasionally, but evidence from Stay Safe East shows that it sometimes develops into an unwanted personal relationship that encroaches on the disabled person’s private life, which the carer then exploits.

So often when disabled people fight for their civil and human rights, we are told that our demands would open the floodgates to unmanageable litigation. It has happened at every stage of the campaign for disability rights legislation. This is not the place to repeat that exercise.

The Government also say that disabled people are already protected from carer abuse, and point to the safeguarding provisions in the Care Act 2014 as the answer to abuse by carers. But Section 42 requires local authorities, where they think there is a risk of abuse, only to make inquiries to see whether action is needed. Many disabled people do not engage with social services safeguarding. Thousands of disabled people employ their own carers or personal assistants and are not touched by social services. It is simply inadequate to protect disabled people and not fit for purpose.

Similarly, Section 20 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which creates the offence of ill treatment or wilful neglect, applies only to paid carers. It is a higher bar than proving abuse under this Bill. Unlike this Bill, neither of those provisions gives disabled people the means to deal with abuse themselves—they have to rely on others. Nor do they have access to the other benefits of this Bill, such as the new commissioner’s role.

We have an opportunity to make this a truly progressive Bill, one that understands multiple circumstances in which domestic abuse arises. Disabled people have not been well served in recent years, and the pandemic has shone a spotlight on discrimination by indifference. Let us not endorse that again in this Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 5:45 pm, 8th March 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and to support her in her wish to include carers within the scope of the Bill. As she said, this set of amendments would bring the relationship between a disabled person and their carer, whether paid or unpaid, within the definition of “personally connected”.

As the noble Baroness has said, the Joint Committee on the Bill recommended that carers should be included, after receiving significant evidence from the charity Stay Safe about the level of abuse within these highly personal and close relationships. I remain puzzled as to why the Government are not agreeing to do this. As the noble Baroness said, part of the reason is that the Government believe the group covered by these amendments is fully protected by existing legislation, primarily within social care Act safeguarding measures. However, I challenge that. As Stay Safe East has said, disabled women are three times as likely to experience domestic abuse, and four times as likely to report abuse from multiple perpetrators, as non-disabled women. It does not look as though the safeguarding measures are preventing that. Disabled women are also up to three times as likely to experience domestic abuse at the hands of family members, some of whom will also be their carers. We also know that disabled people also experience abuse from paid and unpaid carers or personal assistants.

The noble Baroness has also referred to the opinion from Bindmans LLP. The summary of their opinion is very clear:

“a. The relationship between disabled people and their carers is analogous to the other relationships which fall within the definition of ‘personally connected’ for the purposes of clause 2(1) of the DA Bill. b. None of the existing legislation identified by Government provides equivalent protection against domestic abuse for disabled people so as to make it unnecessary for the relationship between disabled people and their carers to be brought within the scope of clause 2(1), and thereby the substantive provisions of the DA Bill. c. Failing to bring the relationship between disabled people and their carers within the scope of clause 2(1), and thereby the substantive provisions of the DA Bill, is likely to result in unlawful discrimination against disabled people contrary to Article 14 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”.

If the Minister is relying on existing legislation and safeguarding measures, I am afraid that the evidence is that this is not sufficient. That is the reason why the noble Baroness has argued so persuasively for this amendment, and I very much hope that she presses it to a Division.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, for tabling these amendments, and am grateful for the earlier work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

I will start by commenting on the relationship between a disabled person and their carer. It is difficult for someone who is not disabled to understand the intimate nature of that care which has to be given, and the relationship which inevitably builds up, whether the carer is paid or unpaid. The language talks about a “lived experience”, which trots glibly off the tongue, but it is not easy. At best, it is a relationship of trust, where the carer supports and enables the person being cared for to live the life that the disabled person wants to live themselves. But there are some cases where the behaviours of the carer are not beneficial, but are controlling, coercive or physically abuse, yet they fall outside the domestic abuse definition. That is why it is so important that the definition of “personally connected” is recognised. It is such a neat solution, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has pointed out, it is vital that the definition is similar to the definition in the Serious Crime Act. She is right: they are complementary and will provide consistency and coherence between the Bill and the 2015 Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his excellent speech just now, referred to the excellent work of Stay Safe East. One of the women helped by Stay Safe East said:

“They think just because I’ve got a learning disability, I don’t know it’s wrong to treat me like that. I just want to be safe and live my life.”

Mencap points out that people with learning disabilities can be abused by any type of personal carer, not just in establishments such as Winterbourne View. The problem with private care at home is that often it is not visible at all. That is why these amendments are so important. The Bill needs to understand that the relationship between disabled people and their personal carers is akin to the familial and relationship definitions used elsewhere in domestic abuse legislation.

I hope the Minister will take on board the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and the large number of disabled Peers speaking to her amendments, and the wider community of disabled people who need this protection.

Photo of Lord Shinkwin Lord Shinkwin Conservative

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. As International Women’s Day draws to a close, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, for introducing what is surely a practical, common sense set of amendments. She has identified a significant gap in protections for victims of domestic abuse. To her credit, through these amendments, she has also identified an expert and eminently sensible solution. I suggest that we are in her debt for her wisdom, her fortitude and her foresight.

I say that because this is as much about us here today in your Lordships’ House, and those noble Lords watching this debate and contributing to it virtually, as it is about anyone. One has only to consider the average age of noble Lords—well over 50% are aged 70 and above—to realise that we are in fact among those who most urgently need this reform. Lest we are inclined to tell ourselves that this is about “them”, “the other”, “over there”, those whom non-disabled people so often describe as “the disabled”, we should consider these simple facts. According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people have strokes each year worldwide. Of these, 5 million die and another 5 million are permanently disabled. According to the Stroke Association, here in the UK 100,000 people have strokes each year. Stroke strikes every five minutes. In other words, acquiring a severe, incapacitating disability can happen to any of us.

I imagine that most of us would like to believe that this is an issue about which we can perhaps sympathise in a detached way but with which we do not need to concern ourselves too much. On the basis of personal experience and the incident statistics that I have referred to for strokes, I would say the opposite. Nearly three-quarters of strokes occur in people over the age of 65, as are many Members of your Lordships’ House. This amendment is about us.

I appreciate that some noble Lords might be concerned about people making vexatious claims as a result of these amendments. I simply put this question to those who harbour such doubts: if any of us had a stroke later today and in due course found ourselves not only dependent on a carer but also subject to abuse by that carer in our own home, how vexatious would we regard our claim? Surely we would instead be relieved that we had passed this amendment and ensured that essential and equal safeguards had thereby been written into law, for at its heart the reform that these amendments would bring about is rooted in equality.

I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that, with the much-heralded launch of the Prime Minister’s national strategy for disabled people due in the near future, this is a golden opportunity for the Government to show that they get equality. That means ensuring that disabled people are treated with dignity and thereby adequately and equally protected from abuse in the domestic setting. That equal treatment needs to be based on a simple recognition that disability, especially when an impairment makes a disabled person reliant on the carer or personal assistant, also makes them vulnerable to domestic abuse by their carer or personal assistant.

I close, as I began, by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, for giving your Lordships’ House the opportunity to reflect on a simple truth. Yes, this is about equality, no more, no less, yet it is also about each of us, our families, our friends and those whom we love, all of whom I am sure we would wish to see adequately and equally protected in law. That is what this amendment would achieve and it is why I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting it, should the noble Baroness divide the House, either today or subsequently at Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative 6:00 pm, 8th March 2021

My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in this debate on these amendments so well introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, and subsequent speakers, particularly my noble friend Lord Shinkwin.

I feel in many respects vastly underqualified to speak on these amendments. Reading the Committee stage debates, I understood the idea of whether we wanted to extend “personally connected”—I had been putting down something about domestic servants in this regard. However, from listening to the speeches that we have all been privileged to hear, it is apparent that the relationship between a carer and the person for whom they are caring is extremely special and, in many instances, very intimate. It must come under the domestic category. In many cases, probably all cases, it will be happening inside the home, which is the definition of domestic.

The Government may well say that there is sufficient protection elsewhere in the law, but victims of domestic abuse find it difficult to escape, in every sense of the word, from their abusers. Surely for people with disabilities it is impossible to escape. They are often at the mercy of a carer if that carer is abusing. I will listen carefully to the rest of the speeches and of course to my noble friend the Minister, but I find it difficult to understand why these amendments cannot be accepted. I hope that if not now, then by Third Reading, something along the lines of these amendments can be put into the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench

My Lords, I am delighted to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton, to which my name is also attached. I, too, thank Stay Safe for its support in getting the experiences of disabled women into public view. My noble friend and other noble Lords have described the need for the amendments in this group. However, I will reiterate a few points, because there has been much discussion about whether the Domestic Abuse Bill is the correct vehicle to protect disabled people who are victims of domestic abuse. It is a very simple yes.

To say that either the Care Act 2014 or the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 adequately cover disabled people is fundamentally to misunderstand the relationship between a disabled person and their carer, as my noble friend Lady Campbell has movingly explained. It can be a complicated relationship, but that does not give any excuse or reason not to better understand it. I am pleased that there is far more understanding about coercive and controlling relationships, but we need to understand how these relationships affect everyone, including disabled people.

I see this in quite a simple way. Domestic abuse legislation is the correct vehicle because abuse takes place in a domestic setting and the relationship is very definitely intimate—just talk to any disabled person who receives care. Including this here will help with the wider understanding of the scale of the abuse against disabled people, but it is also important for the individuals who are experiencing it, if and when they seek support. I worry that, if disabled people are not included in this legislation, they will fall through the net of reporting and of subsequent support and it will push them into greater peril.

Some might believe that social care provision will protect disabled people through safeguarding procedures. Many disabled people who employ personal assistants or carers do not engage with social services or their safeguarding procedures. There are many reasons for this. Disabled people want independence and choice, but there can be a real fear that, if they go through this process, the assumption is that they will not be able to run their own care package and the direct payments and control may be taken back.

I was trying to think of another comparator. This is not a perfect one, but it could be understood more widely, perhaps, if one thinks of a single mother avoiding social service help because she fears that her children might be taken away or that she might lose personal control of her situation. There is a different debate to be held about the regulation of carers, but the unique situation and the specialised or individualised nature of the support that a disabled person requires mean that carers do not necessarily come into the role regulated, well trained and managed.

The view that disabled people should not be treated differently from non-disabled people is admirable and in most cases I would strongly support it, but we have to recognise that the lived daily experience of disabled people is not equal in our society and there are significant amounts of discrimination. We are a long way from equality. Equity would be ensuring that disabled people were not left behind by this legislation.

I am concerned that the views of disabled people have not been adequately sought in this legislation. I ask the Minister which groups of disabled women have been consulted during this process. Given the significant number of disabled people impacted by domestic abuse, it is imperative that the amendment be accepted.

I am very much looking forward to the new government strategy for disabled people, which I understand is due shortly. If the Government are serious about protecting and supporting disabled people, they should accept the amendment or produce their own version of it. I would be delighted to speak further with the Minister and the Bill team, but if my noble friend decides to test the opinion of the House at any stage, not only will she have significant support but I will metaphorically follow her through the Lobby.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I have rarely heard a series of more moving speeches, beginning with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton; she always speaks with authority but today she exceeded herself. I was moved too by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, whom I have the privilege of following, and by my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, who spoke with a quiet, intense passion. I hope the Minister will be able to give encouragement.

I have often referred to this Bill, and I have done so again today, as a landmark Bill. If it is to be truly a landmark Bill, it has to be all-embracing. There can be no more sensitive relationship of a domestic nature than that between a disabled person, particularly if we are dealing with a severely disabled person, and those who care for her or him. I feel very strongly that the Bill should include what, in a sense, is the most domestic of all relationships. I have no personal experience but I have vicarious experience: my mother in her last years depended very much upon carers, and so did my wife’s mother in her last years. One sees how that relationship is fundamental to the comfort, indeed the very survival, of those being cared for.

It really is the most appalling abuse of all if a vulnerable disabled person is abused by their carer. We all know that it happens because we have seen instances of relatives having to install video cameras in care homes. We have seen some terrible examples of people in their own homes being abused and taken financial advantage of, and indeed every other sort of advantage, by those upon whom they depend for their very existence.

I very much hope it will not be necessary to divide the House on this issue because I hope the Minister will be able to tell us, if she cannot accept these amendments, that she will come back with her own at Third Reading. There are many honourable precedents for that in our legislation and our legislative process, and it would be sad if the House were divided on a subject on which I am sure we are all fundamentally united: that disabled persons deserve respect, care and consideration and to be protected from any who might transgress in looking after them.

I look forward to my noble friend’s response. I hope it will be sympathetic and empathetic, that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, will not need to press her amendment to a Division and that at Third Reading we will be able to move forward. I add my name to the question that has already been asked about how many organisations representing disabled people have been consulted during the drawing up of the Bill.

This is a good cause. I hope my noble friend will be able to reassure us and, most of all, disabled people up and down the land when she comes to reply.

Photo of Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:15 pm, 8th March 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow so many eminent speakers. I support these amendments, which have been carefully designed and described by my noble friends Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, together with the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport.

We have heard three moving and compelling speeches from experts with lived experience. I thank my noble friend Lady Campbell for the bundle of information she sent ahead of this debate, for her rigour in representing the interests of disabled people and for highlighting that their relationships with non-family caregivers are analogous to the other relationships that fall within the definition of “personally connected” for the purposes of Clause 2(1) of the Bill.

Legal advice has suggested that a failure to bring the relationship between disabled people and their carers within the scope of Clause 2(1) could result in unlawful discrimination against disabled people, contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights when read with Articles 3 and 8. Could the Minister address that point when summing up? I am certain that all Members of the House would wish any anticipated discrimination to be avoided in the drafting of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Curry of Kirkharle Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins. I declare an interest as vice-president of Livability.

I very much support the intent in this group of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who presented the case so ably at the beginning of this debate. As the parent of a child with a severe learning and physical disability, I know from personal experience the potential risks associated with those who are responsible for the care of disabled persons. In addition, having established a charity responsible for providing care for adults with learning disabilities in the north-east of England called At Home in the Community, I know how sensitive and tense the relationships can be between parents and a disabled son or daughter, between carers and the disabled person and between carers and parents. The frustrations of providing care for a disabled person whose behaviour can be immensely challenging and demanding can boil over, no matter how much they are loved. They can become the innocent third party in abusive relationships and suffer abuse themselves as a consequence.

Sadly, multiple reports over the years have shown that disabled people are much more likely to suffer abuse for longer periods of time. Many individuals are unable to communicate verbally, so identifying abuse can be difficult. Often unable to protect themselves, they can become very isolated and introverted. The vulnerability of their situation can lead to reliance and dependency on the very person being abusive. We had a case within a managed care home of abuse by a hitherto trusted member of staff who manipulated residents over a number of months before detection.

For many residents of care homes, the home they live in is their home. We had cases of individuals whose parents had both sadly died, so their carers and fellow residents were their family. Support in the care sector, whether in a family home or residential care home, relies on the dedication and integrity of mostly—one has to say sadly—low-paid care staff, most of whom are brilliant and support their vulnerable people marvellously. Sadly, however, some do abuse. Drawing attention to this and making provision for it in the Bill is an important step in mitigating it and preventing it from continuing. I hope that the Minister supports this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Shinkwin and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who have spoken in favour of these amendments. They seek to ensure that domestic abuse, as defined in Clause 2(1), covers those people who are disabled—and often, perhaps, elderly—as well as all other groups.

Such citizens can be in a deeply intimate yet non-sexual relationship, due to their need for someone to care for them, perhaps in their home. They need someone to care for them just to survive, and so that they can live their life as independently as possible. If these people are abused by someone who helps them in their own home, why would they not be covered in exactly the same way as other groups, including spouses, friends, partners and their children, who currently meet the definition in the Bill?

In this country, there is sometimes a cultural disinclination to talk about or engage closely with the issue of people who need care or who live with disabilities. This may even explain why social care reform is constantly pushed into the proverbial long grass. Yes, this can be a complex subject, and not everybody wants to discuss it, but why would someone who is cared for by another, who may be paid or unpaid, not be entitled to the same protection as a spouse who is abused by their partner? If the Government wish to support people who live in their own home, especially as we have an ageing population, and to be in the community, which disabled or elderly people usually want, developing a strong system of protection for cases of abuse is essential. This landmark Bill is an ideal place to start.

The vast majority of carers are angels. They are heroes, who carry out their demanding and often draining role with compassion, dedication and sensitivity. However, as other noble Lords have explained, there are distressing examples of when they have abused highly vulnerable adults in their care.

I support the rights of disabled people, as I know the Minister does. I know that she cares passionately about this group of wonderful individuals in our society, but I find it difficult to understand why the Government are resisting the inclusion of disabled people within the protections of a Domestic Abuse Bill. Such situations should be placed squarely in the remit covered by this ground-breaking Bill. Is it not time to tackle all cultures of domestic abuse and offer widespread remedies to all citizens? Surely this group should be part of that.

Photo of Baroness Hollins Baroness Hollins Crossbench

My Lords, I know from my personal family and professional experience of people with learning disabilities that domestic violence can involve both paid and informal carers, including family members. I will not repeat the excellent points made by the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I am very pleased to support my noble friend Lady Campbell and to follow such powerful speeches.

The weakness in the Government’s position is that it underestimates the important similarities between carer relationships and those already in the Bill. It perhaps assumes that local authorities or the CQC will have sight of all carer arrangements, particularly for informal care, but this is just not true. I quote the January Stay Safe East report on discrimination, which says:

“The current definition of domestic abuse has a discriminatory impact on disabled victims of domestic abuse by non-family carers, who have no access to an Independent Domestic Violence Adviser, refuges or other domestic abuse services or to the network of therapeutic and other services open to other domestic abuse victims.”

The exclusion of carers from the definition of “personally connected” not only is blind to the reality of the closeness and complexity of carer relationships but would be discriminatory to disabled people on the receiving end of domestic abuse from carers, because they would be excluded from services. The exclusion fails to recognise that the significant relationships of disabled people may be different from those of non-disabled people. This also applies to people with learning disabilities.

My remaining point has already been made, so I will not take up time with it.

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

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow all the speeches already given, because these important amendments close a loophole in our current framework. They do not criminalise carers; let us be clear about that. They simply recognise the reality that, when a person is living in their own home with others coming in to assist with activities of daily living, including the most intimate of care, that person is potentially vulnerable to exploitation. People also need help with indirect activities for daily living as, without this assistance, the person’s environment would rapidly deteriorate. Carers can be closer to and have more power over a person than a person’s family.

The Care Act 2014 Section 10(3) states:

“‘Carer’ means an adult who provides or intends to provide care for another adult (an ‘adult needing care’); but see subsections (9) and (10).”

Then subsection (9) states:

“An adult is not to be regarded as a carer if the adult provides or intends to provide care … (a) under or by virtue of a contract, or … (b) as voluntary work.”

The issue is that those employed, under direct payments or privately, or who exploit a vulnerable person with offers of help and support, are not known to the local authority and it has no authority over them. Even if the local authority becomes aware, Section 42 of the Care Act did not create any new powers to act to protect disabled people from abuse and neglect, merely a duty to make inquiries and to consider exercising existing powers.

This amendment recognises the power differential between the person who is vulnerable and the person coming into their home, on whom they depend and by whom they are being emotionally, psychologically or physically harmed. The person may be frightened and intimidated, not knowing who to turn to, and frightened by threats of all kinds. This is not just mild bullying or cajoling. This is serious, and there needs to be a way to ensure that those who have close and intimate access to the person cannot continue their exploits of mal-intent without serious consequences in law. There is no reason to discriminate against those who are disabled and cannot escape their situation, enduring abuse in their own homes, by leaving them without the adequate protection that this important landmark Bill aims to provide.

As I said, these amendments do not criminalise carers; they criminalise behaviours of mal-intent that cause serious harm—behaviours which are completely unjustified. They are behaviours of abuse behind closed doors in a person’s home by someone on whom they are dependent and personally connected and who has access to the most personal and often intimate aspects of their body and life. Without these amendments, we leave a loophole in protecting those with disability, as so clearly laid out by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and others. I hope the Government will simply accept these amendments as they are, but otherwise I will support a Division.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:30 pm, 8th March 2021

My Lords, these amendments seek to bring the relationship between a disabled person and their carer within the definition of “personally connected” for the purposes of the Bill, and we support them.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, explained so clearly, as someone who is supported by personal care assistants 24/7, carers often have a close personal connection to the person they are supporting. Although some might find it difficult to imagine that someone would take advantage of someone’s disability, the noble Baroness referred in Committee to the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2018-19, which found that people with long-term illnesses or disability were more likely to experience domestic abuse than those without.

The noble Baroness went on to describe that, in the absence of any close family or friends, carers are considered as welcome substitutes by disabled people who are isolated and feel lonely and anxious. While mostly this is a mutually kind and equitable relationship, on occasions the situation is exploited by the carer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, makes a compelling case. The relationship between some disabled people and their carers can in some ways be even more “personally connected” than that between family members, when one considers the level of personal care provided and the level of intimacy that this involves. She has demonstrated that disabled abuse is a very real issue. She has also explained that she has sought legal advice which confirms that there are legislative gaps that need to be filled. These amendments address those inadequacies and we strongly support them. If the noble Baroness divides the House, we will vote with her.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues)

My Lords, I speak in support of this group of amendments. It is humbling to add my name and be among such a campaigning and dynamic group of Peers. The clause as amended would bring the relationship between a disabled person and their carer within the definition of “personally connected” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, in line with the amendments to the definition in Clause 2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton—who has so powerfully lobbied for this amendment—so that controlling or coercive behaviour by carers is covered by the Section 76 offence.

On the definition of “personally connected”, at Report we continue to believe that the Bill should reflect the realities of all domestic abuse victims who need to be able to access services, justice and support and that no victim should be left behind. These amendments would ensure that “personally connected” also covered a person’s relationship with their carer, whether paid or unpaid.

I spoke of this in Committee and, despite frank and helpful discussions with the Minister and her officials, I remain convinced that these are necessary amendments. They reflect the lived experiences of disabled victims of domestic abuse, where a significant personal relationship in their life is with a person who provides care.

This is a Bill for all victims, and we believe that these amendments would help to ensure that disabled victims are represented in the legislation. We have heard the Government say that the abuse of disabled people by their carers is already covered by existing legislation—Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 places such a duty on local authorities. However, the Bill is flagship legislation—we hear the term time and again—and it should not be the case that disabled victims have to be provided for elsewhere. The unamended clause does not recognise disabled victims of domestic abuse, who are among the most vulnerable.

This type of abuse often goes unnoticed. Disabled victims are more likely to experience domestic abuse for a longer period of time, and the Bill should make it easier for such victims to be recognised. There has to be an understanding and an acceptance of the reality of disabled lives. Significant relationships can be different from those of a non-disabled person with an unpaid carer. This close relationship has the ability to become a difficult relationship that is the same as family or partner violence. Trusting someone enough to let them provide either personal care or support with day-to-day tasks or communication is in itself an emotionally intimate act that creates a close bond but also runs the risk of abuse. It is not infrequent for abusers to target the disabled person and befriend them, and persuade them that this is done from an altruistic motivation, while at the same time exploiting and abusing the disabled person. Unfortunately, the news racks are full of such stories. The victim will experience the same ambiguity about power and control versus emotional attachment as any other victim of domestic abuse.

My noble friend Lord Hunt mentioned the organisation Stay Safe East in his authoritative speech. Ruth Bashall, chief executive of that organisation, said of this Bill:

“If this landmark piece of legislation is to protect disabled victims as well as non-disabled victims, we must ensure that abusers are not provided with a cause to claim ‘best interests’ as justification for abusing us … Every year, disabled people are victims of abuse by paid and unpaid carers or personal assistants with whom they have a close relationship but are not family members, and there is very little legislation to protect us.”

I welcome the important issues raised by noble Lords in this group of amendments. I urge the Government to listen to the lived testimony expressed throughout this debate. I support the amendments for inclusion in the Bill.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, for introducing these amendments that seek to expand the definition of “personally connected” in Clause 2. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet them ahead of Report to discuss their amendments.

To answer the question that a number of noble Lords have asked: 3,200 responses were received to the consultation on the Bill and 85% of those responses agreed to our definition in the Bill. We consulted a wide variety of focus groups, which included disability groups; I do not have the list today, but I can try to get it.

These amendments seek to bring all carers under the definition of “personally connected” in the Domestic Abuse Bill. This would include carers who are unpaid, such as neighbours and friends, as well as paid carers and people in a position of trust who care for disabled people.

Let me be absolutely clear: the Government fully recognise that abuse can be perpetrated by carers on the people they care for and that these victims can be especially vulnerable. However, extending the definition of “personally connected” in the context of domestic abuse would have detrimental effects on the overall understanding of domestic abuse and the complexities of the familial and intimate partner relationships that domestic abuse is understood to encompass, where the affectionate emotional bond between the victim and the perpetrator plays a very important role in the power dynamics. By extending the definition to include carers, we would be broadening the definition of “personally connected” to include a much wider range of connections within health and social care settings, which are covered by other legislation, and would confuse the meaning of domestic abuse.

Noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and other proponents of these amendments argue that the relationship between the carer and the person being cared for is an intimate relationship because of the often intimate nature of caring. However, it is important to recognise that different degrees of care are required by different individuals and that not all care relationships can be classed as intimate. Additionally, many care relationships are affected by different power dynamics due to the paid nature of the work that many regulated carers undertake. This would make it inappropriate to class these relationships as domestic abuse, where the emotional interdependency and sometimes financial dependence make it very difficult for a victim to leave a domestic abuse situation.

This would be detrimental to one of the Bill’s overarching aims, namely to raise awareness and understanding of the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families. This is a domestic abuse Bill and should not be confused with a Bill on abuse in general, or abuse that takes place in a domestic setting. The explanatory report to the Istanbul convention makes clear what is intended by domestic violence or abuse. In its commentary on the term “domestic violence” it says:

“Domestic violence includes mainly two types of violence: intimate-partner violence between current or former spouses or partners and inter-generational violence which typically occurs between parents and children.”

What is proposed by these amendments—however worthy their intent—would mark a fundamental shift away from the objectives of this Bill, necessarily diluting and stretching the focus of the domestic abuse commissioner. We would also have to reset and reassess much of the work we are doing to prepare for implementing the Bill and developing a new domestic abuse strategy. By fundamentally expanding the concept of domestic abuse as used in the Bill we risk a significant delay in its implementation, and I am sure that is not what the House would want.

The Government recognise abuse of disabled and elderly people by their carers. This type of abuse should be called out and tackled, and existing legislation covers it. The Health Survey for England 2019—Providing Care for Family and Friends, which has been mentioned, shows that most unpaid carers were caring for family members. As such, a wide portion of informal care is already covered by the Bill and by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, where the abuse amounts to domestic abuse.

The Care Act 2014 placed adult safeguarding on a statutory footing for the first time. Under Section 42, local authorities have a duty to carry out safeguarding inquiries if they have reason to suspect that an adult in their area with care and support needs is at risk of abuse or neglect. Importantly, this is the case irrespective of whether that individual’s needs are being met by the local authority.

The care and statutory support guidance defines the different types and patterns of abuse and neglect and the different circumstances in which they might take place. The list provided is not exhaustive but is an illustrative guide to the sort of behaviour that could give rise to a safeguarding concern, such as physical abuse, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial or material abuse, modern slavery and discriminatory abuse.

In the almost six years since the Care Act was introduced, we have seen a steady increase in the number of concerns raised, as well as the number of inquiries made under Section 42. This demonstrates that the legislation is having an impact. Data from 2019-20 covering concluded Section 42 inquiries where a risk was identified showed that, in nearly 90% of cases, the outcome was reported to have either removed or reduced the risk to the individual.

Additionally, the Government have made clear in the accompanying statutory guidance that, under the Care Act regarding the duty on local authorities, they must ensure that the services they commission are safe, effective and of high quality. All relevant professions are subject to employer checks and controls, and employers in the health and care sector must satisfy themselves regarding the skills and competence of their staff. Furthermore, the Care Quality Commission plays a key role, ensuring that care providers have effective systems to keep adults safe and ensure that they are free from abuse and neglect. They have a duty to act promptly whenever safeguarding issues are discovered during inspections, raising them with the provider and, if necessary, referring safeguarding issues to the local authority and the police. Lastly, safeguarding adults boards provide assurance that local safeguarding arrangements and partners, including police, councils and the NHS, are acting to help and protect adults who may be at risk of abuse or neglect.

There is additional legislation that can be used to protect vulnerable adults from abuse outside the scope of domestic abuse, such as Sections 20 and 21 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, through which the offence of ill-treatment or wilful neglect was introduced specifically to help tackle the abuse of those people who are dependent on care services. Crucially, ill-treatment refers to the conduct of the offender irrespective of whether it damaged or threatened to damage the health of the victim.

Part 1 of the Bill does not create a new offence of domestic abuse, and many of the criminal behaviours underlying domestic abuse will continue to be pursued in the courts through other legislation such as the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which makes common assault an offence, as well as the Offences against the Person Act 1861, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and the Fraud Act 2006. Importantly, where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim’s disability, this is a hate crime and can lead to increased sentences under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Additionally, there are civil remedies, such as restraining orders, that can be used by victims.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and another noble Lord—I cannot quite recall who it was—talked about not making the amendment breach Article 14 of the ECHR. We do not think that not including carers in the definition of “personally connected” within the context of domestic abuse amounts to a violation of that article. The Domestic Abuse Bill sets out to protect those who are in intimate and family relationships and who are subject to physical, emotional, psychological or other abuse, which is what is understood by most to be domestic abuse.

In conclusion, while I acknowledge the spirit in which these amendments are intended, I hope that noble Lords will accept the importance of retaining domestic abuse as an internationally recognised distinct form of abuse. As I have indicated, were the amendments to be added to the Bill, they could significantly set back our work on implementing it. It is right that, where a disabled person is abused by a carer who is not an intimate partner or family member, this is called out and that there are remedies available. I hope that I have been able to reassure the House that such remedies and protections exist. I very much hope that I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, to withdraw her amendment. If she does divide the House I would ask noble Lords to consider carefully, before voting, the ramifications of these amendments for the Bill, for its implementation and for our shared endeavour to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse as it is commonly recognised in the Istanbul convention and elsewhere.

Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench 6:45 pm, 8th March 2021

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for her reply, although I am deeply disappointed. I thank all noble Lords for their support and their powerful application of the issues I tried to address in my contribution, which explained the aims of this amendment. I have been on a long journey of learning and studying since Committee. I have talked to lawyers, disabled people and many Members across the House.

Support for disabled people in the UK has rightly evolved over the years from a “carer knows best” approach to supporting individuals to take control of their lives in the community. This means that some disabled people now feel more able to speak out about some of the horrendous abuses they have suffered at the hands of their carers within the domestic home. This was ably put by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and others. It is not comfortable to acknowledge, as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, acknowledges. It is not comfortable to think about the domestic abuse of disabled people within the intimate setting of the home—but it takes place. Acknowledge it we must, and we must develop a solid way to address it.

The Bill is perfectly placed to acknowledge this kind of domestic abuse. It is a landmark Bill that would not put disabled people in the ghetto of social care. I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Randall, now understands more about why I pressed for the inclusion of disabled people and carers in the Bill, and I am glad he has changed his mind somewhat. I had wished the same from the Government today, but the reply indicates to me that they simply do not understand the nature of domestic abuse experienced by disabled people, which fits classically within the definition of this Bill.

I do not want to rehearse my replies to the Government, because that would take up too much valuable time, but, in answer to the accusation that the amendment would dilute the focus of the Bill and the work of the commissioner, I will say that that argument is very spurious. It will not dilute this Bill; it will strengthen it, because it will include those who are, at this moment in time, being domestically abused because they rely on another human being for their care. We rely totally on carers, as we would on a mother, a father or a partner.

So I do feel I need to test the opinion of the House, because I do not agree with the excuses given tonight. The answers I have given throughout my amendment speech, and the other speeches this evening, show why it is perfectly adequate and practical to have this included in the Bill. It would not dilute the focus or understanding of the Bill: no, it would enrich them. So I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 318, Noes 234.

Division number 1 Domestic Abuse Bill - Report (1st Day) — Amendment 4

Aye: 318 Members of the House of Lords

No: 234 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 4

Amendment 4 agreed.