We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Examination of Witnesses

Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:24 pm on 29th October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Emily McCarron and Jo Todd gave evidence.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn 3:57 pm, 29th October 2019

Good afternoon, Emily and Jo, and thank you for your attendance at the Committee this afternoon. For the purposes of the record, could you introduce yourselves, starting with Emily?

Emily McCarron:

My name is Emily McCarron. I am a policy manager at Age UK.

Jo Todd:

I am Jo Todd. I am the chief executive at Respect.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

We are grateful for your attendance today.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Welcome. We are very interested to understand the impact that domestic abuse can have on older people. Ms McCarron, could you help us understand what action you would like to see the Domestic Abuse Commissioner take around older victims of domestic abuse?

Emily McCarron:

Certainly. When we are talking about older people and domestic abuse, those circumstances are often very much overlooked. We want older people who experience domestic abuse to start getting the support that they need. With this Bill, there is an opportunity to remedy that.

The first thing of crucial importance is that we do not know much about how much older people are experiencing domestic abuse. We know that about 140,000 older women and 74,000 older men experienced domestic abuse in the past year—therefore more than 200,000 older people. We know also that they face many barriers to reporting this abuse, so that figure is likely to be much higher. Of particular importance is the fact that data collection on the incidence of domestic abuse stops at 74. We would like that to be changed and fixed on the face of the Bill, so that data on domestic abuse is collected for all ages, not just under the age of 74.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Thank you. Ms Todd, will you explain what Respect does as an organisation, and then help us with the Drive project? I will then ask you about the lessons that can be learned from that programme in relation to the positive requirements in the domestic abuse protection orders.

Jo Todd:

Respect is a membership organisation. We focus on perpetrators of domestic abuse, male victims and young people, particularly those that use violence, abuse and controlling behaviour in their family home and in their intimate relationships.

The Drive partnership started off as a project between three organisations: SafeLives, Social Finance and Respect. It was to develop a service delivery model for perpetrators causing high levels of harm. That partnership came together about five years ago, and we have worked on developing that service delivery model. It is now just about to publish the third year evaluation report: the University of Bristol has been our evaluator all the way through. That has shown really positive findings. They are not quite out yet, but they are all in the right direction.

Part way through that partnership, we began to have conversations about the strategic needs around perpetrators: not just looking at one part of the perpetrator cohort— the perpetrators causing the highest levels of harm—but actually looking at what is needed by the whole cohort, and what a good whole-system approach would look like. We have reached out to others in the sector and developed what we have called a call to action for a perpetrator strategy. I can go into that in more detail if you like, and can certainly submit it as written evidence. We have a draft of that, and more than 60 organisations have signed up to it.

It looks at the comprehensive strategic approach that we think is needed for perpetrators. The spotlight has been on victims for too long: keeping themselves safe, keeping their children safe, keeping each other safe. Perpetrators have been very invisible, or if they have been visible the approach to them has not always worked. We need an approach that stops domestic abuse happening. That can work in different ways. You can have behaviour change programmes. I have worked on behaviour change programmes with perpetrators. There are men out there who want to change, who recognise the harm they are causing, and are motivated to change. They may be the ones that Sarah Newton was mentioning, who have grown up around domestic abuse. It is all around them in their community, and they do it without even considering that there are other ways of having relationships.

We need to offer those people opportunities to change, but we also need to be clear that we hold them to account when those opportunities are there and are not being taken by them, and that we have robust measures in place through the criminal justice system and also through a multi-agency approach that will stop their abuse, and limit them from being able to be abusive and controlling in their relationships through a series of actions that different agencies can take. We call it disruption. It can be housing, or it can be a police-led response. Lots of children’s services are included. There are lots of different ways in which agencies can disrupt perpetrators and stop them causing harm.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Q Thank you. Will you give us an insight into the work, to add a bit of colour to the picture you paint? For example, I visited the Drive project in Croydon. What sort of cases will some of the workers in Croydon or elsewhere be working on, and how do they interact with those perpetrators? Also, what happens with the victims at the same time?

Jo Todd:

That is a really good point. When you work with perpetrators, it should always be alongside a programme of work that keeps victims safe too. That is the approach taken by the Drive project. The victim will always be offered support but also information about the perpetrator, about whether or not he is changing and about what the risk levels are, to help her make decisions for herself.

The Drive project is a case management-based system. There are case managers who will have perpetrators on their books, who are all levels. Some of them might be in and out of the criminal justice system; some of them may be in prison and coming out. They work very closely with the probation and prison services, as well as the police. They are often resistant to change. They are not in the place I was just speaking about, where they have recognised their behaviour is a problem and they want to change. They often have multiple needs themselves. Sometimes that is trauma in their own lives; sometimes it is drug and alcohol problems and mental health problems. They are often, but not always—this is always often, but not always—unemployed or have housing problems or chaotic lifestyles that mean that engaging in any kind of intervention might be difficult.

The caseworker will take a view on whether it is appropriate to engage directly with that person, or whether to work behind the scenes in a co-ordinated multi-agency way to start tightening the net around them and to start making sure that every agency is aware of the problems they cause and the risk of harm there is and can take appropriate action. Someone mentioned earlier the carrot and the stick. It is very much that. It is, “We will work with you if you work with us, but if you won’t, we will use everything we can to stop you being able to be abusive.”

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Q Just a last question. Referring back to the domestic abuse protection orders and notices, but particularly the orders, in the Bill, what are your thoughts on the fact that judges can make negative requirements—for example, “Do not go within 100 metres of that address”—but also positive requirements, which may include attending a perpetrator programme?

Jo Todd:

It is true of any intervention around domestic abuse that it has the possibility to solve the problem and be safe and effective as an intervention, or to make things worse. Whenever we are looking at developing new things, and DAPOs and the positive order requirements are one of those, we need to really think about how this might raise the risk, as well as how it might reduce it. There are concerns—about not putting enough resource in and not being specific enough about what the positive order requirements are—that mean it could go in the wrong direction. We are hoping to work with you and possibly put amendments in to make sure that that does not happen.

With certain things, such as the specified responsible person who recommends to the courts what should be included in the DAPO and then is responsible for monitoring that requirement, there is not at the moment the same level of specification about whose that role should be. The Government may already have plans and thoughts around who would fill that role: whether it be probation or police, I am not sure. However, at the moment, that is not clear. It is really important that that role is of high quality, is an expert, is able to assess suitability and risk for various different interventions, and is then able to manage that risk. That is an important part of it.

Quality assurance is key, and you know that Respect has a set of standards for perpetrator work. When new interventions come up, we have to flex those standards and think about what is appropriate for the new types of work. It is really important that there is quality assurance around the DAPOs and the role. That means really thinking hard about what those positive requirements might be. Is it a range of requirements? What I would like to see, and what we have advised the Home Office on already, is not just having a one-size-fits-all short intervention, which I think is the risk, but having at your disposal the kind of things we have talked about already that Drive has got. You could just say, “You can go on this behaviour change programme for six weeks,” or something like that, but if someone is not suitable for a behaviour change programme because they are resistant to change and their lifestyle is chaotic, there is no point putting them on one. They will sabotage the whole process for everyone who wants to be on it. In that case, the disrupt and the case management element of Drive would be suitable.

I would like the DAPO to have the flexibility to be able to say, “You are suitable for this and this, but not this, this and this.” Obviously, it all takes resource to be able to do those assessments. I am plugging the call to action and strategy on perpetrators, but if the Government were able to comprehensively write a strategy on perpetrators, it would cover all those things, ensure a range of activities and have to be in every geographical area, and that is a real challenge; that is really resource-intensive, but I think you would see results.

We know the costs of domestic abuse are astronomical—I am sure everyone in this room knows the £66 billion a year figure that the Home Office published earlier in the year. I do not think the public realise that £66 million is frittered away on the social and economic impacts of domestic abuse. If we were to use some of that money in a proactive and strategic way to address the cause of the problem—the perpetrator—we would start to get somewhere.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Q We know that victims change the way that they behave to stop a perpetrator abusing them. What can we put into legislation to put the emphasis on change on the perpetrator and not the victim?

Jo Todd:

Some of it—some of the things I have mentioned—goes alongside the legislation. Domestic abuse legislation is focused on responding to abuse that has already happened, which of course is really important, but we need to prevent it from happening or stop it happening again if it has already started. That is hard to put into legislation. Some things have been suggested, such as polygraph testing—that is in the Bill at the moment.

I think you could spend your money a lot more wisely than on polygraph testing, and really think about GPS tracking. It has been piloted around the world, but in Spain in particular, and has been very successful. In case you do not know, because technology has moved on so much and we are all running to keep up with it, the tags that people on probation can have when they are released into the community can restrict them from going into wide geographical areas. You can put protections around victims, such as a 10-mile radius, or saying that he is not allowed in a certain town or cannot go where the school, the hospital or her mum’s house is, and all the travel in between those places. You can programme those tags. I would like money to be put into those kinds of things. If probation took forward technological advances, that would be really interesting to pilot, rather than polygraph testing. I didn’t know if anyone would ask me about that, so I thought I would get it in.

I keep coming back to quality assurance, but if I was putting anything into the Bill, it would be around the standards for work with perpetrators and the commissioning guidance around that. At the moment, commissioners are sometimes flailing. They want to do the right thing, but they have limited budgets. It is great when commissioners take notice of our standards—quite a lot do—but they are not compelled to, so some do not. Standards that are looking at safe and effective practice need more money than quick, cheap options.

I would look at putting an amendment in the Bill on quality assurance in perpetrator work. I have had a conversation today with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner on how that might fit with her role and with her oversight. There is still a bit of thinking to do about that, so I would be happy to take that forward with the Home Office, although we have all been watching the news today and are not sure where we will be in a few weeks’ time, but the positive thing is that everyone—in this room, it is a cross-party group—wants to take this Bill forward. Whoever ends up in government, and whatever form of Government we end up with, I am hoping will take forward the Bill. Again, that is something that the sector would appreciate some reassurance on. We will all be knocking on the doors of the people writing the manifestos really soon, to get some of the things that we want from the Bill into manifestos. You will be expecting us, I am sure. Does that answer your question?

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Q Yes, that is brilliant—I will give you a rest now. Ms McCarron, we have already discussed—something that came as a huge shock to me—that we do not keep stats for victims over 74 years of age, which is obviously something we have to look at remedying. How do we gather the data? What can we do to ensure that we have ways of identifying elderly people who are victims of domestic violence? Is it as simple as an IDVA—an independent domestic violence adviser—in a casualty unit? What can we do?

Emily McCarron:

I am not a statistician, so I cannot advise on the exact statistical methods, but there are opportunities with IDVAs, as you imply. We are also trying to raise the opportunity within the healthcare setting to better detect where domestic abuse of older people is occurring. Admission and discharge are critical points, when the experience of domestic abuse of older people can be picked up by healthcare professionals, so that is an opportunity potentially for data to be collected on, or certainly for more understanding of, the incidence of domestic abuse. That is why—for that point—we are calling for healthcare professionals to receive specific and ongoing training so that they can identify when domestic abuse is occurring, and so that they can better support older people.

The same goes for IDVAs. We know that only 5% of the people who seek support from IDVAs are over the age of 60, which is extremely low, so there is an opportunity here also to boost that role, particularly in the healthcare setting, where older people are likely to turn up with domestic abuse issues. Many older people are perhaps reliant financially or physically on perpetrators for financial or care support, and go to GP appointments with the perpetrator perhaps, but when they go to hospital, perhaps alone for the first time, there is an opportunity to intervene, to see what is going on and to see what support can be provided.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Q Do you know that in Wales there is quite a big training programme on domestic violence training? Is it better in Wales, because we have more people trained to identify victims?

Emily McCarron:

I cannot comment on the specific situation in Wales. We have identified a gap overall in the NHS, which could be providing much more training—or there is an opportunity for those healthcare professionals to intervene and to provide support, as well as to identify.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Q Actually, I can answer your question, Carolyn. Yes, it is very good in Wales, because they have compulsory IRIS—Identification and Referral to Improve Safety—training in the NHS, which is definitely something we should do in the England NHS. That is why they have got the highest detection rates in the UK of domestic abuse among older people.

Emily, you gave us very good written evidence on a different type of domestic abuse for older people from what we have been talking about. We have very much been talking about intimate partners, and this is really about adult family members abusing the older members of their family, or people with disabilities in their family. Perhaps you could talk to us a bit about what you know about that and the prevalence of it. What more do we need to do to reflect on it? For the first time, that type of domestic abuse is being captured in legislation.

Emily McCarron:

We know that domestic abuse is a gendered crime. However, at Age UK we receive about two calls a day from older people, their families and their support about this issue. Older men and women, as they age, are more likely to experience domestic abuse at the hands of family members—not just intimate partners. Older people are almost equally as likely to be killed by a partner or spouse as by their adult children or grandchildren. We are very pleased to see the definition of domestic abuse expanded, particularly with regard to the inclusion of statutory inquiries into suspected financial abuse, which is very relevant to older people.

We would like that definition to be expanded further so that it recognises the whole array of family relationships and the complexities and vulnerabilities that arise in those relationships as a person ages and their care needs develop and change. We are calling for the definition to be expanded to include abuse that is perpetrated not just by family members and intimate partners, but carers, because they provide care in a domestic setting to a person whose vulnerability has increased as they have aged. That is why we are calling for the definition to be expanded. We must recognise that older people experience domestic abuse not just at the hands of intimate partners; it is a new array of family members, neighbours, friends and carers.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

Emily, could you say a little about the difficulty with elderly people disclosing the fact that they are victims of this sort of abuse, and how difficult that must be? This morning, somebody raised the issue of older people, and I think this is a problem as you get older—hopefully, younger people have a different attitude, which is that you don’t suffer in silence. Have you made any estimate of the number of people that this affects? What initiatives have you found that have made a difference? What can we do about it, given that it is not only physical abuse and the economic abuse that Sarah was just talking about, but emotional abuse, control and those sorts of things?Q

Emily McCarron:

You are right to say that older people often suffer in silence because they face a range of barriers to reporting the abuse. In many instances, it might be that they have suffered from the abuse for a very long time and are simply resigned to it or feel that no one is really listening to them. They might be very frightened. It is also the case that some older people have cognitive and physical decline, which makes it much harder to report. We know that there are very few services available to older people. We have reports from older people that they think that domestic abuse services are not for them; they think they are for younger women and do not want to take up the places of younger women and children, so are reluctant to report the abuse. It is also due to fear and a reliance on people financially. In many instances, they might not want to leave the perpetrator, so it is about what the correct response to that person’s needs is. That is why we are calling for a better response from healthcare professionals.

As it stands, the Bill is very focused on the criminal justice response, and that may not always be the only response that is right for older people. We are calling for better co-ordination and links between the criminal justice system, the healthcare system and local authorities, for a more co-ordinated response that is also linked up to social care, which obviously plays a part.

We are also calling for greater links with local authorities. At the moment, the possibility of domestic abuse is not always fully considered in assessments under the Care Act 2014, so we are calling for a better understanding of it. Certainly some successful training programmes have been delivered specifically to train people up on the needs of older people, because it is not always the criminal justice response that is needed.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Q Emily, may I take you back to your suggestion that the definition be widened to include carers? I can absolutely see the logic of that, but is there not a danger? Currently, “personally connected” effectively means being or having been in a relationship or being a relative. If you extended that to carers, why would you not extend it to people who provide paid services to the home, for example? There is a danger that you go from “personally connected” towards “comes into contact”. Where would you stop? I wonder if you have thought about that in terms of extending the definition.

Emily McCarron:

We have. We see that there is a role for the Care Quality Commission to play in ensuring sufficient safeguards for professionals who provide paid professional care. We are going on the evidence we see at Age UK, on what the calls to our information and advice service tell us, and on case studies. We are seeing that, in addition to intimate partner abuse, older people raise concerns about the abuse they experience at the hands of unpaid carers. I can see that there would be some concerns about how far that goes, but we are just going on the evidence.

We see that older people are experiencing abuse at the hands of their carers. As I have said, that is related to their vulnerabilities, and often that person is the only person who they see—they are not in contact with many other people. We are seeing evidence of the same coercive control and of older people adapting their behaviour to deal with the abuse that they experience—for example, sticking to their rooms and avoiding all conflict. That is exactly the same pattern of abuse and coercive control that we see in other examples of domestic abuse. That is really what is driving our desire for this amendment to expand the definition of abuse.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Q Clearly, this is an area that you would think needs addressing. Did you consider whether there are other vehicles to address that point or is this neatly fitting?

Emily McCarron:

I do not think that it is ever neat—I do not necessarily think that anything fits neatly into this area. There are other opportunities beyond the Bill. There are opportunities to look at the guidance for the Care Act and how we address that. There are also discussions around the definition of coercive control and whether that is always in the domestic setting. The Bill provides an opportunity to improve the lives of older people who are experiencing domestic abuse. That is why we are focusing on this as a vehicle to make some change and have some relevance to the lives of older people who are experiencing abuse.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester

Q There is no doubt that this is a very big area that is relatively new in terms of our considering it. As you say, older people are definitely much more vulnerable, particularly with regard to intimate care. They are much more isolated, and I guess they are more conscious and concerned about loneliness too, which could be the consequences of taking any action. I have encountered a number of distressing cases involving either carers and the abuse of elderly victims, or other residents abusing people’s relatives in care homes. Obviously, the Government want to ensure that we get this right and make domestic abuse everybody’s business in order to try to identify and help victims, and I suppose that is even more critical with elderly people. What do you think needs to change to ensure that the response to older victims is as good as it can be? How do you see the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in helping us on that journey?

Emily McCarron:

The first step is the need to correctly identify that this is happening. A budget of £100,000 was allocated to support older people experiencing domestic abuse. While we are certainly not arguing for resources to be diverted away from younger people, that indicated to us that this is not recognised as an issue. In part, as I have explained, that is a data issue: we just do not quite know how many older people experience domestic abuse. We have quite a stark figure that one in four victims of domestic homicides are over the age of 60. We believe that is a consequence of the fact that older people are not accessing the services they need.

Really, this is about recognising that this is an issue for older people, that it is quite a hidden issue, that more needs to be done and that their particular needs must be recognised in terms of the response. The response should not just be a criminal justice response; it should also be about healthcare, social care, housing and the provision of services. On asking the commissioner, this is about recognising the issue and allocating resources—or the Government response—in accordance with the number of older people who experience it. It is quite a stark issue, but it is still very hidden.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Q Are there any further Members who wish to ask questions of the witnesses? If not, is there anything you wish to add that the Committee has not covered?

Jo Todd:

I would like to mention something about culture change. It is really easy to focus on individuals. The Bill is a real opportunity for the Government and society to reflect on what it is to have a healthy relationship. That is about equality. A lot of the reason we talk about gender all the time is that domestic abuse is a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality. There is a broader landscape around this issue. I think addressing that, alongside the measures we are looking at in terms of individuals, would help a lot. If we are talking about individual relationships, shared decision making, and having equality in the relationship, an unhealthy and abusive relationship is where there is an expectation of one partner having control and power in the relationship, and that their entitlement to make decisions for the family and for the other people in the relationship overrides everything else. We increasingly recognise that it is the control at the heart of an abusive relationship that is the problem, and the violence or abuse—economic abuse or whatever it is—is just a part of the mechanism for maintaining control.

So there is a bigger piece of work—it was mentioned earlier—about Government campaigns. There really is a mixed method approach to trying to shift the society we live in and the views that we all have, whether it is the older or younger generation. We are all from different generations in this room, and there is no generation that has got this right, so there needs to be a national dialogue about what healthy relationships are so that everyone knows what they are. And there needs to be campaigning targeted at perpetrators, or people who might end up as perpetrators, that gives very clear messages.

The Met police did a campaign probably 12 or 15 years ago that was directed at perpetrators. They put it on tube platforms and it had a really positive recognition rate among men. Media testing of how campaigns had worked found that it had a really positive impact, but we have not seen much since that is aimed at perpetrators. When you think about the Bill, I encourage you to think about a broader package of what the Government can achieve. We want services and the statutory response to victims, perpetrators and children to be as good as they can be, but we also need the wider conversation to happen.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Q Any final word, Emily, before we conclude?

Emily McCarron:

I have been talking about older people and in particular a response to domestic abuse that moves beyond the criminal justice response. Although we have advocated for the needs of older people, looking at healthcare, housing, social care, the local authority response and the need for a multi-agency response and better co-ordination, this does not only benefit older people; it benefits all those who experience domestic abuse. There is a real opportunity for the Bill to meet those needs and bring real change.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I am grateful to the two witnesses for their contributions, which brings us to the end of the proceedings for oral evidence today.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Marcus Jones.)

Adjourned till Thursday 31 October at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

DAB01 Transform Justice

DAB02 Equi-law UK

DAB03 Amnesty International UK

DAB04 Step Up Migrant Women Coalition

DAB05 Prison Reform Trust

DAB06 The ManKind Initiative

DAB07 Dogs Trust

DAB08 Dr Tirion Havard, Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University

DAB09 Refugee Council