Definition of “personally connected”

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 9th June 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:00 pm, 9th June 2020

Just to recap, I was setting out to the Committee that there are many forms of exploitation that can take place in all walks of life. I was giving the example of county line gangs grooming and recruiting young children with, frankly, paltry offers given the price they pay for the items they receive, such as food or a new pair of trainers. The police have been imaginative in dealing with gang leaders, including through prosecution under modern slavery legislation, because they draw out before the court that element of grooming and long-term exploitation and manipulation. I give that just as an example.

I completely understand where the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is coming from, but we have tried to guard against addressing all forms of exploitative behaviour in the Bill, because we do not want inadvertently to dilute that central golden thread that runs through all of our understanding of domestic abuse: namely, that it is focused around a significant personal relationship, whether as a family member or as a partner. That is the core of the definition. If an unpaid carer is a family member, they will be caught by the definition. If they are a partner—as she said, many people have taken on caring responsibilities in the last couple of months because of the covid-19 crisis—they are covered by the Bill. I would not want anyone to think that carers per se are excluded from the Bill, but we have focused the definition around the central point of the personally connected relationship.

Abuse of disabled people by their carers can be covered by existing legislation. Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 places a duty on local authorities 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. There have been steady overall increases in the number of concerns raised and inquiries conducted under that section. In 2018-19, for concluded section 42 inquiries where a risk was identified, the reported outcome was to have either removed or reduced the risk to the individual in 89% of inquiries, which is an increase of 63% from 2017-18.

The statutory guidance supporting the Care Act also places a duty on local authorities to ensure that the services they commission are safe, effective and of high quality. The Care Quality Commission plays a key monitoring role to ensure that care providers have effective systems to help keep adults safe from abuse and neglect. The offence of ill treatment or wilful neglect provided for in section 20 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 was introduced specifically to tackle the abuse of people who are dependent on care services. In addition, we have introduced tougher inspections of care services by the CQC and made sure that the police, councils and the NHS work together to help vulnerable adults.

The plight of disabled victims of domestic abuse will feature in the statutory guidance. Indeed, there is the national statement of expectations document for local commissioners—we have not discussed it much because it is not strictly on the Bill—through which specialist needs are and will be addressed.

I hope that we have reassured the Committee that we are alive to the risks to people who are disabled. Some carers who fall into the “personally connected” definition will fall foul of the Bill, but for those carers who do not, there is already existing legislation to tackle exploitative behaviour where it transpires. With that, I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.