Local Welfare Provision schemes

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:00 pm, 16th June 2020

Local welfare and assistance is important to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities. That is why, in 2013, the national social fund crisis loans and community care grants were abolished and local authorities were empowered, with maximum flexibility, to deliver services as they saw fit, according to local needs. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West will agree, I hope, that local authorities are best placed to determine what support is required for the most vulnerable in their area, given their expertise in the local communities that they serve. That was set out by the then Work and Pensions Secretary in 2014, when he found that local authorities delivered support more effectively than was the case under the social fund, as help was targeted at those who needed it most and joined up with wider social care.

I assure the hon. Member that we fund local authorities to deliver such important duties. In 2016, just over £129 million was included for local welfare provision schemes as a notional allocation within the English local government financial settlement. That allocation was increased to £131.7 million in 2020-21. In response to the coronavirus, we have also announced £3.2 billion of un-ring-fenced funding for local government to meet additional pressures arising from the pandemic and continue to deliver frontline services.

The hon. Member rightly focused on the overall economic situation of the victim. We included economic abuse in clause 1 because we accept that it is not just about bank accounts or money in the purse; it can take many forms. Similarly, the economic situation of the victim includes not just payments that she may be receiving by way of benefits, wages or salary, but her overall situation. That is why the statutory duty for tier 1 local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in safe accommodation is part of the picture. Local welfare assistance schemes enable support in such circumstances, such as support for victims of abuse in women’s refuges to become established in the community. The work that the domestic abuse commissioner will undertake to explore in depth the provision of community-based support is part of the economic picture as well.

A principle that I think we all share and are working towards is that we all want victims and survivors to be able to stay in their homes with their children—if anyone has to leave, it should be the perpetrator. That is what we are trying to get to, but of course I appreciate that there will be situations in which that is not possible, and we are attempting to address that through the Bill.

We are committed to working with the commissioner on community-based services and on the range of services and needs that she will address during her tenure. We believe that it would be a little premature to look at that before she has the chance to undertake that work.

I thank the hon. Member for raising the issue. I hope that the indications that I have given of the Government’s overall approach to helping victims will help to reassure her.