Clause 12 - Duty to collaborate in exercise of victim support functions

Victims and Prisoners Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 4 July 2023.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 9:45, 4 July 2023

I beg to move amendment 89, in clause 12, page 10, line 5, at end insert——

“(1A) For the purposes of this section, the relevant authorities for a police area in England must together conduct a joint strategic needs assessment.

(1B) The Secretary of State must, drawing on assessments prepared under subsection (1A), provide a statement every three years on current support for victims of domestic abuse, including—

(a) volume of current provision,

(b) levels of need, and

(c) investment.”

Amendment 89 requires the relevant authority for a police area in England to conduct a join strategic needs assessment. The amendment is supported by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, and I thank her and her team for both the evidence that she submitted and her help with the amendment. Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 made great strides by placing a duty to plan and provide accommodation-based support for survivors of domestic abuse, including their children. However, there is no such duty for other essential community-based services, such as counselling, therapeutic support and advocacy, which are vital for survivors to find safety and recover from abuse.

In November last year, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner released the findings from her mapping of domestic abuse services across England and Wales, titled “A Patchwork of Provision”. She found that most victims and survivors wanted some form of community-based support. For example, 83% wanted counselling and therapeutic support, 74% wanted one-to-one support, such as a caseworker, and 65% wanted mental health care. There is a clear need for a range of community-based services, and a duty to collaborate would be a step forward in helping to co-ordinate the response.

However, victims and survivors are diverse, and so are their needs, which all too often are not being met. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report found a huge discrepancy in the provision of services across England and Wales, and an acute lack of funding, particularly among “by and for” services. Fewer than half of survivors were able to access the community-based support that they wanted. Only 35% said that accessing help was easy or straightforward. Over 70% of survivors who wanted support for their children were unable to access it, and only 7% of survivors who wanted their perpetrator to receive support to change their behaviour was able to get it.

Only 23% of survivors who wanted help to stay in work were able to get it, and just 27% who wanted help with money problems or debt received it. The mapping highlighted how effective and critical such services are in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but over a quarter of domestic abuse services were forced to cease some services altogether due to a lack of funding. Among “by and for” organisations, that rose to 45%. For children, who are recognised as victims in their own right for the first time in the Domestic Abuse Act, the Bill becomes empty legislation unless there is funding to provide services for them, or structures in place to understand their needs and provision.

The duty to collaborate will make some progress in responding to that need. However, I am unsure how a local strategy can have any material and substantial impact without a joint strategic needs assessment, which I will refer to as a JSNA from this point forwards. JSNAs draw from data to create a description of the place and population, taking into account the social, demographic and economic characteristics of the population in that area. They identify risk and protective factors to ensure effective commissioning. They provide the multi-agency partnership with important information to inform local initiatives, including data and typologies of domestic abuse, trends, volume, extent and distribution.

We must remember that not all victims are the same. Domestic abuse has many ugly faces, from economic abuse to so-called honour-based violence. The effects on victims and survivors vary greatly, and they will all have different journeys, wishes and needs. Without a clear picture of that detail, we risk a generic, “one size fits all” approach that will let down survivors. JSNAs also, importantly, include a community voice. Victims and survivors must be at the centre of that conversation, because no one understands what they need better than they do. JSNAs also pull together existing evidence and resources to understand what is or is not working and might work in their local area. All of that is a critical backbone for any local multi-agency strategy for supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse. The intended approach of developing a shared understanding of local need is not possible without a JSNA. Without it, local responses will be inconsistent, unaccountable and inhibited; they will continue to emulate problems and fundamentally let down victims and survivors.

The existing assessments at local levels currently vary. For example, the serious duty violence in the local area may not include the optional elements of domestic abuse and sexual violence in their definition of serious violence. That means that some areas may draw that data where it is included, but for other areas where domestic abuse and sexual violence data is not captured, there will be different quality in the detail of data. That makes it difficult for national Government to measure and compare successes in response across local areas.

We should encourage areas to track progress in a consistent and thorough manner that draws from a range of existing sources, including independent, specialist services, to improve local understanding of the need through JSNAs. That is also vital for local accountability, which I know is an important principle for this Government. It is important that the goalposts are not shifting during each review by hopping to different data sets, but instead are pinned down from the start and added to with additional data when identified to improve the overall picture. To ensure that the local response truly speaks to local need, we must ensure that duty holders bring data together to deconflict, analyse and collectively agree a joint understanding of need. Ensuring that there is not a generic response, but a specialist one, is key.

The commissioner’s mapping demonstrates how much more impactful a specialist response to domestic abuse is for victims and survivors. The success of this duty also relies on making strategic investments that are impactful. A JSNA would improve the evaluation of the success of a strategy, and it is important to understand the value for money for future investments by reviewing the effects of commissioned activities by their baseline. More importantly, due to the shared JSNA that all duty holders are accountable to, there would be improved co-operation to pool resources and stronger cases for unlocking financial resources in the duty holders. It is also important that all duty holders around the table are equal and responsible. A JSNA assists in drawing all partners into a collaborative power share, due to the joint input, a common product to draw direction from and being a key part of the response for victims and survivors.

I understand that there may be concern about a new burden on duty holders. However, a JSNA would not need to reinvent the wheel. We must have key principles on what data it includes and a clear route for existing data, such as from part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the serious violence duty, health and wellbeing boards and community safety partnerships. Where data exists, the duty should draw from those existing sources. However, there must be a consistent baseline of expectations for the duty holder. Where they do not have the data, they must set up the right structures to obtain it.

The Government have already acknowledged that there is an issue in providing community-based services, and have recognised that there must be collaboration to respond to this issue. Now, Minister, I ask you to accept that without JSNAs the duty will not only fall short of your more ambitious outcomes but fail in its main objectives to understand and strategically respond to local need. I apologise for saying “you” Mr Hosie—I assumed they were your intentions too!

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 10:00, 4 July 2023

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her amendment, which, as she set out, would require relevant authorities for a police area to conduct a joint strategic needs assessment—I may adopt the same shorthand as she did in order to save words—as part of their obligations under the duty to collaborate to inform the strategy for commissioning victim support services. The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to use the assessments to publish a statement every three years on the current support for victims of domestic abuse, using the needs assessments to assess whether provision is in line with need.

The hon. Lady is quite right to highlight the importance of service provision for such victims and survivors. It is something that she has championed, and that with passion and experience the shadow Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, has raised on every occasion in this House when she has had the opportunity since we were both elected together in 2015; I pay tribute to her for her work in this space.

It is vital that we have the relevant support services to fit the local needs of victims and that a bespoke approach is taken, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach set at a national level. That is why the funding system for victim support services operates as it does. I sometimes fear that some of the debate around duties to fund specific individual services slightly risks over-constraining individual local commissioners in their ability to meet the needs of their particular communities and to ensure that there is an appropriate blend of services, be they general services, “by and for” services or very specific services, so I sound a slight note of caution there. Of course, when it comes to overall funding—I suspect we may touch on this in subsequent debates—in the Government’s view the spending review, rather than individual legislation, is the right place to set such funding limits.

Grants and funding are supplied to PCCs to allow them to use their knowledge of local need and provision to choose what they fund. As part of the process, relevant local needs assessments that indicate the needs of victims already take place regularly as part of good commissioning practice. The grant funding is provided to commission practical, emotional and therapeutic support services for victims of all types of crime in their local areas. PCCs are expected to carry out needs assessments, which will allow them to target the funding and ascertain the level of need and demand in their area.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I am listening intently to what the Minister is saying. For clarification, I am not asking for a prescription like, “Five per cent. of support goes to people with dogs.” What I am saying is that authorities need a robust understanding of their demographics so that they are able to justify that they are supporting the needs in their areas. As the Minister has moved on to PCCs, will he comment on whether he believes that system is working? PCCs are individuals—political appointments—and I wonder whether that is leading to some of the subjective delivery we are seeing nationally, which I know he seeks to address.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Lady makes a couple of points. First, my remarks a moment ago were made in the context of the broader debate that can often happen around the funding of services. To her specific point, I fear I may detain the Committee a little while, but I suspect I will address her points within that context.

Police and crime commissioners are directly elected and therefore accountable to their communities, but there is always—I suspect that, under any Government of any political complexion, there will always be—the perennial debate of how to strike the appropriate balance: local flexibility and tailoring to meet local needs, versus the challenge of how to achieve a degree of consistency and avoid the so-called—this is a dreadful phrase— postcode lottery. That is always going to be a tension within the system. The challenge for us all, whichever side of the House we sit on, is how to strike the appropriate balance between those two approaches: the national and consistent approach, versus a degree of local tailoring, which reflects not only local need but political decision making by police and crime commissioners.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

As the Minister knows, I am trying to help. Would it not help the Secretary of State and the Government if an agreed baseline of data was collected? A region may push back on it, but it gives the Government a guide to see whether an area is succeeding or failing, and whether they need to be asking questions. For example, we do the same thing with ambulance times—we have that baseline. There will be local variations that can be discussed with the Secretary of State, but the baseline gives the Minister the opportunity to make investigations.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I reassure the hon. Lady that if she allows me to develop my point a little, I will address her specific JSNA point before I conclude.

As the hon. Lady will be aware, we published our victims funding strategy last May. I am pleased that that was published, not least because I set it in train back in 2018 when I was last a Minister in the Department. I am pleased that it has seen sunlight. The strategy provides a framework for how agencies should work together to best resource the victim support sector. Within it, there is a clear expectation that commissioners carry out regular needs assessments, using all the data required to commission appropriate services for victims in their areas, including victims with tailored needs. The duty to collaborate in the Bill, which the hon. Lady touched on, is clear that relevant agencies must work together to ensure that services that meet local needs are commissioned and provided for.

Clause 13(3) requires relevant authorities to have regard to any assessment of the needs of victims that they have already carried out when preparing their joint strategy. We will be issuing statutory guidance to accompany that duty. That will set out clear expectations for how the duty should be carried out, as well as good practice, including around data and consistency of data. The guidance will set out that relevant authorities are expected to explain in their joint commissioning strategy how they have had regard to the relevant needs assessments, and how commissioning decisions meet those needs.

I understand the points made by the hon. Lady, both in her opening remarks and in her interventions. I share her view that support services have to be commissioned in line with, and reflect, genuine need. That is why we have created the duty. To a degree, it reflects the duty created under the Health and Care Act 2022 for integrated care boards and integrated care systems in that context. We should allow local flexibility in the services that are offered but seek to avoid duplication and gaps where multiple agencies commission the same service in some spaces and nothing is commissioned in others. It is a cornerstone of the duty that local needs must be assessed and considered. For those reasons, we do not believe that the amendment is required to clearly state that a joint needs assessment must be considered, but I have a few more remarks to reassure the hon. Lady.

Subsection (1B) of amendment 89 would require the Secretary of State to provide a statement every three years on the current support available for victims of domestic abuse, including the volume of provision, levels of need and investment. The Department receives regular monitoring returns from PCCs and the support services that we commission. The returns include data that indicates how many victims are seeking support, and provide insight into demand and levels of need across England and Wales, which informs national commissioning decisions.

We are committed to improving our understanding of need and the impact of funding at a national level. To do that, we have introduced core metrics and outcomes to be collected from all victim support services that are commissioned through Government funding streams as part of the victims funding strategy. We will also establish an oversight board to monitor them.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

The trouble with the data that the Minister is describing is that it will not be all the data in a local area if it just comes from a PCC, because the vast majority of community-based services for victims of domestic and sexual violence come from a local authority. Unless that data is all pulled together with a joint needs assessment, the Minister, up here in this ivory tower, will get only a tiny fraction of the reality.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The shadow Minister highlights one of the issues that we grappled with in the course of drafting the victims funding strategy. I pay tribute to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for her work in trying to grapple with this issue as well. I am talking about trying to get an understanding of what is provided in a given locality, not just from the money provided by central Government—we can track that and see what is commissioned—but through local authorities and, in some cases, although I suspect it is not a huge amount, elements of NHS service provision.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 10:15, 4 July 2023

I take the hon. Lady’s point. I am no longer a Health Minister, but I suspect that were I ever to be so lucky as to be reshuffled back into that role, she would gently, or perhaps less gently, lobby me on that point. Of course, there is also the provision of services that are not funded by a statutory body but are voluntarily supported and funded. That is not to say that that is a reason not to fund services statutorily; equally, in regard to understanding the provision locally, it is important to understand all aspects of that provision.

I will turn to the JSNA—

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

You probably will in an hour or so. [Laughter.] I do not want to push the amendment to a vote, but I would like the clarity that will prevent me from doing so. Is the Minister saying that in the statutory guidance he will require or ask for data not only from the PCCs but from the local authority, the NHS and—one hopes—community services?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I suspect that I have but two or three minutes more, and I hope that in that time I will be able to address adequately the hon. Lady’s concerns. The funding strategy’s oversight board will review collected data returns to establish where there are obvious gaps in current funding, where we may be duplicating funding across Government and where we could improve collaboration at national level to improve services for victims. The duty to collaborate will further improve our—

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I will not test your patience in that way on a Tuesday morning, Mr Hosie.

The duty to collaborate will further improve our understanding of both local need and the services commissioned for victims of not only domestic abuse but sexual abuse and other serious violence offences. The publication of the joint commissioning strategies will give valuable insight into the levels of service that victims are receiving in each police area across England and an assessment of how areas are making improvements against local objectives or key performance indicators. An oversight forum will then scrutinise those strategies, assess how well the duty is executed nationally, share best practice and help to devise plans for improvement.

A national statement every three years focused solely on domestic abuse would not in itself hugely build on the understanding that the Secretary of State already has through existing mechanisms or necessarily better help local areas to understand need. The strategies published under the duty to collaborate will instead provide information of the type, or a large amount of it, that the hon. Member for Rotherham is asking for—that is, on the volume of provision, levels of need, and investment—for not only domestic abuse but sexual abuse and other serious violent offences more broadly, and with the important local context that is useful for commissioners. I therefore encourage the hon. Lady not to press the amendment to a Division, as the Secretary of State will in effect have access to all the information that she asks for. However, although I am—

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I give way to the shadow Minister, but let us hope she does not dissuade me from what I am about to say.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

I do not wish to dissuade the Minister. In my local area, there is a “by and for” service that is run specifically for Afghan women, that is completely funded, usually, by the will of volunteers, and that is dealing every year with hundreds of cases of Afghan women who are victims of domestic abuse, and it does not get its funding from any of these sources. How will the Secretary of State know that that is an issue?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Lady did not quite succeed in dissuading me from what I was about to say, which is that although I am unable to accept the hon. Member for Rotherham’s JSNA amendment at this time, I will reflect very carefully on its import and what she said, and particularly on the words of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in the oral evidence we heard, and in the context of the points made by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley and for Rotherham about the challenges in understanding service provision when that is not funded through a national or a public funding stream.

I cannot commit further than that, but I will commit to reflecting very carefully, between Committee stage—as this is a carry-over Bill, we will have a few months—and before it returns to the House on Report, on the points that the hon. Members and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner have made very eloquently.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I apologise for testing your kind patience, Mr Hosie. While the Minister is in a reflective mood, I hope he will also reflect on the financial and time commitments that might be placed on organisations, and try to ensure that we get the data we need with the lightest of touches. I am grateful for his movement on the issue, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

I beg to move amendment 80, in clause 12, page 10, line 16, at end insert—

“(3A) In discharging their duty under this section, relevant authorities must collaborate with specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support services within the police area, as commissioned under section [Commissioning of specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support services].”

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 19—Commissioning of specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support services—

“(1) It is the duty of relevant local authorities to commission specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support services for victims in accordance with need.

(2) The services provided under subsection (1) must include, but are not limited to—

(a) counselling and other psychological support,

(b) advice and advocacy support in relation to welfare benefits, debt and access to financial support,

(c) support for children affected by domestic abuse,

(d) legal advice,

(e) victims helplines,

(f) support for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence, trafficking or modern slavery who offend as a result of that abuse,

(g) perpetrator programmes with a priority outcome of increased safety and freedom for victims,

(h) support for victims of elder abuse,

(i) support for victims of stalking,

(j) support for families where a relative has died by suicide following domestic abuse,

(k) support for victims of modern slavery and trafficking,

(l) support for so-called ‘honour-based’ abuse victims,

(m) outreach and education initiatives aimed at raising awareness of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and

(n) ‘By and For’ services that support individuals with protected characteristics.

(3) In discharging the duty under this section, the relevant local authorities must have particular regard to the need for such services provided by, and for the benefit of those with protected characteristics.

(4) The Secretary of State must by regulations—

(a) define ‘specialist community based services’ in collaboration with the violence against women and girls sector, and

(b) set out how providers are to be regulated.”

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

I apologise for my lateness, Mr Hosie. I am suffering from a weird bout of dizziness, which I have never had before in my life.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

If the hon. Lady needs to sit down, that is not a problem.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

I will attempt to stand, but should I need to sit down I will. I am fine if I just stand still.

Unsurprisingly, I will follow on from the theme of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham regarding exactly how the very welcome duties around domestic abuse and sexual violence will work in practice. I am afraid that the Bill runs the risk of having a good title—obviously I preferred it when it just had the word “victims” in it—but not much else in this space. No one is not on the side of victims. Everyone wants them to be looked after and cared for. The problem, as is so often the case, is that the devil is in the detail. The support, care and provision of services that victims need are specialist, tailored guidance and support in the face of tragedy, abuse, exploitation, fear, anger and loss. I tabled the amendment and new clause in recognition of the specialist services that are needed if we are to truly deliver on the promised principles of the Bill.

My commitment to specialist services and my desire to get specialisms written into the law is, and will be, lifelong, because I have watched as generic services have taken over from specialist support-based services. In my constituency, I have seen a case where the perpetrator is being supported by the same service as the victim, which is both unethical and dangerous. That happens because there are all-encompassing, non-specialist victims-based services rather than specialist women’s services. I gently point out to all Government Committee members that there is a huge desire from the Government to talk about women-only spaces. I notice that it is politically expedient to talk about women’s specialisms in some aspects of our politics; if only putting women’s specialisms into the law were such a hot topic. I notice that much less debate goes on about that.

The amendment and new clause would clarify that police and crime commissioners, local authorities and health bodies must commission specialist women’s community services that will provide the support, care, prevention and guidance that victims need. Without specifying the types of services that should be commissioned to best serve victims, the duty will undoubtedly incentivise large generic contracts and not local specialist services—a real risk to which I will return.

First, though, I will make the argument for specialist provision and pay homage to the providers that deliver it. It is easy to make such an argument when we hear of the need, experiences and injuries of victims, and the sheer scale of crimes suffered. We know that such services are currently available to victims. For example, community-based domestic abuse services are life-saving and, crucially, life-building for victims of some of the worst crimes, but an estimated 70% of domestic abuse victims and survivors who seek support rely on community-based services.

In previous Bills such as the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Government have sought to have protections from on high, not from local commissioners. They decided it was more important to make sure that refuge-based accommodation services were provided in all areas. However, they did not put the specialisms in, as I will come to in a minute. Currently, 70% of people are seen by community-based services, so we are touching only a fraction. Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, states that 80% of its thousands of service users access some kind of community-based specialist service, but inconsistent provision across the country means that many survivors are not able to access such support. In 2022, less than 50% of those who wanted to access community-based services were able to.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

We all have female constituents who have been victims and who need community-based services. I have had constituents contacting me who are on a very, very long waiting list. Those specialist services are not there at present. Not only do we need them, but we need the funding to be in place for them.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

I absolutely agree. In my local area, we have had to shut down waiting lists, and not just because of their length: there have been cases of domestic homicide, where women have been murdered while on a waiting list for services. Those agencies that were not able to provide specialist services then feel the hand of blame coming from the state: because people were dwindling on waiting lists, the agencies get a level of blame for the murder of those women. In the worst possible circumstances, we cannot even operate waiting lists any more. They just shut them.

The care and support that victims and survivors need are specialised and wide-ranging. In new clause 19, we have laid out some of the key services that need to be provided. The mental health impacts of domestic abuse and sexual violence cannot be overestimated, so counselling and other psychological support is central. In Women’s Aid research, almost half of women in refuge reported feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts as a direct result of the domestic abuse that they experienced. Throughout the journey of the Bill, we have heard the heartbreaking case of Katie, who took her own life following sexual abuse. Katie was a childhood friend of the journalist Charlie Webster, who wrote:

“The thing about the trauma of sexual abuse, it doesn’t just go away. What happened to Katie made her feel worthless like she wasn’t enough, and it impacted her mental health, as is common for all survivors, me including.”

We must ensure that victims can get the help they need.

The organisation Surviving Economic Abuse has done extraordinary work on raising the profile of economic abuse and the devastating, complex impact on domestic abuse victims’ lives. Some 95% of domestic abuse victim-survivors experience economic abuse, and the lack of access to economic resources post separation is the primary reason why women return to an abusive partner. It is crucial that survivors have access to specialist experts who understand economic abuse, as well as advocacy support in relation to welfare benefits and debt and access to financial support to rebuild their lives.

The impact of domestic abuse on children is a shamefully underdeveloped area of policy. Colleagues and I were successful in securing the recognition of children as victims in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, but what does that actually mean in practice? One in seven children and young people under the age of 18 will have lived with domestic violence at some point in their childhood, but the provision of children’s support services nationally is patchy, piecemeal and precarious. I am one of the nation’s leading experts in this, but if a child in my constituency came to me today and said, “I’m not a direct victim of domestic abuse, but my mum is being beaten up by my dad every day,” I would not know where to send them. I would not know where to refer that child.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I wonder whether my hon. Friend heard the “Woman’s Hour” piece last week. Olivia Colman is a trustee of a theatre group that goes into primary schools specifically to raise issues that are uncomfortable, but also to try to give some support to those hidden children who will be seeing domestic abuse and to try to prevent perpetrators in future.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Absolutely. That organisation is called Tender; I am also a patron, along with Olivia Colman. Again, that support is only provided through having good headteachers or good local commissioners. There is nothing from this building or nationally that says there must be specialists going into every school, because if in every single school there is a class of 30 kids, and one in seven—my gosh, I am so dizzy that my maths will not work it out, but we will have a huge number of children in every class who suffer this in silence. They need specialist support available to them. We are failing to reach and save children in dire domestic abuse circumstances.

An extraordinary family I know in the west midlands, the Van Hagens, campaigned tirelessly after their daughter Suzanne was murdered. With incredible courage, Chloe, who was 10 at the time of her mother’s death, has spoken out about how social services failed to intervene. How can that child have been left alone when all around her services knew what was happening? We must do better for child victims of domestic abuse in protecting them from violence and supporting them in their recovery.

Another cohort of victims who need specialist provision is victims of domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls and exploitation who commit offences because of the crime against them; 57% of women in prison and under community supervision by probation services are victims of domestic abuse, while 63% of girls and young women aged 16 to 24 who are serving sentences in the community have experienced rape or domestic abuse in an intimate partner relationship. Poor practice or gaps in the law mean that women’s experience of abuse is often not properly taken into account when they themselves are accused of offending.

Organisations such as the Centre for Women’s Justice seek to prevent the unjust criminalisation of victims, including by addressing intersectional discrimination and inequalities faced by black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women. These services provide vital legal guidance and crucial protection and support for victims who find their victimhood discarded while we patiently wait for the statutory defence legislation that is urgently needed. It is not actually in the scope of the Bill; if it were, I would be tabling an amendment like the amendments we tabled to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which sadly were rejected.

Quality-assured perpetrator interventions that include specialist parallel support for victims, such as those offered by Respect, are another vital form of community-based domestic abuse services. Effective perpetrator intervention and management is crucial to ending violence against women and girls. A three-year independent study by the University of Bristol of 500 Drive Project service users found an 82% reduction in the use of physical abuse, an 88% reduction in the use of sexual abuse, a 75% reduction in the use of stalking and harassment behaviours and a 73% reduction in the use of jealous and controlling behaviours. Despite the crucialness of effective offender intervention, victims are not able to access it. Research by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner revealed that only 7% of survivors who wanted their perpetrator to receive support to change their behaviour were able to get it.

There were 1.8 million stalking victims in 2022, but less than 1% of all victims are currently supported by specialist stalking advocates. Victims of stalking often do not report stalking behaviour until they have experienced more than 100 instances. Stalking is an incredibly complex crime. Addressing it requires an understanding of patterns of obsessive, controlling behaviour that, when seen as an individual occurrence, may not appear to constitute criminal conduct. Suzy Lamplugh Trust research states that approximately one in four victims of stalking who were supported by stalking advocates saw their stalkers convicted. That is substantially better than the published rates for England and Wales, where only 1,000 stalkers are convicted. As one victim said:

“Before I had a stalking advocate I felt as if the police weren’t taking me seriously. She not only listened, empathized and supported me from the start, she continued to do so until the perpetrator was convicted of his crime. I can’t thank her enough.”

In short, if we want these criminals off our streets, we need specialist support.

Older victims of domestic abuse, those who suffer honour-based abuse, families where a relative has died by suicide following domestic abuse and victims of modern slavery and trafficking as a pattern of domestic abuse, which I see all the time, must all have access to the specialist support they need. Having generic support services for victims of crime or even just victims of domestic violence, as if they were all one thing, simply will not work. It is also absolutely imperative that they are segregated on the basis of men and women.

New clause 19(2) highlights the importance of “by and for” services provided for those with protected characteristics. It asks authorities to have particular regard to their provision in commissioning. Such services are crucial because of the numerous intersecting inequalities that victims with protected characteristics face. For example, we know that black and minoritised women face significantly higher barriers to reporting abuse and accessing protection and support. Research shows that black, minoritised and migrant women experience higher rates of domestic abuse-related homicides, and 50% of victims experience abuse from multiple perpetrators.

At the height of the covid-19 pandemic, the domestic abuse charity Refuge found that black women were 14% less likely to be referred to its services for support by police than white survivors were, despite black women being 3% more likely to report abuse to the police than their white counterparts.

Migrant victims of domestic and sexual violence are more vulnerable to serious crime, yet they are less likely to receive redress. Such victims face multiple barriers to protection and safety, and their immigration status will be weaponised by their abuser to stop them seeking protection. I have heard “Don’t tell anyone or I’ll have you deported” a million times. Research by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the Step Up Migrant Women campaign found that 62% of migrant women had specifically been threatened in that manner by their abusers. David Carrick used that threat on one of his victims.

The specific experiences of victims with protected characteristics mean that they require holistic support that “by and for” services are crucial to providing. That does not apply only to minoritised women or minority ethnic women. One of the best “by and for” services in our country is provided by Aurora New Dawn, which specifically works with victims of domestic abuse who are in the armed forces or married to armed forces personnel. I would not, even as an expert, be able to offer them the specialist support that they need, because I do not know about living in barracks. What do I know about the rules and regulations in the armed forces? Not very much. People need specialist services run by people who know what they are talking about.

The work of organisations such as Southall Black Sisters, Sistah Space and LAWRS must be central in any effort to protect and support victims. There might be some people in this room who feel I am over-concerned, but we can look to the Domestic Abuse Act as a fair warning. The Women’s Aid 2023 annual audit found that specialist services too often lose out on funding to generic, larger providers or to the local authority providing services in-house. I cannot tell the Committee what a bad idea I think that is. I speak specifically to some councils near me. As predicted, we have sadly seen this unfold in the delivery of the statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in safe accommodation under the Domestic Abuse Act.

I tabled amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to make it clear that councils need to commission specialist women’s refuges and those that provide support to black and minoritised women. At the time, the Government said that those amendments were not needed and that guidance would suffice. As many will be aware, the statutory duty and guidance have not resulted in consistent and effective commissioning of refuges across the country.

For example, in 2021 a long-established specialist domestic abuse service, RISE in Sussex, was decommissioned after a procurement process that failed to assess bids for refuge and advocacy services on social value at all. Such decisions fail to account for the quality, expertise and experience of providers and the significant benefits that come from organisations with long-established links to their local area and community support. The failure to effectively respond to the needs of victims puts financial strain on public services such as the NHS and continues to feed the £78 billion hole that is the social and economic cost of domestic abuse and sexual violence on society. Our amendment 80 to clause 12 and our new clause 19 are crucial, because only by being crystal clear about the types of services that commissioners are required to deliver will we ensure that survivors get the right support.

Finally, our amendment would ensure that the violence against women and girls sector is collaborated with in the commissioning process, as in the previous amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham. Once again, lessons can be learned from the Domestic Abuse Act and the duty to provide accommodation for victims of domestic abuse. Survey respondents to the Women’s Aid 2023 audit were asked for their comments on the implementation of the statutory duty, and those issues were expanded on in interviews with service representatives. Interviews with service providers found that the majority of services had experienced a rushed approach from local authorities with regard to needs assessment, strategy development and commissioning more generally, with a tick-box approach to the required process rather than meaningful engagement. Violence against women and girls sector services must be central to any provision for the care of victims and survivors of such violence. I urge the Government to accept amendment 80 and new clause 19.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 10:30, 4 July 2023

It is good to see the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, in her seat. I hope she is feeling a bit better, although I am pleased that neither her eloquence nor her passion for the subject has been impaired. I am grateful for her amendments to place a duty on relevant local authorities to create specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support services for victims, in accordance with need. Her new clause 19 would also require the Secretary of State to define in regulations “specialist community based services”, after agreeing that definition in collaboration with the violence against women and girls sector, and to set out in regulations how providers are to be regulated.

Supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence is an absolute priority for the Government. As I said in responding to an earlier group of amendments, I recognise the hon. Lady’s expertise and commitment to the issue. I hope that one thing we can both agree on is the importance of getting the right support for victims of these crimes. She is absolutely right: there is a place for broadly based general support services for victims of crime, but equally I have seen at first hand, both in my current incarnation in this role and previously, the importance of specialist services, particularly “by and for” services and trauma-informed services, if we are to succeed in reaching out to and being able to help victims and survivors of those horrendous crimes and give them the confidence to engage and be supported.

Amendment 80 calls for collaboration with the providers of community-based specialist services for female victims of domestic abuse and sexual abuse. The duty to collaborate set out in clauses 12 and 13 is specifically and purposely placed on the commissioners of services only—that is, police and crime commissioners, local authorities and integrated care boards in England—as it is a duty to collaborate when commissioning services. To expand collaboration beyond commissioners would risk changing the objectives of that duty, which are to encourage more strategic and joined-up commissioning of services, rather than to dictate or fix which types of services the commissioners, who understand the needs of their area best, should focus on and should aim to commission.

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s ambition to ensure that specialist women’s support services are properly considered as part of that commissioning process. As needs will vary locally, the Department provides police and crime commissioners with grant funding to commission practical, emotional and therapeutic support services for victims of all crime types in their local areas. PCCs are expected to carry out needs assessments to inform their local commissioning decisions, as I mentioned in discussing a previous amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Rotherham.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

This point builds on my previous amendment. Budgets are tight and PCCs are trying to get the most support from their limited budgets. Can the Minister point to anything in the Bill that will make sure that the specialist services get a look-in? My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley touched on generic services, which we were seeing a lot. Brexit was meant to eliminate having to go to the lowest bidder, the European regulations and that sort of stuff. My fear is that unless there is something the Minister can point to in the Bill that embeds that need for both demographic and specialist support services, the PCCs will go for the cheapest, most common provider.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I slightly differ from the hon. Lady’s perspective; I do not believe that it is necessary to have that provision in the Bill. There are other mechanisms, be they through statutory guidance or through commissioning guidance and the work that is done together. We have touched on this point before, but the challenge is the extent to which we think mandating—and thereby, to a degree, being prescriptive—is appropriate, versus being permissive, for example by setting out guidance and expectations, but saying that it is for a directly elected and accountable police and crime commissioner to make decisions and be accountable to their electorate and their public for what they are doing and whether they are making the right decisions.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding) 10:45, 4 July 2023

I understand entirely—I am a firm democrat and I will fight for democracy—but I am afraid the idea that very marginalised groups of people with very little resource could launch a campaign to spark public interest in, say, Lincolnshire to get the 19% of people who voted in the PCC election to change the balance is for the birds. I say that as someone who has tried to do it. I am not entirely sure that PCCs can truly be accountable to their electorates on the issue. If we are seeing gaps, surely it is Parliament’s responsibility to deal with them.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I was going to make the point that, sitting alongside local accountability and local tailoring, we also have—as the hon. Lady will know, and for want of a better term—a national approach. The context is slightly different, but we have the rape and sexual abuse support fund, for example, which is nationally commissioned. With RASAF, we seek to fill gaps in provision and ensure there is a geographical spread.

I will turn to individual services in a moment, but in any locality a PCC might say, in relation to the point made by the hon. Member for Rotherham, “I have limited resources, so I will put them where the greatest number of victims are in my area.” However, a small number of victims might not be covered by that, because they are a small number in that locality. That is why we have the national approach sitting alongside to ensure that there is national provision in a number of areas.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

On the idea that there is anywhere in our country where victims of domestic abuse are small in number, let me say that the national average is 19% of all victims of crime, and domestic abuse represents the highest volume of any crime in our country where calls go to the police. I do not expect the Minister to have the data to hand, but I would like to see a PCC’s office that is spending 19% of its budget on this.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I will see whether I can get that data. On the hon. Lady’s point about the figure of 19%, she is right to highlight the horrifying prevalence of that crime, which often goes unnoticed because of the nature of reporting and the nature of the crime. Moreover, there are particular groups within the figure and within the cohort of victims, for example minorities. A PCC might take the view that in a locality a particular group might need specific trauma-informed services, which, given their choice of resource allocation, might not have been catered for. That is why we seek at national level to try to address such issues with direct funding grants and with agreements that we reach, for example through the RASAF.

Our role as Government is to set the expected standards for the approach to commissioning of victim support services. At a macro level, we have done that through the victims funding strategy, which clearly sets out the expectation for commissioners to put victims at the centre of commissioning. We wholeheartedly agree that commissioners should consider a range of different services, including specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support, and that they should choose to commission services that best fit the needs of their population.

Let me turn to the specifics of the amendment. I am in agreement on the importance of commissioners drawing on the expertise of providers of victim support services when preparing and revising their joint strategies. That is why clause 13(2) specifically requires relevant authorities to consult with persons who represent the interests of victims, providers and other expert organisations. We would expect them to consult with providers of specialist services for female victims of domestic abuse and sexual abuse, as well as “by and for” services in the children’s sector, to name but a few more. However, we do not consider it proportionate to list in legislation organisations with which commissioners must consult, which would risk resulting in a hierarchy of services or unintentionally omitting organisations providing valuable and important services.

In addition, we intend the accompanying statutory guidance to set out that local commissioners should consider engaging with a range of providers that reflect the types of service required in their area, such as women-only services, when considering their statutory duty to consult persons appearing to them to provide relevant victim support services and other appropriate persons. Guidance will also support commissioners by recommending standards and processes for that consultation. We are engaging with both providers and local commissioners as we develop that guidance so that we can reflect best practice, and I would be very happy to work with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley to explore how guidance may further support commissioners in fulfilling their obligations to reflect the views of providers, and those who support victims, in their joint-commissioning strategies.

I reassure the hon. Lady that the Government are fully aware that domestic abuse and sexual violence disproportionately impact women and girls. Beyond the Bill, in February 2023 we published a revised strategic policing requirement, which includes violence against women and girls as a national threat for policing to respond to. In 2021, the Government published a new and ambitious cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy to help to ensure that women and girls are safe everywhere. That includes a new full-time national policing lead on violence against women and girls, DCC Maggie Blyth, who I have had the privilege of meeting; I know that the shadow Minister meets her regularly as well. She is now in post and is doing an excellent job in the role.

We have awarded £125 million through the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund to make our streets safer for women and girls. We have contributed up to £3.3 million to fund the roll-out of Domestic Abuse Matters training to police forces. That includes funding the development of a new module to improve charge rates. The Government are also taking targeted action against sexual violence, including through the 24/7 rape and sexual abuse support line, which offers free, confidential emotional support for victims and survivors.

I therefore encourage the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley—I do not know whether she is persuadable—not to press her amendment to a Division. The duty to collaborate focuses only on commissioning bodies, as they are best placed to meet the objectives of our duty. In the Government’s view, the Bill already includes provision for engagement with providers, such as providers of specialist women’s services for domestic abuse and sexual violence, underpinned by the statutory guidance that will be produced.

New clause 19 would place a duty on relevant local authorities to commission specialist women’s community-based domestic abuse and sexual violence support services for victims in accordance with need. It would also require the Secretary of State to define in regulations “specialist community based services”, after agreeing that definition in collaboration with the violence against women and girls sector, and to set out in regulations how providers will be regulated.

We do not fully share the hon. Lady’s view about the extent to which local authorities should be required to fund particular types of community-based services; again, that goes to the point underpinning my earlier remarks about it being a local decision for which local authorities would be accountable. In our view, it is for local commissioners to determine what services to fund, noting the additional national strand of direct funding alongside that. That determination will be based on their assessments of the needs of their local populations, knowledge of available services and their understanding of those services and their provision. Our concern is that the approach set out in the new clause risks excluding or minimising the importance of some of the other service types that commissioners could consider for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. As drafted, the new clause could risk creating a hierarchy.

On overall funding, we believe that the right approach to setting funding levels continues to be through the spending review process, rather than individual pieces of legislation. That allows Government and individual Departments to outline priorities and respond to changing circumstances; allows the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider a range of funding requests and pressures, recognising the finite amount of taxpayer money available to any Government; and allows those priorities to be considered in the round.

I hasten to add that I am not in any way questioning the importance of these vital services. I have had the privilege of visiting a number of them, both as Under-Secretary of State and in my present role. I have seen at first hand the amazing work that they do. They often go above and beyond the resources that they have available, in their own time and with their own resources, so passionate are those who work in this part of the sector to assist to the best of their ability those who need their help. That is one of the reasons that we have included ringfenced funding in our grants to PCCs for community-based services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

In allocating money to PCCs, there is always a balance to be struck. Many PCCs, I know, would prefer a greater proportion of their funding to be unringfenced and to be used entirely at their discretion within those broad parameters. We think that we have struck the appropriate balance, with them having a degree of discretion, but with some ringfenced funding to address particular needs.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I am listening intently to what the Minister is saying. He says that he is concerned that the list of services put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley has the potential to create a hierarchy of services, but he has only detailed IDVAs and ISVAs further on in the Bill. How does the Minister hold both those thoughts?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I suspect that when we reach that clause, we will debate that exact point. However, to pre-empt what I will say about that clause—I shall say this briefly before you call me to order, Mr Hosie—the reason is that ISVAs and IDVAs have a particular, evolving and developed professionalism that gives them a particular locus within the criminal justice system. It is quite right that we cannot issue guidance to judges, because they are the independent judiciary, but through this approach to ISVAs and IDVAs we can seek to give the judiciary greater confidence in the professionalism of those roles. We thereby hope to see the judiciary being more willing to utilise them in the court process. That is my rationale, but we may debate that point when we come to the relevant clause.

New clause 19 also highlights the importance of legal advice for victims. The Government asked the Law Commission, as part of its work on the use of evidence in sexual offence prosecutions, carefully to review the law, guidance and practice relating to the trial process in prosecutions of sexual offences, an issue in which I know the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley takes a close interest. That will include consideration of whether independent legal advice and representation would be beneficial where personal records are sought, or more widely for the trial process.

On setting out how providers are to be regulated, we do not want to take a prescriptive approach in legislation. Local commissioners regularly review the services they commission to ensure high standards of victim services and will set relevant and tailored quality standards in their agreements with local providers. I suspect that a degree of the debate here is around where the line lies between prescription and a permissive approach.

As I have said in response to similar amendments, we have allocated a substantial amount of funding for domestic abuse and sexual violence victims and survivors, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to victims of these crimes. We are making it clear to commissioners and funders that they should consider the value and role of specialist-based support services when assessing local need to inform the distribution of funding, but ultimately local commissioners are best placed to determine how those services should be provided locally. On that basis, I gently encourage the shadow Minister not to press her amendment to a Division.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

I will respond to some of what the Minister has said. His charming hope that all commissioners are absolute experts in this is not one that I share. I have been a commissioner on a local authority, and I think Birmingham remains probably the only part of the country to commission sexual violence services as part of its sexual health commissioning, and sexual and domestic abuse services as part of its substance misuse commissioning. The reason is that I was the commissioner and I am an expert in this.

In our evidence session, the woman from Rape Crisis said that she could not think of any specialist Rape Crisis services being commissioned by mental health services in our country. There is this idea that commissioners all have a total understanding of specialist domestic and sexual violence services. I have a plan for someone who works in the service to become a commissioner in every service, to ensure that that happens, but given the failure of my ability to influence Bury St Edmunds Council to have someone from women’s aid services elected to it, I will struggle. I do not think we can argue that commissioners know best. I have watched them know very little about anything to do with this topic. They are not specialists. They need to be told what specialisms they have to provide.

On hierarchy, I totally agree about the paradox that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham pointed out. I want there to be a hierarchy. That is what I am saying: I am asking for a hierarchy, where specialist services are placed at the top and generic support services are just that.

I will not press the amendment to a vote, because I genuinely believe that we can get to an agreement on this issue prior to Report. I totally believe in the Minister’s will to do that. I say gently, though, that evidence from the Domestic Abuse Act shows that if we do not write these provisions into legislation, local authorities will just take refuge accommodation in-house and it will become completely non-specialist—it has been staffed by men, for example. We did not get this written into the Domestic Abuse Act, but I would really like the words “women” and “women’s specialist services” to exist somewhere in the Bill. Although I will not press the amendment to a vote today, I stand ready to make this argument again later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Shadow Minister (Justice) 11:00, 4 July 2023

I beg to move amendment 9, in clause 12, page 10, line 22, at end insert—

“(d) offences against children.”

This amendment would extend the duty to collaborate to include victim support services for child victims.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 19, in clause 12, page 10, line 22, at end insert—

“(d) fraud.”

This amendment would extend the duty to collaborate to include victim support services for victims of fraud.

Amendment 82, in clause 12, page 10, line 22, at end insert—

“(d) modern slavery.”

This amendment would extend the duty to collaborate to include victim support services for victims of modern slavery.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Shadow Minister (Justice)

I will start with amendment 9. As it stands, the duty to collaborate in the Bill is limited to victim support services for domestic abuse, conduct of a sexual nature and serious violence. All of that is welcome, but it is such a restrictive remit that it excludes vulnerable victims who would benefit from joined-up services. Extending the duty to collaborate to include victim support services for child victims would ensure that children’s needs are guaranteed to be front and centre of any collaboration that takes place.

In her evidence session, when asked whether children should be included in the duty to collaborate, the response of the Children’s Commissioner for England and Wales was, “Absolutely.” I am happy to see that the duty to collaborate is in the Bill, but there needs to be more accountability around it. If we are going to put children as victims into the Bill, we have to recognise that they experience crime and victimhood very differently. What we need to put around them, to make sure that they are supported and can process things to see justice delivered, is different. Including children in the duty to collaborate would allow a national network, operating through regional and local levels, to enable every child to have the same experience and the best support. At present, as the Children’s Commissioner outlined,

“it is just not there.”––[Official Report, Victims and Prisoners Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2023; c. 24, Q51.]

According to Victim Support, children and young people are disproportionately more likely to be victims of crime, particularly the most serious crime. They often experience those crimes in their homes, schools and communities, and the crimes are sometimes carried out by people who should keep them safe. The Howard League for Penal Reform surveyed over 3,000 children in schools over a period of seven years; of those, 95% of children aged 10 to 15 reported being a victim of crime. Including them in the duty to collaborate is imperative to ensuring that the relevant agencies are prioritising children’s unique needs. That is what amendment 9 seeks to do.

Amendment 19 would include victims of fraud in the duty to collaborate. I put on the record my thanks to Catch22 and the shadow Attorney General’s team for working with me on the amendment. Concerns have been raised around there being a need to collaborate only with a subsection of crime types. That dilutes and undermines the importance of other crime types. Fraud is the UK’s most prevalent crime type.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

According to UK Finance, over £1.2 billion was stolen through fraud in 2022. Does my hon. Friend agree that victims of fraud must be mentioned in the Bill?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Shadow Minister (Justice)

Absolutely, and that just goes to emphasise the importance of the amendment. The cost to the mental health and wellbeing of victims of fraud is significant. In the year ending December 2022, 3.7 million offences were reported to the crime survey for England and Wales—a huge number, equating to 41% of the total offences experienced in that period. I am sure that the Minister has not had a chance to look yet, but our amendment has received coverage in The Times today, which reports that fewer than one in 3,000 fraud offences committed last year resulted in a prison sentence.

Far too often, The Government have treated fraud as a second-tier type of crime, and if Government Committee members reject that characterisation, I need only quote their own Ministers’ words back to them. In February last year, when he was the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng told the BBC that fraud was not the sort of crime that people experience in their daily life. Shortly afterwards, the Government’s counter-fraud Minister, Lord Agnew, resigned that post in protest at the

“combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance” that he had observed in the Government’s response to fraud. The Treasury, he said,

“appears to have no knowledge of, or little interest in, the consequences of fraud to our economy or society.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 January 2022; Vol. 818, c. 20-21.]

Bear in mind that that was when the current Prime Minister was in charge at the Treasury.

Is it any surprise, then, that a year after a previous Prime Minister and Home Secretary were chastised by the Office for National Statistics for leaving out fraud when they talked about the overall rates of crime in our country, the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary repeatedly did exactly the same in the House? Minister after Minister has tried to play down or simply ignore the most frequently experienced crime in our country, and I fear that by not having it in the Bill the Government are seeking to do the same. All of us whose constituents have fallen prey to scammers know that it is anything but a victimless crime. I am sure that every Committee member is dealing with constituents who have become victims to fraud. We are talking about thousands upon thousands of lives being ruined in our communities—retired people losing all their savings, and mums and dads losing the money that they had set aside for when their children went to university, or to help them to put a deposit on a house.

According to the Government’s fraud strategy, published in May, 300 people who contacted Action Fraud last year to report their losses were considered by the call handlers to be at risk of suicide. Just last week, we heard that two elderly pensioners lost £27,000 because criminals posing as police officers had persuaded them to withdraw large sums of cash. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham pointed out, last year alone over £1.2 billion was stolen through fraud. It is the most commonly experienced crime in the country, ruining the lives of millions, yet the Government did not see fit to include victims of it in the duty to collaborate. I am sure that the Minister will agree that they would benefit from a multi-agency approach. I am keen to hear his response before deciding whether to push the amendment to a vote.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

The amendment is supported by the Centre for Social Justice, which identified that the duty to collaborate must cover support services for victims of modern slavery. Local authorities, the police and the NHS are all key agencies that come into contact with victims of modern slavery, and have a role to play in supporting them, alongside specialist programmes such as the national referral mechanism. That can range from immediate emergency support and protection to providing longer-term social care support or housing. There is a particular gap for victims before and after their contact with the NRM, and the lack of support often means that they have to choose between being destitute and going back to their exploiter.

Local authorities are the primary agency providing care and support for children, and only some children receive the additional support of independent child trafficking guardians. However, there is often confusion among local authorities about their responsibilities for supporting modern slavery victims. There is also often a lack of co-ordination with specialist support providers under the Home Office modern slavery victim care contract. Victims are passed from pillar to post, unable to access the support they need.

Police often find modern slavery victims out of hours, when access to other services is limited. Clear, joined-up strategies for supporting victims of modern slavery would help prevent those victims being placed in unsuitable and unsafe accommodation after being identified by the police—that is, of course, if the police identify them as a victim of modern slavery. A lack of clear and joined-up referral pathways can mean that victims of criminal exploitation, especially young people exploited in county lines drug dealing, find themselves arrested, rather than safeguarded and therefore given support.

The gaps in support provision particularly impact British victims of modern slavery. In 2022, the highest number of British “possible victims” were identified since the NRM began. One in five NRM referrals in 2022 was for a British child. It is essential that we get the support for that group of victims right. Research suggests that many British victims in particular are not accessing specialist support available under the NRM, either because they are not identified as victims of modern slavery as they or the professionals have misunderstood their entitlement to support, or because they choose not to be referred. That leaves them without access to specialist support, and their particular needs may not be recognised by mainstream providers.

The definition of victims in clause 12 lacks clarity in respect of modern slavery victims. Some modern slavery victims are victims of other offences listed in clause 12(4), such as sexual offences or serious violence. However, modern slavery can also result from threats, deception, and financial control and coercion, which may not meet the threshold of serious violence. The particular needs and experiences of modern slavery victims need to be considered in strategies, assessments and the exercise of support functions. That is best accomplished by listing those victims in the duty to collaborate.

Explicitly including modern slavery victims in the duty to collaborate would address local authorities’ confusion and lack of awareness of their responsibilities to support victims of modern slavery. It would strengthen the implementation of the modern slavery statutory guidance. It would lead to stronger local co-ordination by the police, the NHS and councils when it comes to identifying support needs, providing support and monitoring the recovery of modern slavery victims. It would also help ensure that British victims who do not enter the NRM receive appropriate support that recognises and responds to their needs and experience of exploitation.

We cannot let more vulnerable people slip through the gaps in local service provision. A joined-up approach to tackling modern slavery is needed, and I truly believe that amendment 82 will facilitate that.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I rise to support all the amendments, but I will briefly say something about amendment 19. We have all come across extremely distressing cases of fraud in our constituency. In 2012—10 years ago—2,629 people were jailed for fraud, but last year the figure was 1,177. However, the number of offences rose from 441,000 in 2012 to 3.7 million last year.

There has been an absolute explosion in that type of offence, and there are consequently many more victims, who often lose their life savings and their future security. Almost nothing is done for them. They are simply left to feel as though they have been duped and are stupid, and nobody seeks to help them. Normally, they do not even get any kind of response from Action Fraud, which is like a black hole; once a report is made to Action Fraud, the person who made it never hears from Action Fraud again. It is hard enough for a Member of Parliament to get a letter out of Action Fraud about a particular case.

Given the explosion in the number of fraud cases, it is surely important for the Government to take this issue seriously, and to recognise that the people involved are victims, who need support, just as any other victims do. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will give an assurance that much more will be done to recognise that victims of fraud need the support that this Bill seeks to give to victims.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 11:15, 4 July 2023

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Cardiff North, and for Rotherham, for their amendments, which seek to expand the duty to collaborate so that under that duty, support services must be provided to victims of fraud, victims of modern slavery and child victims.

The duty to collaborate will require local commissioning bodies such as police and crime commissioners, local authorities and integrated care boards in England to work together when commissioning support services for the victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and other serious violent crimes. We have focused on the victims of those crimes because they are particularly traumatic crimes with a high number of victims each year. They are also crimes where there will be a particular benefit from collaboration, as victims of them typically access a range of services across health, local authorities and policing. However, we are committed to providing support for all victims. Beyond the Bill, the Government are committed to supporting victims of all crime types; support is available through PCC-funded services, and there is other specific support for victims of terrorism.

If I may, I will take the amendments slightly out of order. I turn first to amendment 19, which seeks to include victims of fraud under the duty to collaborate on victim support services. Clearly, this Government take extremely seriously the challenge posed by fraud and its impact on victims. As I have said, the Government have been very clear about our determination to support all victims of crime, and we are taking steps to improve local collaboration on support for victims of fraud. This includes supporting the multi-agency approach to fraud—or MAAF, if I may abbreviate—which brings together relevant local agencies to improve the quality of support available to fraud victims. MAAF hubs should be rolled out across all England and Wales by September.

The duty to collaborate focuses on crime types for which support services are commissioned by a combination of police and crime commissioners, local authorities and health bodies. The measure seeks to bring together those who commission those services, so that commissioning is co-ordinated and strategic, with better join-up and smoother referrals for victims. It is important that the duty be focused on crime types for which services are commissioned by a specific combination of PCCs, local authorities and integrated care boards, so that collaboration can have the maximum and intended impact.

Support for fraud victims is typically delivered through PCC-commissioned local services and the National Economic Crime Victim Care Unit. Because of this, many victims of fraud would be less likely to benefit from collaboration between PCCs, local authorities and ICBs. However, the duty does not prevent local commissioners from collaborating on other crime types, including fraud.

More broadly, the Government have allocated £400 million over three years to tackle economic crime, including fraud, and to help fund the National Economic Crime Victim Care Unit, which supports fraud victims. We are also providing over £30 million to City of London police to support the upgrade in the Action Fraud service; the right hon. Member for Garston and Halewood touched on that service. A number of improvements have already been made to the system to improve the victim reporting experience and the quality and timeliness with which cases are sent to police forces for action.

Opposition Members have highlighted the scale and impact of fraud. That is why the Government take fraud so seriously and have done so much in this space. The Government published “Fraud Strategy: stopping scams and protecting the public” in May, as the hon. Member for Cardiff North said. This strategy sets out how Government, law enforcement, regulators, industry and charities will work together to cut fraud incidents by 10% by the end of this Parliament, and includes measures to improve the support available to victims of fraud. As we roll out those initiatives, we will continue to consider how victims of fraud can be better supported.

Amendment 9 seeks to ensure that specific support services for child victims are provided. I agree that it is vital that child victims be able to access the specialist support that they need in order to cope and recover from the impacts of crime. The Bill aims to improve the support offered to children and young people. Child victims are covered by the definition of victim in part 1 of the Bill, and by the current code. The duty to collaborate requires local authorities, police and crime commissioners and integrated care boards in England to collaborate when commissioning victim support services for both adults and children who are victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and other serious violent offences.

To emphasise the inclusion of children in the duty, following pre-legislative scrutiny, we amended the definition of victim to clarify that child victims who witness and/or experience the effects of domestic abuse are victims, and amended clause 1 to emphasise that commissioners must have regard to any assessment of the needs of child victims when preparing their joint commissioning strategy.

The duty focuses on crimes that are particularly traumatic, have a high number of victims each year, and for which services are commissioned by a combination of police and crime commissioners, local authorities and health bodies. Those services will benefit from collaboration to reduce duplicative commissioning and improve strategic co-ordination of support. Including all offences against children brings a vast range of services into scope, not all of which require a collaborative approach; that would risk diluting the focus of the duty.

Finally, I turn to amendment 82, which would seek to include support services for victims of modern slavery in the duty to collaborate. The Government are committed to supporting all victims of crime, including those who are subjected to modern slavery. Clause 12, which the hon. Member for Rotherham is seeking to amend, already requires local commissioning bodies such as police and crime commissioners, local authorities and integrated care boards in England to work together when commissioning support services for domestic abuse, sexual abuse and other serious violent crimes.

Local commissioners can already consider victims of modern slavery under the duty to collaborate, where those crimes apply, and we envisage that it is likely that for the most part, modern slavery victims will have suffered conduct that constitutes domestic abuse, sexual abuse or other serious violent crimes—particularly because “serious violence” includes threats of violence—and therefore will already be captured by the duty to collaborate.

We intend to clarify in accompanying guidance that modern slavery victims can, and are likely to be, captured by the duty. The duty does not list crime types that commissioners must consider in relation to serious violence, and instead allows local areas to make that decision based on the impact on the victim and the maximum sentence that a crime could receive. Commissioners can therefore already consider modern slavery, where that comes under the definition in the clause, under the duty to collaborate.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I hear what the Minister is saying. I also heard the word “should” rather than “must”. Will the Minister clarify that in the guidance, there will be an explanation of how modern slavery presents? A lot of modern slavery—I am thinking particularly about prostituted women—involves coercion and intimidation. Those people will probably not present themselves as victims in the usual sense; they will probably argue about that. There needs to be a bit more understanding, rather than us just saying “modern slavery”.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I will try to answer quickly, before we get cut off by the end of the sitting. I take the hon. Lady’s point. Recently I attended a Select Committee sitting in which we looked at so-called honour-based violence and abuse. One of the key points that came out of that was that a multiplicity of offences constituted so-called honour-based abuse, and the same is true of modern slavery. It is important that we reflect those multiple indicators in the guidance.

The definition of serious violence in the duty mirrors the approach taken to the serious violence duty derived from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022; that provision does not list specific offences, but instead defines serious violence based on the impact on the victim, and the maximum penalty for the crime committed. A more prescriptive approach of specifying types of serious violent crime would risk excluding offences that commissioners may want to consider, and would not allow for the necessary flexibility.

More widely, the Government are committed to supporting victims of modern slavery and ensuring that they get the support that they need. For example, children’s services work in close co-operation with the police and other statutory agencies to offer potentially trafficked children the protection and support that they require as part of the local needs assessment. “Working together to safeguard children 2018” sets out the system of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements established by the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

The Government have rolled out independent child trafficking guardians to two thirds of local authorities in England and Wales. Those roles are delivered by Barnardo’s until March 2024. They provide additional advocacy and support to child victims of modern slavery. Adult victims of modern slavery in England and Wales can access support through the national referral mechanism, under the Government-funded modern slavery victim care contract.

Every year, we support thousands of adult victims, so that they can begin rebuilding their life, engage with the criminal justice system and transition back into the community following their traumatic experiences. The current contract is delivered by the Salvation Army. I would be more than happy to work with hon. Members going forward, as we monitor the success of these initiatives in helping victims of modern slavery.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.