“16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” (Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

6. To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to the campaign, “16 days of activism against gender-based violence”. (S5O-01559)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The First Minister and I, along with many of my ministerial colleagues, have signed and publicised a pledge to support the 16 days of activism. This is an important period during which we must reflect on progress that has been made and the substantial contribution of activists and organisations in this area. However, the 16 days also serve as an important reminder that much remains to be done.

That is why this Government is taking action. On 24 November, I launched a delivery plan for equally safe, Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, and backed that with more than £1 million of additional funding. The plan contains 118 actions over four priorities, and with it we hope to achieve a step change in this area.

On 28 November we held a parliamentary debate to mark the 16 days of activism. In that debate, I called for men everywhere to stand shoulder to shoulder with women in sending a clear message that violence against women and girls is never acceptable. The strong cross-party consensus in the debate showed that tackling gender-based violence is, indeed, everyone’s business.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

What funding apart from that £1 million is the Government providing to tackle violence against women and ensure that victims receive the support that they need? How does the cabinet secretary expect higher education institutions to respond to the delivery plan?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

We are investing significant levels of funding to support a range of specialist front-line services to ensure that women who are affected by violence or abuse are able to access support when and where they need it.

With regard to my equalities portfolio, this year alone I have invested almost £12 million to support the vital work of local women’s aid organisations and rape crisis centres across the country. Earlier this year, I introduced three-year rolling funding for those services, which is vitally important to allow those organisations to plan for the future and to support and enable them to do what they do best.

Nationally, we invest in two national helplines, and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has invested £20 million over a three-year period to strengthen the justice response in this area and to increase advocacy.

James Dornan raises the important issue of higher education. It is vital that our campuses and institutions are safe spaces for students, and that any student who experiences violence or abuse feels that they are able to report it and that it will be dealt with appropriately. We are working hard with further and higher education institutions to use the learning from the equally safe in higher education project that ran at the University of Strathclyde in order to ensure the safety of students and embed that better understanding of the issues.

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

What actions is the Scottish Government taking to address the disparities that can exist between rural and urban areas when it comes to service provision for victims of rape and sexual assault, particularly in relation to travel issues, forensic examination and access to specialist advocacy groups?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I appreciate the interest in this area that Ms Wells expresses. I point out to her that through the work that is led by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the resources in his portfolio, additional funding was given to Rape Crisis Scotland to ensure that there is an additional advocacy worker in every project across Scotland. As a result of further work that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has led, there are now improved services in the northern isles, which were announced earlier this year. Other work that is being done through the task force that is chaired by the chief medical officer is getting into the detailed and sensitive issues around forensic services, in order to ensure that we can implement the highest of standards in terms of care, support and treatment for women and victims across Scotland. Regardless of whether they live in an urban or a rural community, people have the absolute right to expect the same standards to apply to them in this regard.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

The cabinet secretary will be aware that there is a financial element in nine out of 10 domestic abuse cases, which is precisely why we are pleased that the Government has supported the use of split payments of universal credit to both partners. Will the cabinet secretary or the minister lodge regulations to deliver split payments well ahead of the second reading of the Universal Credit (Application, Advice and Assistance) Bill in March, so that we can ensure that we can deliver automatic split payments in Scotland?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Mr Griffin raises an important issue. Ms Freeman and I have heard from stakeholders about the potential contribution that split payments could make to women living in controlling and coercive circumstances. We want to take care with implementation; it is our desire to deliver split payments, but we want to be sure that we get implementation absolutely correct. We are still in the depths of the detail of the discussions around that. I am sure that Ms Freeman will want to update members and the Social Security Committee at the earliest opportunity.