Thank you for allowing me to open the debate, Mr Williams, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate an important topic that, sadly, I have become all too familiar with since entering Parliament. I, and all MPs no doubt, often meet the victims of domestic abuse, in constituency surgeries or other settings, and also regularly meet those who work with the victims. The topic is one of immense sensitivity, which throws up a range of different and difficult issues that make tackling domestic abuse extremely challenging, in specific cases and overall.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee), who had hoped to lead this debate and must take credit for securing it. Both of them will be following it with interest, and I pay tribute to their work on this important issue. I also pay tribute to the huge number of people, especially volunteers, from around the country who devote time and much more to be there for the victims of domestic violence. Their work is commendable beyond words, and I want to put on the record how highly we appreciate their work and that we recognise it in Parliament.
I hope that the debate will provide an opportunity for hon. Members to express their concerns about areas where not all is being done to protect the victims of domestic abuse. The Government are concerned about such violence and are already offering a huge amount of support. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the debate.
Domestic violence is close to my heart, because I have seen at first hand how it tears families, communities and people apart. Those who have followed my short career in Parliament will know about the Justice for Jane campaign, which has been successful in changing the law better to protect women and men who may be the victims of domestic abuse.
On 28 June 2011, I introduced a Bill to change bail laws, following the murder of Jane Clough, a nurse who lived in Barrowford in my constituency. She was murdered by her abusive partner, Jonathan Vass, for having the courage to speak to the police about the repeated rape and other abuse to which he subjected her. He had been released on bail by a judge, against the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, when he tracked Jane down and killed her, stabbing her 71 times and then slitting her throat as she lay bleeding on the ground.
My Bail (Amendment) Bill would have conferred on the prosecution a right of appeal against controversial judicial decisions to grant bail—a right that did not exist at the time. In October 2011, almost a year ago and following a hard-fought campaign, the Government agreed to support the Bill, and this year they introduced amendments to achieve its aim to protect the victims of domestic violence in future.
The provisions of my private Member’s Bill are, thankfully, now law. That was a huge achievement for Jane’s parents, John and Penny Clough, and all those involved in the Justice for Jane campaign. The courage shown by John and Penny in the face of such a terrible loss has been incredible. I raise the case to demonstrate one of the barriers, thankfully now removed, that existed for victims of domestic violence when they tried to protect themselves. I hope that this debate will shine a light on other barriers faced by victims and how the Government and we in Parliament can help them to overcome them.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is opening such an important debate this morning, and I echo his recognition and acknowledgement of Jane Clough’s family’s fight to improve the law. Does he agree that it is shocking that as many as 20-plus incidents of domestic violence may occur before a victim has the courage and confidence to report it? Does he also agree that there is real urgency for action to address that?
I agree totally with the hon. Lady. Lancashire probation service told me only yesterday that it estimates that an average of 35 incidents of domestic violence occur before a victim contacts anyone—the police or another agency—for help.
East Lancashire has considerable support for victims of domestic violence, and I have had the benefit of visiting some of the centres that offer advice and support to victims. Pendle women’s refuge has been open for 25 years. It is run by Pendle borough council, and extended its facilities six years ago. Sixty families have been accommodated at the refuge in the past year, but there were 178 applications in the same period, with many cases involving problems such as substance misuse and severe mental health issues. Despite the problem of resources, refuge staff try to accommodate as many families as possible.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that we need more centres such as the Family Justice Centre in Croydon, which was the first of its kind in Europe? It provides housing, benefit, doctor and welfare services, and everything that a victim needs to ensure that they can carry on their lives, as well as enabling them to obtain justice. Does he agree that we need more such centres, where victims can access all the services from one point instead of from multiple agencies?
That is a fantastic example of provision in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I thank him for making that point. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will raise good examples from their constituencies that can be replicated throughout the country to help victims, wherever they live.
The Pendle domestic violence initiative is a community project that offers a service to people who have experienced domestic violence, as well as to front-line workers and others who may need help. Bilingual support, free counselling and work in schools are particularly valuable. Sadly, the initiative experienced a 45% increase in referrals for support services compared with the previous year, again underlining the scale of the problem.
Included in that initiative is the Lookout programme, a service aimed at young people affected by domestic abuse and run through local schools. Tragically, the programme is aware of more than 70 cases of children under 11 whom it cannot help. However, it has been able to help around 100 young people affected by a range of complex issues every year.
In addition, Pendle women’s centre opened in February. It serves as an information centre, with high expectations that it will soon deliver education and health programmes. Its services are directed at all women aged 18 and over, and it has been set up with the involvement of the Pendle domestic violence initiative, Pendle housing needs team, Housing Pendle, Help Direct and the NHS.
Pendle women’s centre has links to Styal prison. I understand that that relationship is unique, despite the proven link between women in prison and the victims of domestic violence. According to figures from the Howard League for Penal Reform, about half the women in prison report having experienced violence at home and one third of them report sexual abuse. Equally worrying is the fact that, according to the Youth Justice Board, 40% of girls in custody report suffering violence at home and one in three of them report having been sexually abused. With that in mind, I welcome Pendle women’s centre’s link with the prison service and wonder whether that can be encouraged elsewhere to promote links between prisons, the probation service and support centres in our communities.
I also pay tribute to the Big Lottery Fund, which has put more than £3.7 million into projects that support the victims of domestic violence in the north-west in the past three years. More than £1 million of that has gone directly to Lancashire, so local support in my area has been fantastic.
On national issues, the Government are looking at a range of innovative ideas to improve the situation, and I welcome that. Hon. Members will be aware that in March 2011 the Government published a policy paper, “Call to end violence against women and girls: action plan”. An update on progress towards the recommendations in that action plan would be helpful, especially on attempts at early intervention.
I should be grateful to the Minister if he provided an update on two recent consultations: on the proposals to change the definition of domestic abuse so that it includes coercive control and incorporates victims under the age of 18, as well as the ongoing consultation on Clare’s law. Alongside those consultations, there have been trials of both the domestic violence disclosure scheme and domestic violence protection orders. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes was especially keen to raise DVPOs today.
Another important move will be the criminalisation of forced marriage—something I have raised several times on the Floor of the House and very much welcome. I also welcome reports in July that domestic violence conviction rates are at their highest ever, with the overall number of prosecutions for violence against women up to 91,000.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the police need to be more proactive when they are called to a scene where neighbours say that domestic violence is taking place? When the police ask women whether they want them to do something, they may say no. I know about that personally, because it happened to a family member who kept saying that she was fine, but she clearly was not fine because neighbours were regularly calling the police and they did not insist on helping her.
My hon. Friend makes a vital point. The key issue with domestic violence is under-reporting. As was mentioned before, many women are subjected to repeated abuse—time and again—before they finally speak to the police or any other agency to seek help. We therefore need to ensure that we deal with under-reporting.
Having previously, before coming to Parliament, been a barrister, for both the prosecution and defence, I know that under-reporting is an issue. It was often the case in court that, on the day of the trial, the victim would say that they did not want to go ahead, but under the good provisions in the legislation that we have now, even if a victim does not want to go ahead, the trial can still go ahead, with their witness statements being read. Does my hon. Friend agree that those are excellent provisions?
I agree again with my hon. Friend that that is a very welcome step forward and undoubtedly one reason why conviction rates are improving. I have heard something similar from a friend of mine who is a barrister and has talked to me about how we can improve the legal system to help the victims of domestic violence further.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is no wonder that there is under-reporting, because with any other crime, we do not see the victim having to continue to live with the perpetrator and to let them have contact with their children and all the other things in which people are involved together? Does he agree that one of the most important things is that the perpetrator is removed from the home without the victim being expected to move and that there is enforcement to keep the perpetrator away?
I thank the hon. Lady for that incredibly important point. The Government are doing an awful lot of work to ensure that the abuser is now made homeless, rather than the victim, because for so many years in domestic violence cases, reporting the abuse led directly to homelessness for the victim. That was the immediate consequence, and it was a huge issue associated with domestic violence that needed to be addressed.
Another concern is the uneven service around the country. As I have explained, in my area, voluntary agencies and Government agencies are working together to provide a very good service. In the north-west as a whole, we are very well supported. As a parliamentary answer in July informed the House, the north-west will have 12 Government-funded independent sexual violence advisers—ISVAs—from next year. However, London will have only eight and the north-east only six. That seems like an imbalance.
Back in January 2009, a report from the campaign group End Violence Against Women found that one in four local authorities in Britain had no specialised support services for women who had suffered violence. I hope that the Minister can provide us with an update on improved access throughout the country. Perhaps the new police and crime commissioners will want to deal with those regional imbalances when they get into office.
There is also a concern that the services available can focus solely on the woman as the direct victim of domestic abuse and often fail to take into consideration the impact on other members of the family, especially children. Research by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimates that 14% of children under the age of 18 will have been exposed to domestic violence in the UK and cites research studies that estimate that, in 30% to 60% of domestic violence cases, the abusive partner also abuses children in the family. Where domestic violence is present, rates of child abuse and neglect are up to 15 times higher than the national average.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that members of the wider family are affected. Does he share my concern that one consequence of local authority funding cuts is that work with the perpetrators of domestic violence is increasingly coming under pressure and programmes are being closed? Does he agree that, as much as we work with the victim and the victim’s immediate family, we need to focus attention on preventing such violence from happening in the first place?
We definitely do. That is a valid point. One reason why I am talking in particular about the effect on children is that many of the children who see domestic violence at home and for whom that becomes almost a normal daily routine will go on to abuse their children or become violent themselves. We therefore need to consider the wider societal impacts of domestic violence in the home.
A report published in July by the Centre for Social Justice if anything paints an even worse picture than the NSPCC. The CSJ claims that 25% of children in the UK witness domestic violence. It emphasises the psychological damage caused to children and the cycle of abuse, as generations repeat that parental behaviour. It points out that almost two thirds of child witnesses of domestic abuse show more emotional or behavioural problems than the average child. The damage can extend to post-traumatic stress disorder and, less predictably, can even affect IQ levels. The CSJ claims that, on average, children with experience of domestic abuse are 7.25 points lower than others. One of the report’s authors, Dr Samantha Callan, summed it up by saying:
“The impact on children of being a witness of domestic abuse is underplayed even though they are more likely to fail at school, develop anti-social behaviour and go on to harm their own children.”
The report made several recommendations to improve children’s outcomes in domestic abuse cases, including therapeutic provision for children in schools, proactive help for children who have witnessed abuse—instead of the reactive approach of waiting for signs of mental health problems—and better training for social workers.
We have not mentioned the violence that happens within teenage relationships. Again, according to a recent NSPCC report, 25% of girls and 18% of boys report experiencing some form of physical violence from a partner, 11% of girls and 4% of boys report severe physical violence and 72% of girls and 51% of boys report some form of emotional violence from their partner.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the increase in domestic violence among teenagers is of great concern and that the Government need to take that issue much more seriously? Given the cuts in local authority funding, which are having an impact on voluntary organisations and local services, I ask the Minister, whom I welcome to his new role, to look into the issue. It is vital that we provide sensitive and appropriate support to the very young who are facing domestic violence. They are often not noticed, and the agencies are not sensitised in dealing with those issues.
I agree with the hon. Lady on that point. The key, though, rather than the funding of services, is looking at the definition of domestic abuse and redefining it to include younger people, because quite often they are completely missing from the Government strategies designed to deal with this problem.
With regard to adult women who are subjected to domestic abuse, Jo Wood, MBE, who runs the rape and sexual abuse centre for women in Merseyside and has worked closely with Jane Clough’s parents since Jane’s tragic murder, makes the point that domestic abuse and violence come in many forms and do not affect a certain type of person. As Jo puts it,
“so much of domestic violence is hidden. There is still a perception that it only happens to certain types of women—but domestic violence is no respecter of class and some of the hardest to reach groups of women are those not naturally engaged with other services—they are more often victims of the type of domestic violence that does not leave bruises but can kill just as effectively in other ways.”
One of the main challenges thrown up by all this is to engage all the services that may be the first to come across domestic violence in looking out for and knowing how to deal with the problem when they see it. There is no guarantee that the first number that a victim calls will be 999, so it may well not be a police officer who is the first person to come across the abuse. As a Member of Parliament, I am sometimes the first port of call—for example, in forced marriage cases. There are many opportunities for people to break the silence around domestic abuse, but we all need to be ready and to understand the challenges when it is us as MPs, or doctors or teachers, who are the first port of call.
I do not want to take up much more time, but I think that it is important to bear in mind the impact of domestic violence on homelessness, as the current campaign by St Mungo’s, “Rebuilding Shattered Lives”, reminds us. For very many victims of abuse, including children experiencing sexual abuse at home, homelessness is their immediate solution. In Pendle, we have the Calico Partnership, run by Calico Housing—a so-called floating support service that provides support to vulnerable people, including the victims of domestic violence, who are not at a particular address.
On a final note of concern, although any debate about domestic violence will inevitably focus on women, who make up the majority of victims of domestic abuse, it is essential to note that men are often victims, too. They are victims of 10% of forced marriages in the UK and make up a quarter of the victims of domestic abuse. I therefore welcome the Home Office fund, launched late last year, to support male victims of domestic and sexual violence. I hope that we hear more about supporting men.
To sum up, it might be helpful to remember and spell out the scale of the problem that we are talking about today. The latest statistics from the British crime survey show that, every year in the UK, more than 1 million women suffer domestic abuse, more than 300,000 are sexually assaulted and 60,000 are raped. According to the survey, through the course of their lives, 27% of women and 17% of men had experienced domestic abuse from a current or former partner after the age of 16. That is equivalent to 4.3 million women and 2.7 million men—a total of 7 million direct victims of domestic violence in the UK today.
As is widely quoted, two people are killed by their current or former partner each week in England and Wales. One of those was my constituent, Jane Clough, who paid the ultimate price for speaking out against her abuser. Clearly, domestic abuse and violence is a huge problem in Britain today. The voluntary sector is doing all that it can in places like Pendle and elsewhere. The Government are clearly also willing to do as much as they can to help to bring extra support to the victims of domestic violence. I welcome the opportunity to open the debate and thank the Minister in advance for his contribution on how the Government plan to support the victims of domestic violence in the UK.
I am pleased to speak in the debate. As we have already heard, domestic violence is unlike any other crime. Home is where we are supposed to be safe. If we are mugged in the street, are in a car crash or are robbed at work, we go home, but for victims of domestic violence, home is where they are most unsafe. A common theme for perpetrators of violence is that it is the victim’s fault—“If only you were a better wife, mother, lover, cook, cleaner, this would not happen to you.” Women end up harmed not only physically, but psychologically, with their confidence at rock bottom and trust gone.
As has been said, it often takes many attempts for a woman finally to leave her partner. They may leave and go back, and leave and go back, which can be extremely frustrating for those trying to support people going through that process. We must recognise the difficulty; they are leaving someone who has been a fundamental part of their life, whom they loved—or still love—and who may be the father or mother of their children. When they finally take that step, the most important aspect is to ensure that they stay safe and build a new life. Many women have to move many miles away from their home and from all their networks of friends and family.
Bolton is lucky to have two fantastic domestic violence projects. One is the Fortalice refuge, which not only provides a roof, but counselling, support, education projects and play and youth work for the children. Children are of course themselves traumatised. They have had to leave their home, friends, family and possibly pets, and will also have been witnesses to domestic violence. Whether or not they have actually seen the mum or dad being hit, if they are in the house, they will know very well that something is going on—they hear the screams and see the bruises the next morning. Such children need support. Fortalice can provide play and youth workers who support the children and do therapeutic work to help them through their trauma.
The completeness of the project, with counselling, education and support for children, is at risk from funding cuts. It is also at risk due to the possibility of the services being retendered, with cheaper providers having to be used, and due to the universal credit and housing benefit changes, which will mean that the refuges are less viable.
My hon. Friend mentioned retendering services. Does she agree that a concern of the specialist providers is that generic providers, which can perhaps provide the services more cheaply, are increasingly coming into the market, but they do not have the same experience and sensitivity that is so important for protecting victims of domestic abuse?
I absolutely agree. It is important that experts work with people who are experiencing domestic violence, whether they be men or women. I agree with the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) that there is not enough support or refuges for male victims of domestic violence. We need experts who are extremely aware of what happens to victims of domestic violence and who have the skills to work with such people to build their confidence and help them through the traumas they have experienced. Just another housing provider coming in will mean that such holistic services will not be the same, and we risk that happening.
Bolton does not have any spaces for male victims of domestic violence. We have only hostels for them to go to, where they will often be with people who are drug or alcohol users. It is not an environment where they can feel safe, build confidence and access support. We clearly need to do more work that area.
Another project in Bolton is Paws for Kids—a misnomer in many ways, because everybody thinks that it is an animal charity, and part of it is. It started as a rescue service for the pets of women experiencing domestic violence. Many women will not leave their homes because they are frightened for the animals that they would leave behind. Pets cannot be taken into refuges. Paws for Kids started by providing a pet fostering service, and it has developed. It now has independent domestic violence advisers and a safe haven project. A woman goes into a refuge, gets support and is then re-housed, but, as I said earlier, she will often be re-housed in an area where she has no contacts whatsoever—no friends and no family. It is one of the riskiest times for a woman to return to a violent partner, and the Paws for Kids safe haven project provides support, friendship and activities for women to settle back into the community.
Paws for Kids is at risk. It gets funding from various streams, but its main funding is disappearing. In the past it had money from the Department of Health, the Home Office and the local authority, but it is at risk of losing its IDVAs next April. One of its IDVAs works particularly with ethnic minority women in Bolton. That post currently has no funding whatsoever. We know that women have been hard hit by the Government’s actions, and no more so than in the field of domestic violence. We need to ensure that funding is coming through to support such projects.
I spoke to representatives from Paws for Kids this morning. They said. “If you’re going to say anything, please talk to MPs about the need for a joined-up approach and support across the piece.” Paws for Kids is working with vets to get them to pass on information to women or report problems. Often, a dog that is a repeat returner to the vet is being abused. Perpetrators of domestic violence use pets as weapons—in fact, they use all sorts of things as weapons. We need the joined-up approach. It is not enough to have just a refuge, a safe haven or a pet fostering service; it is about how we join up services to ensure that women and men are supported through their whole journey.
I will be interested to hear what the Minister says about how he will ensure that there is funding going forward for all such services, so that victims of domestic violence are not doubly disadvantaged, not only by being victims, but by being unable to get the support they badly need.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate on an important issue. I am pleased that the Conservative Members in the Chamber are all male, which shows that domestic violence is no longer seen as just a women’s issue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) on his speech. He talked a lot about the case of Jane Clough, who met her death in a hospital car park in my constituency. I watched my hon. Friend’s campaign, and saw what he achieved for Jane’s parents, with admiration.
I want to try to keep my remarks brief. I have been heartened, in a way, by much of what has been said in the debate, because I want to focus on children, and perhaps to question the terminology of domestic violence. I think it is true to say that the law, the statutory authorities, the third sector and charities, the media and even many politicians are still liable to fall into the trap of seeing domestic violence as violence between two adults who are intimate, and nothing else. That does a grave disservice to the problem. That said, there is a policy dilemma: whatever issue we want to deal with, the moment we try to broaden the scope we reduce the impact of what we are doing. I do not feel that domestic violence in which husbands attack wives, or partners attack partners, has been adequately tackled yet. So it is with a degree of trepidation that I suggest that we need to expand our remit to the wider issue of family violence.
Why do I say that? I was struck by a phrase in the NSPCC report that was mentioned earlier: the impact of domestic violence on children had been looked at, but solely in terms of the impact on the non-aggressor parent, and not in terms of the child as a victim. I thought that omission was curious. It might not have been intentional. I am sure that elsewhere in NSPCC documentation there is a ream of information about children as victims of domestic violence, but I thought that, in that one instance, there was a lack of insight into the nature of domestic violence for children.
There is always a danger that Westminster Hall debates become a recycling of statistics, and I try to avoid that; but a report that came out in March from the charity 4Children caught my eye. It cited the figure of 1 million children affected by domestic violence. That eye-catching figure got 4Children the front page of The Independent, but the charity drilled down slightly deeper into what needed to be done. I listened carefully to the points made by the hon. Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) about local authority cuts and their impact. What 4Children had to say, and what the Government are doing, provide a useful insight into that. I strongly welcome the fact that the Prime Minister himself has made a commitment to greater intervention in the 120,000 so-called troubled families, not least because 80% of them have at some point contacted the police or the NHS about domestic violence. In relation to my earlier comments about problems of definition, it is interesting to note that, in a quarter of those 80% of families, the domestic violence was not between two adults in an intimate relationship. I think that that is proof that when we discuss domestic violence we are really discussing family violence—violence within the home.
One of the things that the hon. Gentleman’s argument misses is the fact that domestic violence is not class-based at all. It happens in all classes. It does not matter whether someone is rich or poor. A perpetrator can be a millionaire or a pauper. Just focusing on troubled families means missing all the other people, of whatever class, gender or ethnicity, who do not feature in that group. Not long ago there was a murder in my area where the victim was from an affluent background, and had not come to anyone’s attention, because what was happening was hidden within four walls.
I might just about accept what the hon. Lady says, but I regret the overtone of class rhetoric that she allowed to creep into her comment. Blackpool North and Cleveleys is an area with a high degree of social deprivation, and the vast bulk of the issues that I encounter on the doorstep are a function of poverty. I accept that domestic violence happens across the classes, and across all divides; but where, in my constituency, it is really a problem that holds back children’s achievement in school, it is a function of poverty. That is why the Prime Minister’s attempts to deal with the troubled families issue should be welcomed and not dismissed as an exercise in class politics.
Perhaps I may explain a little more clearly why the issue is of interest. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston made the point about refuges having to retender; however, I suggest that local authorities should take a broader view and consider the outputs of refuge centres and, as 4Children suggests adopt a payment-by-results approach to reducing family violence. That is in its policy document.
One of the problems for refuges, in achieving that, is that often they work with women for very short periods. Women may spend only days in the refuge. It is important that we should not rush down the route of a payment-by-results model, which might put the emergence of provision under even further financial pressure.
I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me for not making myself clear. I suggest that the payment-by-results model is perhaps more appropriate for reducing violence in troubled families. As to refuges in general, she made the point about the high quality of certain independent refuges, and the experience they bring. I have seen that myself at the refuge in Blackpool. That can be demonstrated through outcomes and outputs, rather than just inputs.
I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, will he say more about the metrics he would use to judge a payment-by-results culture for reducing family violence? Would it be fewer punches or black eyes? Will he be clearer about what he means? It is worrying to some of us, who might misinterpret him. What does he suggest would be an acceptable way of dealing with domestic violence?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me an opportunity to make my thinking clear. Going by what I see of troubled families, including in constituency surgeries, and what I learn from talking to police, what I am thinking about relates to a reduction in—or the absence of—reports of family violence passed up through the network of social workers, police and schools, or whatever, about the families they work with. I think that that is a perfectly valid metric to apply in that situation. It can be measured, and I see no reason why one would not want to do it. It does not necessarily guarantee that everything will be rosy for ever and a day, but it is intended to show whether interventions are successful. We must take a broader view.
If the hon. Lady does not mind, I have given way a few times now, and want to conclude. I am sure she will be able to make her points at another time.
A report has been published today, for example, from the Children’s Commissioner for England, about the impact that exposure to problem drinking has on younger children. I have seen in my constituency that the educational achievement of young carers is held back, because they must deal with parents with addiction problems that may lead to some form of family violence. The problems are broad, widespread and complex in the way they interconnect. I accept the point that it is not easy to come up with a metric that will reflect the reality, but, equally, it is possible to measure what interventions achieve. It is possible to assess, on some level, what is being achieved.
I urge the Government to look again at the 2005 Home Office definition of domestic violence, which excludes so much of what happens in the family. In April, a case in my constituency received some media coverage. A mother and her partner were locking a 10-year-old boy in a coal bunker, for no reason than their own lust for cruelty. When he was finally released and they were charged, he said he was happy, if only because he was now able to own a toothbrush for the first time—at the age of 10.
There is a reality to what is occurring that means that we must take a more intelligent approach, which seeks to measure the impact of what we are doing to rectify the situation. The issue is not about the Government throwing yet more money at a problem they can identify, but about ensuring that the money we throw has an impact. It is not about sustaining services that are not achieving their goals, but about achieving change for the people whom we represent and the people who are suffering from these problems. Measures can be taken.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Bolton West. I am quite ashamed to live in a country where we have more refuges for pets than for victims of domestic violence. Until that is changed, I want our focus to be on expanding provision for adults first.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) on securing this timely and intensely important debate. It is very much to his credit that he has brought the attention of the House to the matter. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister—
Forgive me. Many of us consider that the hon. Gentleman is always right and never less than honourable. I congratulate him on his translation into his present position.
To be completely up front, I come from a generation that had the worst possible attitude towards domestic violence. My generation condoned domestic violence. I remember as a boy the number of women who walked into doors every Saturday night, the number of women who appeared in church on Sunday with a chiffon scarf around their neck, hiding finger marks, and the number of children who blanched every time someone lifted a hand. Very little was done about it.
Fortunately, we have moved on from that. It is no longer acceptable to pretend that domestic violence is not a problem. I would like to give particular credit, from my part of the world—west London—to Southall Black Sisters, which has been in existence now for more than 30 years. Many people will have known Hannana Siddiqui for her work on the Kiranjit Ahluwalia case. In that case, not only was the issue of ultimate violence—murder in the family—addressed, but the whole problem within particular communities. It became intensely difficult, and a number of well-meaning liberals such as myself stood back, thinking that we had no right to intrude into such matters. Those days have gone.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point that certain domestic violence offences take place in certain communities, does he agree that one particular aspect is honour-based violence? There are more than 2,800 incidents a year. We now need a multi-agency approach to ensure that we get rid of that horrific practice.
There are few expressions I loathe and despise more than the use of the word “honour” in that context. There is nothing honourable about slaughtering, attacking, murdering, torturing, brutalising and beating women. To somehow imply that there is a shroud of ethnicity that can be spread across the issue and it then becomes acceptable—I know that that is not the hon. Gentleman’s view, and I know that he is far, far better than that—and to use the word that he used in that context frankly sticks in my throat.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a huge problem in certain societies, and they are not all of one faith, colour, race or nationality. In my own ethnicity, believe you me, we would want to talk to some west London Irish families about their attitudes towards women. We do not have a great deal to be massively proud of. That issue has to be confronted, and it is being confronted. We need the resources to confront and intervene.
Let me clarify for the hon. Gentleman. I agree that there is nothing honourable about the vile act. One uses the term “honour” because that is how it is used and labelled at the moment. If he wants to change the terminology and ask the Minister to ensure that we do so, I will push for that with him. I agree completely that there is no honour in that disgraceful act. It was used only because it is the term that is applied throughout the country.
May I say categorically, on the record, that I have immense respect for the hon. Gentleman? I have enjoyed many conversations with him, and I am grateful that he has joined us in the House. I certainly did not, at any stage, mean to imply any criticism; we are as one here. We look to the Minister’s febrile mind to come up with an alternative wording, in the sure and certain knowledge that he is the person who can achieve that.
My hon. Friend said that he thought that we were now in more enlightened times. I do not know whether he has seen the statistics from a Department of Health survey that say that 43% of teenage girls believe that it is acceptable for a boyfriend to be aggressive towards his partner, and that one in two boys and one in three girls believe that there are some circumstances in which it is okay to hit a woman or to force her to have sex. We have not moved greatly from those unenlightened times. Perhaps the only difference is that there were few resources to support women who were fleeing domestic violence. Sadly, we seem to be going back to the time when there were fewer resources to support women. Fundamentally, attitudes such as how men view women and how women view themselves regarding domestic violence have not changed.
Dr Pangloss has never been my role model on such occasions. I do not see that we inhabit the best of all possible worlds. Believe you me, I am more than well aware of the fact that we have not remotely resolved the problem, but there has been an attitudinal change in society to a slight degree; it is not sufficient, but it is there. It is simply not acceptable nowadays to perpetrate the sort of behaviour that was the norm when I was in my 20s in west London.
Some 30 years ago, Erin Pizzey started the Chiswick women’s refuge. I remember going there on Christmas eve year after year with toys that we had collected for the children. It was explained that Pizzey, who was sometimes robust in her attitudes and was impatient—for sound reasons—would always insist on having no man within less than 20 feet of the building. We would therefore leave our sacks of toys 20 feet from Kew bridge for people to come out to collect. That was an improvement.
For me, as someone who has represented my area for 30 years, the biggest issue that we need to address today is not the existence of the problem, which is undeniable, or the need for early, positive and preventive intervention—I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and the Minister will accept that, and we will return to that issue in a minute—but one particular aspect of the horrific nightmare of domestic violence: housing.
At the moment, I posit that every one of us is regularly confronted in our surgeries by victims of the foulest domestic violence who look to be re-housed as a solution to their problem. It is somehow felt that if they could move to another place or property, the problem would be solved. In London, that simply is not possible for two reasons. First, in my borough, there are 23,000 people on the waiting list. Secondly, my constituency is minute geographically. Someone could move from one side to the other and still be within a half-hour walk. If someone moves to other accommodation, do the children get uprooted and sent to a new school? Do they go anonymously to that school? Do people change their general practitioner, their sons’ football classes and their daughters’ dance classes? Do all those things have to change overnight? It simply is not possible.
That is why when people say—I have heard some say this—that domestic violence is exaggerated as a mechanism for accelerated movement through the housing transfer list, I find it intensely and immensely offensive. I also find it utterly unrealistic. In all honesty, there is no surplus of housing in the urban environment waiting for people to move into. I speak as someone who has spent many years working for a housing association in west London. One of my jobs was to facilitate such overnight—sometimes middle-of-a-Sunday-afternoon—transfers. Until the day I die, I will never forget the piles of school paintings, drawings and textbooks that were left behind by children whose mother never thought that they would go to that school again, because they moved on to another school in another part of west London, thinking that that would solve the problem. Did it solve the problem? Sadly, it did not, because the abusive partner saw such a move as a challenge, lay in wait outside each primary school, eventually located the mother and the problem started all over again.
There is one ray of sunshine. There is an organisation called the Place to Be, which some hon. Members may be aware of, that operates principally in primary schools. In my part of the world—west London—it provides a quiet place for children to talk to a skilled, trained mentor, who can actually talk through the problems that they face. Children will put a little note in a box, just like the bullying boxes that many schools have nowadays. More than anything else, we have found that little notes appear that say, “Please ask my Mummy’s boyfriend to stop hitting her”, and those are the mild ones. We see that over and over again.
The solution is not the refuge or the move, or somehow to seek to resolve the issue geographically, by transferring across the city. It is not somehow to blame the victim and say that the victim has to move; we have to look for preventive interventions for perpetrators and for early signposting. Unfortunately, like many in this room, I have had to speak to abusers. We have to do so; we cannot refuse to see them, although we might find that difficult and have to hold our noses. I have often been struck by the frustration evidenced by them—the low self-value and self-worth, and the failure to achieve anything in life. Very often, such people are like the father in the famous story in James Joyce’s “Dubliners”, who comes home and beats up his children because he has failed at work, does not have enough money and has failed in everything he does, and there is the agony of that boy who says:
“Don’t beat me, pa!... I’ll say a Hail Mary for you.”
It is very often like that—the frustration boils out from the parent who comes home, where the nearest person to hand is the child, the wife, the partner or the spouse.
We have to identify such violence early on, because I think that we can save some of those people. Yes, it is paramount that we save the victims and it is crucial that we save the collateral victims—the children and the people around them—but, in some cases, we also have to consider intervening on the person causing the problem. That may sound heretical, and it is much easier for people to switch off their minds and read the Daily Mail, or to demonise this great tattooed chav underclass who come home and bat their wives around, but there is much more to the problem than that. They make up a range of victims in their own different ways. I carry no candle for the abuser, but I recognise that intervention has to be across the piece.
Inevitably, everything that we do in politics in this place today is about resources and priorities. Nye Bevan was so right so many years ago when he said that the language of socialism is a language of priorities: we are in that world now. However, this priority has to be given full support and strength, because if we cannot provide preventive intervention and early identification, the problems that come over the hill will frankly be so vast that they will dwarf any demand or draw-down on the public purse now. I appreciate that such an argument may be made about many issues, but in the case of domestic violence, the argument makes itself.
Not only is there the corrosive, damaging and very often lethal impact on the victims and their immediate family, but, as has already been mentioned—I think by the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—such violence becomes a learned practice. I have seen children in the playground of a primary school hit girls, emulating their father’s or their mother’s boyfriend’s behaviour, which is a learned behaviour. I have seen young boys, at the age of six or seven, hit young girls, because they have seen such behaviour and they think that it is acceptable. That is a cost on society that we cannot afford.
I am sorry to cut off my hon. Friend in mid flow. There is clearly an issue of resources around local services, policing and such forms of intervention, but we should also ensure that the Government have a holistic approach to the economic impact on women of some of the changes to benefits, pensions and tax credits, which mean that women will not have as much financial freedom as they previously had; of the cuts to local councils, which have pressures on their budgets but will not, I hope, inevitably look at cutting services for domestic violence, although that is a risk; and of the legal aid changes that will impact on women’s ability to have the confidence to go forward and break out of the cycle of fear in which they live. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should have an holistic approach to all those changes?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes not just a telling, but an extremely positive point. The draft universal credit regulations will be laid before the House in the next few weeks—I think that they are due when we return after the conference recess—so we are quickly approaching a crucial debate, in which we will have to discuss such matters for precisely the reason that he gave.
Many people do not seem to realise what will happen, say in the case of a woman who flees her violent male partner, if the male partner is named as the recipient of the benefit. What happens if the woman has to go to the abuser, who may still have her blood staining his knuckles, and ask him to sign the benefit over to her as a favour? Will he say that he is more than happy to co-operate and collaborate with her? No. One of the joys of child benefit—one of the most important things about it, and one of the greatest arguments for it—was that it was paid directly and solely to the woman, which is a principle that we seem to be losing.
What I have seen of the draft universal credit regulations fills me with dread, because I can see a fiscal servitude—the shackles of sterling—being locked on to women so that they cannot escape or break free, because of the complicated mechanisms that they are held in simply so that they can provide themselves with the basics, such as food and drink. Nowadays, we more and more see people turning to the charitable sector for the provision of the most basic of basics that, frankly, the state should provide.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about where power and resources lie in households, and about how a woman may be severely disadvantaged not only through the impact of domestic violence, but through what she then finds she has entitlements or access to. I have a case in my constituency in which the male in the household changed the tenancy agreement on the house, so that the woman did not realise, until she had to flee, that she had no access to that home under the arrangements he had set up. Does my hon. Friend agree that there must be a much more holistic approach to ensuring equal access to resources in the household, not just access to the important services that have to be available in a timely fashion when somebody becomes the victim of domestic violence?
In her short time in this House, my hon. Friend, whom I am proud to say is my respected neighbour, has earned an enviable reputation for coming up with exactly the right expression to illuminate a problem, and she has again done that extremely well. I entirely agree with her point, but I will go slightly further. I do not think that we can resolve the problem by identifying funding streams within the family; that could stop the problem getting worse, but would not actually stop it.
[Mr Edward Leigh in the Chair]
The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys said that he did not want the debate to become a list of statistics being trotted round the course and, as in all things, I respect him for that. When it comes to statistics, however, it is worth drawing the House’s attention to the fact that 31% of local authority funding for the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector was cut between 2010-11 and 2011-12, which is a reduction from £7.8 million to £5.4 million in—I assume—England and Wales. That figure is massive, and I would say that that huge amount is cost-ineffective.
We have heard the word “holistic” used two or three times. Let us take that approach not because it is somehow a fiscally mature and sensible way of operating but because it could save lives. We cannot tolerate a situation in which young lives can be blighted and the lives of adults destroyed. We cannot see the destruction of the future of our country because of a lack of funding, financial support and early intervention.
I again congratulate the hon. Member for Pendle on securing this debate. I look forward to the Minister’s response and to a slightly different way of addressing this issue for the sake of present and future generations.
I welcome you, Mr Leigh, to the Chair. I echo everyone’s words of support for the work that the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) has done both in bringing this debate to the Chamber and in introducing Jane’s law. I had cause to reflect on that law myself as I had a case in my constituency of a woman whose partner had repeatedly attacked and assaulted her. The partner is still out on bail, awaiting sentencing. Having brought in that law, we must ensure that it is used to protect witnesses. As all Members know, there are some cases that keep one up at night and that one worries about and that case was certainly one of them. I spoke to the victim on a regular basis as I worked to get her rehoused and moved away from the area and from immediate harm. I was conscious that Jane’s law would have made a difference in her case.
I also welcome the work that the hon. Gentleman has done today in setting out the challenges that we face in addressing domestic violence. There is, I think, a consensus across the House that this matter needs to be a priority, not just for our criminal justice system but for our public services as a whole because of the impact that it has on so many families across our country.
May I welcome the new Minister to his role and put on record my thanks to his predecessor? We did not always see eye to eye, but I was certainly grateful for his assistance in the work that we were doing both in Walthamstow and nationally. I hope that we can help the new Minister by filling his inbox with some suggestions and proposals that he can take to his colleagues to make good on that premise of addressing domestic violence in our communities. All of us recognise that it is a very different type of crime to deal with. More than any other criminalised behaviour in our society, it involves the most repeat victimisation. Intimate violence, as it tends to get called, requires a different approach from our criminal justice and social care services. The failure of all of our services to address the matter is reflected in the high numbers of serious case reviews that involve domestic violence and in the numbers of homicides that involve domestic violence.
Many Members here have already mentioned the statistics. I am mindful of what the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) said about statistics, but it is worth recognising the scale of the challenge. It is about not just the numbers of people, predominantly women, who are killed through their relationship with their partners, but the impact on other services. In West Yorkshire alone, 10,000 calls to the 999 service were related to domestic violence. That is 20% of the total number of emergency calls that were dealt with over six months.
One of the first things that must concern the new Minister is the need to get the right data. If we are honest, we do not yet have the consistency of data that is required to understand the scale of the problem and the impact that it has. In particular, I am talking about the way in which police forces flag up intimate violence. They need consistency in capturing the data so that they can see not just repeat offenders but repeat victims. That is a huge challenge. Some police forces are proactive about such issues, but others are less so.
The police force is not the only place in which the issue of data has to be addressed. It is across a whole range of public services. In that sense, the movement towards a single definition by the Association of Chief Police Officers is welcome, but it needs to be shared across services, and people must be trained to understand what they are trying to capture, so that we can truly understand the impact of this crime.
Although nearly 750,000 cases are recorded by the police, only 100,000 ever proceed to prosecution. What is happening to those other 600,000 cases? What are we doing to address some of the causes and to understand what happens next? My first call to the Minister is for him to make that commitment about data. We need to ensure that both the public and voluntary sectors have the data necessary for us to understand the level of domestic violence that exists in our society.
I have a second call for the Minister, and we have heard many Members, especially on the Opposition Benches, making this case and I pay tribute to them. Indeed it is always a unique experience to be in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) is speaking, because he brings such passion and genuine emotion to the case. We also heard my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) talk about the changes in our benefit system and what impact that might have on victims of domestic violence.
When we talk about this crime, we are talking predominantly about women, but I pay tribute to those in the Chamber today who have recognised that men are the victims of domestic violence as well. The concept of financial control is key to enabling people to leave abusive relationships. In the changes that the Government are making to the benefit system, there is a real danger that the ability to make that choice to leave will be restricted.
Hon. Members have already talked about universal credit. In particular, they have talked about how it will be nominated to a single person in a household, and how some 300,000 households will be affected. The decision about who gets that money will be critical to the choice about how money is spent. Child benefit is crucial to many women because it makes them financially independent. Universal credit will go much further in aggregating people’s incomes and therefore the ability of people within relationships to make choices about how money is spent. May I press the Minister to look again at this issue, and to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about the decision to nominate a single person? Can he look at what more can be done to stop this measure from being a source of financial control? If a single person is to be nominated will he ensure that it is the main carer within a family? We do not want to see women stuck in abusive relationships because they are not able to leave them.
I hope that the Minister is pressing his colleagues in the DWP about the way in which universal credit will be paid and the impact it could have on refuges. About 40% of the women who go into refuges tend to be dual housing benefit claimants. They can claim the money on the property they might have fled and also on the cost of staying in a refuge. Under the new provisions, such a measure will come under the benefit cap. It is not difficult to see how a woman might find herself unable to keep up a private property, and so a secured tenancy, which at some point she may wish to return to with her family once the issue about abuse has been resolved or her abuser is in prison, and to pay for a stay in a refuge, let alone pay for the food that her children need or transport costs under the cap as currently constructed. There is a real concern that it will be the cost of staying in a refuge that will fall under that system.
Refuges are a unique form of supported housing for families. First, they are about not just the individual on the claim but the dependants as well. Secondly, there are no waiting lists for refuges. Already 230 women a day are turned away from refuges in this country because we do not have enough places, so there is not that ability to plan ahead for the need that will be required. Every person who turns up at a refuge is in crisis. A refuge provides only short-stay accommodation. Under the new system, the problem will be not only that the dual housing benefit claimant may find themselves not able to pay for a refuge place but that the payment is paid to the client rather than the landlord. We can see refuges having to chase women, who are being moved around the country, for payment for their place. The work that has been done by several refuges already suggests that almost 60% of their income could be affected, which could be crucial to their future survival.
We need to do more to ensure that we have refuges. If the Minister takes away one message from this debate today it is that Opposition Members are desperately concerned that the changes through universal credit may have severe unintended consequences on the refuge movement in the UK. We may see more refuges closing and more women unable to move out of their properties. That is before we even get into the difficulties that women then face when they are in refuges and receiving support.
I am sure that the Minister is well versed in some of the debates about legal aid. Given that 230 women a week need legal aid assistance to escape an abusive partner and given the relationship that exists between being in a refuge and being entitled to legal aid, the changes could have severe unintended consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North pointed out that the universal credit guidelines will come before Parliament shortly. Let me extend a hand across the House to say that we will work with the Minister to try to change those requirements, so that we can ensure that women who are fleeing from violence are not hampered by the way in which universal credit is administered.
When it comes to money, however, we are not just talking about financial freedom. Again, Labour Members have already spoken very strongly about the cuts to funding and the impact that they are having. We know that, although local authority budgets were cut by 27% on average, those organisations working with victims of domestic violence have experienced a disproportionate cut of 31%. Moreover, that figure masks a further difficulty, because many of those organisations are small organisations that operate on a shoestring; they work on very small budgets. However, we know that those organisations receiving funding of less than £20,000 a year have actually experienced, on average, a 70% cut in their funding and many of them have now disappeared. That is in comparison with those organisations receiving funding of more than £100,000 a year, which have done better.
Those cuts are also filtering through the system. Once again, I urge the Minister to make strong representations to his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, given that we have already seen 23 specialist domestic violence courts being closed during the past year. That is despite the fact that we know the difference those specialist courts make in tackling the issue that I mentioned earlier—the number of domestic violence cases that are brought to charge. Indeed, given that only 58% of those 100,000 cases are successfully prosecuted, we need to ensure that we have a court system that understands the issues that we are dealing with and that is able to work with the victims that we are all talking about. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) has now left Westminster Hall, but he ably raised that issue about the court system.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to get to a point where we will see a step change in the number of successful prosecutions of domestic violence? It cannot be right that we have such a low rate for successful prosecutions. Surely we need to look at shifting the way that we balance evidence to be in favour of those who are victims rather than adopting the default position, which seems to be taking the view that there is not enough evidence, or, “We cannot prosecute, because it’s his word against hers”? We need to say, “Let’s hunt for the truth and let’s start to see a step change”, and there should be no complacency in wanting to see a much better outcome through the justice system.
I absolutely agree with my colleague and, if anything, that is the second message that I hope the Minister takes away from our comments today—there needs to be a step change in how we as a society address domestic violence. Clearly, we are not getting it right at this point in time. The changes in relation to universal credit that I briefly mentioned earlier are just a microcosm—the tip of the iceberg—of the way that we need to think differently about how we deal with victims of domestic violence.
My hon. Friend was talking about the fundraising element earlier. Does she recognise that what is happening in small projects is that those people who are supposed to be working with victims of domestic violence are having to spend some of their time, or quite often a lot of their time, in fundraising, which makes no sense? Also, one of the things that is happening because of the cuts that are being made to other services is that often the people dealing with domestic violence are dealing with more complex cases because drug and alcohol teams are being cut and other support systems are also going. All of those problems are landing in the lap of the domestic violence workers, because the other support services are not around.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although I think that the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys might want to reflect on what he was saying about payment by results in terms of dealing with violence itself, there is an understanding that the complexity of the consequences of domestic violence on families means that the complexity of dealing with these issues extends far beyond our criminal justice system. Again, that is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston has already said, we need a step change in how we address domestic violence, because it is not just about our criminal justice system.
The third issue that I would love to put into the Minister’s inbox is about the role of multi-agency risk assessment conferences, or MARACs. At present, they only deal with the most severe 10% of examples of domestic violence. Again, having had personal experience as an MP, as I am sure other Members have also had, of trying to get support for victims of domestic violence, I know that the frustration about the presumption that there needs to be an escalation before there is action and intervention is all too real, whether it involves dealing with housing services, social care or indeed schools. It is very clear at present that our system is designed to deal only with the tip of the iceberg that I referred to before, and yet it is often the case that if we were able to intervene earlier, be more proactive and join up services around the individual, we might not only prevent violence but save a family and prevent the consequences arising from violence.
I think that many Members who are here in Westminster Hall today have put on record the need to look again at how we understand where domestic violence is taking place. I absolutely agreed with the hon. Member for Pendle when he talked about violence among young people. I am very mindful that one of the priorities for the Youth Justice Board this year is child-parent abuse and recognising that, particularly within a gang context, there is a lot of evidence about how young men are abusive towards their parents. But that is seen as an issue for social care and not necessarily as a criminal justice issue, and so those mothers themselves are affected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West also talked about the cultural changes that we have to address, given that one in two boys and one in three girls think that it is okay to hit a woman and in some circumstances force her to have sex. Clearly, these are complex issues that extend far beyond the remit of the police and our criminal justice system. Therefore, the police and our criminal justice system need partners in the voluntary sector and in the health and social care sector, which is why common definitions are the starting point of the conversations between those bodies.
Above all, however, we need to recognise the benefit of joining up those services and in ensuring that we have that step change in what we do that has been mentioned. Many of us will make the case for tackling domestic violence, having dealt with domestic violence cases in our constituencies, but I want to ensure that the Minister is aware of the economic benefit of getting this issue right and of why we on the Labour Benches are part of the “One Billion and Rising” campaign, which is a campaign to tackle violence against women and girls, not only in the UK but internationally.
The contribution of women to Britain’s economy is huge, but it is held back by the fact that women live in an unequal society in which violence too often scars the lives of women and their families. We know the cost to our public services of failing to get domestic violence services right. That is why when we talk about cuts to services at a local level, we need to set them against a cost-benefit analysis of getting this issue right. Also, we need to consider the women who are not able to contribute to our society because they live in fear.
I want to work with the Minister to make tackling domestic violence a priority in the months and years ahead, and I hope that he will address the points that my hon. Friends and I have made today about universal credit, the way that MARACs work and prevention of domestic violence, because when all of us leave Westminster Hall today and go back and look at our casework we will be all too alive to the fact that we still have a challenge to face.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh, and it is a privilege to make my first contribution in the House in my capacity as a Minister in the Home Office on this hugely emotional and important subject, which rightly interests hon. Members from all parties.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), not only for giving us the opportunity to discuss domestic violence but for the detailed and passionate way that he has raised the issue in his campaigning and for his track record of taking action against it. I am more than happy to recognise the substantial contributions to the debate that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), by the hon. Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), and of course by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who is the Opposition spokesperson.
I welcome the opportunity to update the House on what the Government are doing to support victims of domestic violence, because I must say, in a spirit of bipartisanship, that substantial progress is being made on many fronts. That progress is not solely due to this Government’s efforts; I recognise the efforts that Ministers from all political parties have made during a number of years. Nevertheless, it is right that we should fully understand the considerable efforts that are being made to try to address a lot of the concerns that have been raised in this debate.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle for his campaign to amend the bail laws, so that victims of domestic violence have a right of appeal against bail decisions set by judges. He referred to that campaign in his opening speech. Of course, before his campaign and the changes that the Government have made, that was not the case. However, the Government accepted that there was a need to change the law, and he will know that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has brought about that change. I am sure that all Members will recognise that that is a substantial benefit for the victims of domestic violence who find themselves in those circumstances, and it is much to the credit of my hon. Friend that he provided the political momentum for that change to be made.
I want to provide a context to my speech. Many hon. Members will already know that, in the past year alone, there were more than 1 million female victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales. Therefore, around two women every minute, or more than 25 women during my short speech this afternoon, will be the victims of domestic abuse. It is deplorable that more than a quarter of women will experience such abuse during their lifetimes. As has been touched upon by other hon. Members, it is a tragedy that so few of those women feel able to report that abuse to the authorities or that, if they do feel able, it takes many repeat circumstances of their being abused before they can take that step and go to the authorities.
The domestic violence statistics are shocking on their own; but in addition, more than 300,000 women have been sexually abused in the past year, and in the same period the Government’s forced marriage unit has provided advice or support on forced marriage in 1,468 cases.
The Government’s ambition is to end violence against women and girls. That is why, soon after coming to office, we set out a new strategy, followed by a supporting action plan in March 2011, which translated our overarching vision into specific cross-departmental actions. The actions were most recently refreshed in March 2012, importantly reaffirming our key themes of prevention, improved partnership working, justice outcomes and risk reduction, and the provision of good-quality services.
Work on these themes has been supported by the Government’s provision of nearly £40 million of stable funding up to 2015 for this discrete area, including for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services, rape support centres, the national domestic violence helplines and the stalking helpline services, which have not been touched upon in the debate but are relevant here. For example, we have provided funding for multi-agency risk assessment conference—MARAC—co-ordinator posts and independent domestic violence adviser—IDVA—posts, which research suggests have produced a real impact for high-risk domestic violence victims. We have also granted funding towards 144 IDVA posts in the 2012-13 financial year, as well as providing funding for training. We now have MARACs in more than 250 areas across England and Wales and have granted MARAC funding towards 54 posts for the 2012-13 financial year. I realise that that information is perhaps a bit rich in statistics, but it is important that when the programmes are put in place the House is aware of them.
Meanwhile, other Departments have also demonstrated their commitment to tackling violence against women and girls. For example, the Department of Health launched a short film for the NHS Choices website in August 2012. It covers what female genital mutilation is, the range of long-lasting damage that it can cause, the legal obligation to safeguard children and where to go for help if anyone is worried or affected. There is, therefore, a broad body of work taking place, not just in the Home Office. The Foreign Office, where I previously served as a Minister, has done work on forced marriage, which relates mainly, but not exclusively, to girls. The girls are British nationals, but the forced marriages often take place in other countries.
On the role of local commissioners in tackling domestic violence, the Government feel strongly that the procurement and commissioning of services is rightly a matter for local authorities. Although the Government have made clear our belief that local authorities should attach importance to the sector, each council has some discretion about how it prioritises spending.
We are taking steps across the board to strengthen the provisions available for tackling domestic violence and supporting the victims, and I think that it will help if I use the remainder of my speech to talk about some of the initiatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle mentioned Clare’s law, and I am happy to update him on that. Following the consultation published by the Home Secretary, we have launched the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which is being piloted in four police forces across England and Wales. The pilots in Wiltshire and Gwent were launched in July, and those in Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester started at the beginning of last week. The pilots form part of our efforts to tackle domestic violence by looking at new ways of protecting victims and putting tools in place to help and support them. The Government believe that disclosing information about the perpetrators of domestic violence will help to protect and support victims. Very early feedback on the pilots provisionally indicates that there are 24 live applications, and five disclosures have already been made to potential victims. The pilots will run until September 2013, and we will then decide whether to roll out the scheme nationally.
The Government were pleased to hear that Greater Manchester police, along with West Mercia and Wiltshire police force areas, will continue to use domestic violence protection orders until the Home Office evaluation completes next summer. Anecdotal feedback from the domestic violence protection order pilot indicates that women, and victims generally, welcome the protection, as it allows them the breathing space that they need to consider their options.
On 8 June, following a detailed consultation on forced marriage and having listened carefully to all views on the abhorrent practice, Members will recall that the Prime Minister announced that the Government will make forcing someone to marry a criminal offence for the first time. In doing so, we are sending out a clear message that the brutal practice is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK. We are aware, however, that legislation alone is not enough and will remain focused on prevention and on increasing support and protection for victims.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle asked about the proposals to change the definition of domestic violence. Our consultation, on whether the current cross-Government definition should be widened, closed on 30 March 2012. We sought views on whether the current definition should remain or be amended to include coercive control and extended to 16 and 17-year-olds or to everyone under the age of 18. We are considering the consultation responses and an announcement will be made shortly.
According to the latest figures, 21 men and 93 women were killed by a partner or ex-partner in 2010-11. For cases in which domestic violence results in the death of the victim, the Government have established domestic homicide reviews on a statutory basis under section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. Local areas are, importantly, required to undertake a multi-agency review following a domestic homicide, to identify the lessons that can be learned, with a view to preventing future homicides and violence. I appreciate that that is in the most extreme cases only, but the point was made in the debate about trying to co-ordinate different Government agencies. The provision also allows the Secretary of State, in particular cases, to direct that a specified reluctant person or body establish or participate in a review. Furthermore, the Government made a commitment in the refreshed violence against women and girls action plan, published in March 2012, to develop
“a training package for chairpersons of Domestic Homicide Reviews”,
and that will be extended later this year across England and Wales.
Contributors to the debate have made the point that, although the majority of victims of domestic violence are women, there are, of course, male victims as well. Domestic violence is one of those forms of violence that affect men, and many men are reluctant, perhaps in some cases for different reasons from women, to admit that they are victims. The Government take the issue seriously, and we support the Men’s Advice Line, which is for all men who experience violence from a current or ex-partner, and Broken Rainbow, which provides advice to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people affected by domestic violence. In 2011-12, we have allocated funding to the tune of £100,000 for a male victims and sexual violence fund, to support services that focus on male victims of sexual and domestic violence, and we have assigned a further £125,000 for continued support in 2012-13.
Time is short, so before I conclude, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the debate. I am more than happy to take on board the points made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow about the need to ensure that all features of Government contribute to what we are trying to achieve.
We have talked about universal credit, and there is a concern that is shared across the House. Will the Minister commit to going back to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and challenging them on the point about dual housing benefit and benefit being paid to the tenant for refuges, so that we can ensure that the refuge movement does not suffer further financial difficulties?
I have seen that the refuges in my constituency are extremely successful, and I certainly want to ensure that they continue to do their work unimpeded, so if we can take action to ensure that outcome, I will certainly do my best to achieve it.