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Violence Against Women

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 20 June 2013

4. What assessment she has made of the cumulative effect of Government policies on tackling violence against women. (160635)

The Government are fully committed to tackling violence against women and girls. We have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of funding up to 2015 for domestic and sexual abuse victims’ services. We monitor the impact of our activity through our annually published action plans, inter-ministerial meetings and regular engagement with the women’s sector.

But the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s recent “Deeds or Words?” report gave the Government a score of 2.5 out of 10 and the Department for Education a woeful zero—nul points—out of 10 for their efforts to tackle violence against women and girls. Have the Government made any assessment of why they got such a woeful score? What are they going to do to improve their score in future years?

I am grateful for the opportunity to put the Government’s side of the argument, because we have a strong story to tell. We have introduced stronger laws on stalking; we are in the process of criminalising forced marriage, in legislation that I am leading at the moment; we have the highest conviction rates for rape since recording began; and the Home Office is running a very successful campaign—“This is abuse”—aimed at addressing teenage sexual behaviour. The Government have a strong record and I hope that we can persuade more people of that when they write reports in the future.

What specific steps are the Government taking to deal with the disgraceful acts of “honour-based” violence offences?

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this appalling practice. I know that he uses that term because it is the one that is widely used to describe this, but I am always a bit guarded about using it because there is nothing at all honourable about treating women in that way. I am sure that that message will go out from every Member of this House, and I hope it will be heard increasingly right across the country.

9. Only 6.5% of domestic violence incidents recorded by the police actually result in conviction. What kind of message does it send if an alleged perpetrator can receive a caution despite extensive corroborative evidence? Is that the norm? If it is, no wonder conviction rates are so low. Or is it a question of there being one law for the rich and famous and another for everybody else? (160641)

There certainly is not one law for the rich and famous and another for everybody else, and if anybody is under the impression that there is, they are labouring under a misapprehension. I share the hon. Lady’s concern about domestic violence conviction rates, and we want to see them increase. Sometimes it is difficult to get a conviction in those circumstances, for reasons that will be obvious to everybody in the House. Domestic violence is an extremely serious crime, and although we have seen overall crime rates fall, we have not seen a marked fall in domestic violence rates. However, that is something we actually quite welcome because it may suggest a higher level of reporting of domestic violence than previously existed.

Women’s safety is being put at risk by Government reforms. According to Homeless Link, Ministers still have not sorted payments to refuges under universal credit, and it is now clear that sanctuary schemes are being put at risk. A woman who is a victim of domestic violence who has a specially installed panic room in her home has been told that she must pay an extra £12 because it counts as a spare bedroom under the bedroom tax. Another woman who is at serious risk from her abuser was moved by a multi-agency risk assessment conference into safe accommodation, but has now been told that she is under-occupying and will have to pay bedroom tax or move home again, when she is already feeling unsafe. It is no good the Minister passing the buck to local councils and chattering on about the discretionary housing payment, as his hon. Friends and colleagues have been trying to advise him. The fact is that such cases are happening across the country. Does he have any idea how many women are being affected in this way? Have Ministers even asked?

I caution the right hon. Lady about scaremongering in that way and trying to use this extremely serious and harrowing issue to make a wider political point about the size of the welfare state, which after all is a part of Government policy on which Labour is in full retreat and is increasingly willing to accept Government policy. There are discretionary payments available to councils in the circumstances that she describes and I urge councils to make those payments available in the right circumstances.