[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.
In the week of international women’s day, I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) for securing this important debate on violence against women.
Gender-based violence is a serious bar to development. As a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I have seen how it can affect women overseas. In 2013, a UK study estimated the annual global cost of domestic violence at $42 billion, as a result of lost productivity at work and other expenses such as medical bills, police support and counselling. It is therefore abundantly clear that eradicating gender-based violence goes hand in hand with ensuring economic stability in developing countries—[Interruption.] At this point I break, the Minister having returned to her place, to wish her a happy birthday.
To continue, early and forced marriage also limit girls’ access to education, which has an effect on the quality of the economic contribution that they will ever be able to make. I am pleased that violence against women and girls has been a focus of the Department for International Development’s policy programme and, in a recent update to the International Development Committee, the Department reported a substantial 40% increase in the number of programmes that work to change harmful social norms. In Ethiopia, for example, we have seen that it is not enough to pressure Governments to impose laws on violence against women and girls; there needs to be a shift in culture, which is best supported by educating men and boys as well as women and girls.
I echo my hon. Friend’s thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod).
Does my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) share my concern that so much of the increase in violence against women is being channelled through social media and websites? Will she join me in congratulating the Government on recognising that and on some of their work such as making revenge pornography illegal, and in urging them to go further to ensure that crimes against women are not committed so easily online?
The bullying of or violence against woman and girls is not always physical; a lot of the stuff on social media now is verbal and mental bullying, which girls find difficult to resist, in particular during their teenage years when they might sometimes be having difficulty in coming to terms with their life, lifestyle and where they are going. Social media need to be curbed and we need to look hard at how they are used. I am pleased to see that the Government are involved in dealing with the problem.
I, too, echo the thanks to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) for securing the debate.
Will the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) join me in welcoming the Secretary of State for Education’s announcement that lessons on consent, whether in sex and relationships education or personal, social, health and economic education, are hugely important? Does the hon. Lady share my disappointment that the Secretary of State fell short of saying that such lessons ought to be mandatory in all our schools?
I welcome the fact that the subject of consent can be included in such lessons. That is down to the school, and I am sure that most schools will include it, as well as education about female genital mutilation and all the other things that women and girls have to put up with. The schools—head teachers and governors—should take the lead, but I welcome the fact that the opportunity to include consent is available to them.
Since I came to Parliament in 2010, I have been particularly interested in FGM and involved in working against it. I am now chair of the all-party group on female genital mutilation. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for all her work before she became public health Minister—a portfolio that includes responsibility for FGM—when she campaigned against FGM alongside some powerful women in this country. Sadly, however, last year we lost a great and tenacious campaigner, Efua Dorkenoo, who died unexpectedly. The FGM movement has a lot to thank Efua and her tireless campaigning for. It is sad that she will not see the fruits of her hard work over many years.
The problem with FGM is that it is on the rise in this country. Only a decade ago the number of girls and women who had undergone FGM in England and Wales stood at approximately 66,000. Shockingly, the figure is now estimated to have more than doubled. I have seen the devastating effect that the practice can have on young women and girls, and I am fully behind any attempt to eradicate it within or outside the UK.
Recently, I worked alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and the Justice for Victims of FGM UK charity to make amendments to what is now the Serious Crime Act 2015 to safeguard girls from the risk of FGM.
I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying. She said that the incidence of FGM has more than doubled in the UK over the past decade. Is she therefore, like me, disappointed that we have not seen the same increase in prosecutions for the promotion and practice of FGM?
I certainly am. I hope that under the new Act we will see some serious prosecutions, because there have been problems with earlier ones. I want to see prosecutions that might show the way, so that people who want to carry out FGM of young girls will be persuaded that it is not a good idea because they will be prosecuted. Until that happens, we will continue to see not so much an increase, but probably a steady number of girls who are at risk or have had FGM done to them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is good that people are now talking about FGM? There is much more understanding of it and more support for victims, such as from the Kaiza project in my constituency. I met with those working on the project only a couple of weeks ago and it is drawing attention to the problem and encouraging young women to come forward and confront what has happened to them.
I certainly agree. Any project such as the one in Rugby is welcome, because we want more organisations to educate and to help people to come forward and talk about FGM, which has been a taboo subject—something done behind closed doors—with families closing up and not talking about it. Girls have suffered as a result. I welcome anything that any organisation, such as the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency, can do.
I also welcome the fact that we have some men in the debate. The subject is not women only and we should recognise that we need men to engage with it. I am pleased that in this place we seem to have a lot of men who are concerned about violence against women in this country and abroad.
The hon. Lady is being generous in taking interventions. I thank her for making a powerful speech and for her work on the APG.
The Opposition supported the amendment that the hon. Lady tabled to the Serious Crime Bill to ensure that girls at risk were supported in relation to FGM protection orders. Does she recognise, however, the importance of making FGM an offence? That has been supported by a large number of campaigning groups, and the Labour party tabled an amendment on the issue in Committee. Taking action would mean that, in communities where there were pressures on parents to cut their daughters, action could be taken against those involved.
Yes, but FGM has been illegal in this country for many years; it is just that we have had no prosecutions. Those are the one thing that will reduce the incidence of FGM. We need to look much more at how France has had successful prosecutions, so that we can have some here. That will show the country, and the world, that we are serious about combating FGM.
One of the amendments I mentioned was designed to give judges explicit guidance to allow them to grant FGM protection orders for girls at risk of FGM. Such orders would stop an at-risk girl leaving the country and prevent the commissioning of an FGM offence. Those offences do not always happen in this country; they can happen when girls go abroad, to places such as Ethiopia, and they often happen when girls go away during the summer holidays. We need to stop that, and education is the only way we can do it.
The amendment would also have provided a concrete framework for social workers, law enforcement agencies and other bodies to operate in. We know from previous experience that non-statutory guidance simply would not provide enough support for workers concerned about a girl at risk of FGM. That lack of direction, coupled with a fear of offending culture and tradition, as well as confusion as to what protective measures are appropriate, has more often than not resulted in a failure to put in place the appropriate safeguarding mechanisms. It is not acceptable to let more girls slip through the net, and I implore the next Government to provide the support that the judiciary and health care professionals need. Cutting is not cultural, and it is not something we accept in this country—it is child abuse. We need to recognise that these girls are at risk of child abuse.
I completely agree. This is quite simply child abuse, and there is no more to be said about it. Everybody has a responsibility to ensure that we do not accept cutting in any form, because it is wrong and it is child abuse.
Forced marriage is another issue affecting women and girls in this country, and the steps the Government took in passing the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to identify it as an act of violence and as a crime are admirable. The forced marriage unit, established in 2005, has been instrumental in offering young men and women the help they need if they are at risk of forced marriage. Happily, there have been reports of an increase in the number of people coming forward to the unit, and I hope that trend continues. In the coming years, I believe the UK will see a significant drop in the number of women affected by forced marriage, with the new law serving as a strong deterrent, and education helping girls and men to understand that forced marriage is wrong.
I am particularly proud of the incredible work the charity Karma Nirvana does to combat honour-based violence, including forced marriages, although I do not agree that this violence is honour based—it is violence. The charity runs the UK’s only helpline offering support and advice to those affected by those issues. Its founder, Jasvinder Sanghera, is originally from Derby, and she would have undergone a forced marriage herself had she not run away.
Earlier this year, the charity ran a petition on introducing a day of remembrance for those who have lost their lives in so-called honour-based killings—they are actually murder—as a result of refusing to enter into an arranged marriage. The petition proved incredibly popular, and it contained the signatures of more than 110,000 supporters when it was presented in November. I am pleased to say that the day of remembrance received cross-party support and was given the go-ahead for 14 July, which coincides with the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, a young girl who was murdered by her parents in 2003 because she refused to have an arranged marriage. Sadly, Jasvinder’s own sister committed suicide by pouring petrol over herself and setting herself alight because she was the unhappy victim of a forced marriage.
I hope that, on 14 July, we will remember not just those who have been murdered as a result of forced marriage, but those who have committed suicide.
In the global arena, positive steps have been taken to prevent FGM, and Ethiopia, for example, outlawed it in 2004. However, the number of women affected by FGM has remained relatively high. The procedures take place in unsterilised and poorly lit conditions, which increases the risk of post-operative infection and further mutilation, and girls can lose their lives as a result.
I am encouraged, however, by the Department for International Development’s response to the situation, because supporting those in the community, such as church leaders, village elders, fathers, sons, mothers and daughters, to speak out against FGM helps to challenge ideas about the practice. I have seen the Department’s programme, and it is having positive results, which I am really pleased about.
On violence against women in Nepal, the police have a very robust system. A feisty female police officer is helping women and girls and challenging attitudes. She helps women to come forward to explain what has been going on. That, again, is an important step forward.
I pay tribute to the Government for all the hard work they have done to improve the lives of women here and overseas, but there is much more to be done, and it is important in the final days of this Parliament that we do all we can to ensure that the good work continues. I hope that the Government, in their aid programmes, continue to recognise women as making a significant economic contribution to their communities and to educate men and boys to change traditional views on women and women’s place in society.
I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent, wide-ranging speech, which addresses many issues that are so important to women and men across the world.
As the hon. Lady says, FGM should not be seen as a cultural practice, but does she agree that it is also important to say that FGM, the exploitation of women and violence against women are not associated with one religion or culture? Those who try to incite division in our community by implying that should be told very clearly that this is, unfortunately, a very broad-based challenge.
I agree with the hon. Lady—it is broad based. As she says, it has nothing to do with religion and culture; it goes across a number of societies, and it is completely wrong—it is mutilation and violence, and it has no place in modern society.
I am hopeful that the statutory framework put in place to protect girls in this country will yield positive results in eradicating the scourge of FGM and forced marriage.
Order. It might help Members to know that a Division is expected shortly. When it happens, we will suspend for 15 minutes, but we will add on the time that is lost. I intend to call first those who have notified the Chair that they wish to speak.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I missed the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) because I was bringing in one of the young women who is attending the event organised for those in their final year of school. I was going to call them sixth formers, but that is not a term we use in Scotland.
The debate is an important one for the week of international women’s day. Violence against women and girls is an international issue. It is estimated that internationally about a third of women and girls experience such violence, but the issue is unfortunately alive and kicking in all parts and communities of the United Kingdom, across all classes. Women and girls of all backgrounds can be affected, at any stage of life. I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words and want to focus in particular on some issues from North Ayrshire and Arran, which has some of the worst domestic violence statistics in Scotland. That does not necessarily mean there is more domestic violence there than in other areas of Scotland; we do not know. However, more crimes are reported there than in many parts of Scotland.
The issues that I want to focus on are within the power of government. Many services and support mechanisms available to women and girls have been under threat in recent years, as there have been budget cuts from all parts of government—Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and local government. Unfortunately, as often happens when public finances are squeezed, some of the services that are less fashionable or that were developed for the most vulnerable are the first to be attacked. That is happening to services that were developed over decades for women and girls who are subjected to violence and abuse. North Ayrshire is not immune to that effect.
I want to discuss the future of North Ayrshire Women’s Aid. Like Women’s Aid throughout the country, the service was set up by women concerned about the issue, with an ethos very different from that of many services in the voluntary and public sectors. It had the aim of providing support to people in difficult situations and was a women-led service.
I am glad that the hon. Lady has brought the debate to the subject of violence in this country, important though it is to consider the matters that have been covered so far. I do not know whether she has read the “Building Great Britons” report produced a couple of weeks ago by the all-party group on conception to age two. We gave the cost of getting things wrong with respect to perinatal mental health and maltreatment of children as £23 billion. Interestingly, about three quarters of child safeguarding cases are from homes where there is domestic violence. Often, women who suffer perinatal mental health problems and parent their children badly have themselves been victims, coming from parental homes where there was domestic violence. The matter is generational. Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that we need to do much more to make kids safe from domestic violence—not just the women who are in the front line of it?
The hon. Gentleman makes his case powerfully and is of course right that it is difficult to quantify the cost of violence—to the individual and the country. However, there is no doubt that there is a vast cost to the country—millions, and probably billions, of pounds—in consequence of the effect of violence on individuals, whether they suffer it as children or in later life. A great deal of work has been done on the cost to business of people having to take time off as a direct result of physical violence in domestic situations, but, as the hon. Gentleman powerfully expressed, things are far more complicated than that. Government has an interest in addressing the matter, to ensure that all parts of society function as well as they can.
I am particularly concerned that the women’s aid services in North Ayrshire are currently out to tender. There is no guarantee that the service will continue to run as it has in the past if Women’s Aid does not win in the current tendering process.
We experienced the same thing in Slough. Berkshire East and South Bucks Women’s Aid did not succeed with its tender; the process was constructed in such a way that it was not possible for it to win. The housing association that won has now withdrawn from providing the service. Berkshire East and South Bucks Women’s Aid has changed its name to Dash, and continues to provide a service using charitable and other funds. Those women will not allow women to continue suffering, and have carried on, but it is shocking that local government, and our tax money, are not backing an effective service. Instead there was investment in a service that turned out to be a paper straw.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has illustrated the point I am attempting to make extremely powerfully.
Even if North Ayrshire Women’s Aid wins the tender, the impact will be a cut of 22% to its budget. My hon. Friend is correct to say that many such services began as voluntary services. Women provided them out of their convictions, in their own time. However, it is practically impossible to provide a service on a purely voluntary basis throughout a local authority area. There is a need for state support. My case is that women-led services may be the most effective among those provided for women and girls in this country. It will be a sad indictment of Members, irrespective of party, if we allow the current budgetary position and the tendering exercises that are happening throughout the service to lead to a situation in which services cannot continue operating in the way that developed over generations.
With a 22% cut in its budget, North Ayrshire Women’s Aid will no longer, if it wins the contract, be able to help with addiction or children’s issues, which are part of its core service at the moment. Workers have already been issued with redundancy notices. A cause for concern is that the tendering process is such that whoever wins the contract will have to operate differently from previously. The council will control opening times and decide the nature of the service provided to women. Historically, the service has been led very much by women. Women have been employed by it and run it, and there is a woman chief executive.
Previously, of course, it was a co-operative operation. However, pressures from the public sector have meant that Women’s Aid could not continue to work in that way, so a male chief executive could be appointed. He might be good at the job, but that does not accord with the ethos in which Women’s Aid developed—of a women-led project, with recognition of the fact that women are often best placed to provide the relevant services to women and children. Things might be different in the context of men suffering domestic abuse, which we have debated previously, but the debate today is about women. The council will decide on recruitment and selection, and there will be a more limited service dealing with housing and shelter, rather than the more holistic approach developed by Women’s Aid over a long time. That is just one example of how services are under threat as a result of budget cuts.
When the previous Administration were in power in Scotland, Women’s Aid budgets were ring-fenced; it was decided that they should be because it was recognised that when times are difficult, services of that kind are the first to go. Services that are there for the most vulnerable do not have big lobbying groups providing them with protection and so they will be the ones to go when times are tough. However, the decision was then taken in Scotland not to ring-fence budgets for such services, and we are now seeing the consequences.
As we debate the effect of these issues on women and girls throughout the world, it is important that we also remember what is going in our own backyards—in our constituencies and communities. We should make sure that we protect the kind of services that are required when women and girls are most vulnerable—the point in their lives when perhaps they are at their lowest and so need support—and that there are the resources, commitment and vision to develop better services in future.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should say that when we suspend for the Division that will be, as I said, for 15 minutes, but as there is a lot of public interest in the debate and an overflow of visitors, if hon. Members get back as quickly as possible we will continue straight away. Perhaps during the suspension would be a good time to try to squeeze in a few more chairs.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting us the debate, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) for helping to secure it. We have already heard about some important aspects of our subject today. The debate is about what we can do, as part of the work of international women’s day, to “make it happen” and to make a difference to lives in this generation and the next.
The statistics on domestic abuse and domestic violence are still horrific. Two women a week in this country still get killed by a partner or former partner, and one call in 10 to emergency services relates to domestic abuse. There is a real reason why we are discussing this subject today: the statistics should not be at those levels. In London, reported incidents of domestic abuse increased by 23% last year, although that is not necessarily to say that the incidence is increasing. However, it is good that women now feel that they can come forward and talk about those issues more, which we should encourage even further.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
We have already heard about female genital mutilation. In my part of west London, there have been about 50 cases of FGM in one of my local hospitals in the past year, which shows the scale of it. Those cases were in the maternity wing, where the women were giving birth. That is definitely something that we need to take account of.
I must pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), who, with Angelina Jolie, has been leading the campaign on sexual violence in conflict. It really has raised awareness at an international level, which is important. Domestic abuse is very much a hidden crime that affects every community and all backgrounds in this country and around the world.
I was at an international women’s day event last Friday. One of the speakers, a lawyer, said that she had no knowledge of domestic violence until one day when she heard screams outside her house. She went out to see what was happening, and a man was banging the head of his wife against the roof of a car, so she tried to do something about it. She found out later that he was banging his wife’s head against the car because she had bought a new pair of shoes that day. It was absolutely ridiculous. That was a visible sign of abuse, but so much happens behind closed doors and we do not see it. That is why it is important to encourage people to speak out about it. It affects men and women, and it is important to encourage victims to speak out and get the support that they need.
We have taken some steps forward in this Parliament. We have had £40 million of stable ring-fenced funding for specialist domestic and sexual violence support services, and the Home Secretary recently announced £10 million to support refuges, which was great. She came to the London domestic abuse summit, held in Chiswick in west London. The very first refuge in the world for women was in Chiswick. I wanted to show that London was responding to the problem and that we were a core part of finding a solution.
We have also widened the definition of domestic abuse, as the Minister said in the previous debate, so that it also includes the emotional and psychological abuse of 16 and 17-year-olds. We have opened 15 new rape support centres, in addition to the 84 that already existed, and we have increased the prosecution rate to 74.6%. We have introduced Clare’s law—the domestic violence disclosure scheme—and domestic violence protection orders. There has been a rigorous review by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary into the approach by police, which I have chased up with my local police. They say that body-worn cameras are making a real difference on domestic abuse cases. We have also investigated ways to strengthen the law to provide a single offence of domestic violence, and introduced stalking offences as well.
We have issued new guidance for the prosecution of FGM cases, and issued guidance to councils on how to identify domestic abuse quickly. We have signed up to the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, and held the first violence against women and girls global conference. So some things have been done.
I am also trying to work with the Mayor of London’s office; I really want London to be a city with an absolutely zero-tolerance no to domestic abuse. In announcing £5 million in respect of domestic abuse recently, the Mayor said:
“This is a horrendous and frightening crime and all victims should have all the support they need, no matter where they live, which this new service will guarantee. But we’ve also got to get tough on the perpetrators of abuse by making it very clear that domestic violence in any form will not be tolerated and give victims who have the courage to report abuse the support they need to get the justice they deserve.”
That is absolutely right, and that support is critical.
Things can be done on a small scale. One of my local residents in Isleworth, Lesley Miller, recently did an art exhibition in South street to raise money for domestic abuse charities to help to create something positive from this. I have pushed my local council in Hounslow to prioritise victims of domestic abuse on the housing waiting list, especially when they have children, to save them going into temporary housing and then on to other housing, and to try to get them as stable as possible, so that children can get that support.
It was really good to hear the Secretary of State for Education announce the other day that all school pupils will now be taught a curriculum for life. I must pay tribute to my local Youth Parliament member, Dunja Relic, who raised the issue in a recent meeting that the Secretary of State was having in Brentford and talked about the curriculum for life. Only a month later, the Secretary of State has announced that everyone will be taught the curriculum for life, which is about emotional resilience to cope with the modern internet age.
Sexualised images on the internet, bullying and incidents of revenge porn are creating unimaginable pressures for young people, so schools need to do more to help pupils— to help young people—to manage their lives and stay safe. Teachers will be urged to improve sex education lessons and new topics will be drawn up to be covered in personal, social, health and economic education lessons.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, and indeed, we have worked in similar ways on those issues in Hounslow. I wonder whether she can clarify something: in my understanding, the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Education is for non-statutory guidance, so it is not clear how many schools will implement it.
The information from the Secretary of State’s office said that all schoolchildren will be taught it, so that is something that we definitely need to push on and ensure is happening in each of our schools. An important part of that is the dangers of the internet, which are not included. That raises lots of additional issues. The Secretary of State said:
“A good PSHE education should cover all of the skills and knowledge young people need to manage their lives, stay safe, make the right decisions, and thrive as individuals and members of modern society.”
To make progress on the issue, we have to look at the four Ps: prevention; protection and support for victims; prosecution of offenders; and how the policies are integrated. I want to raise three key things, the first of which is people continuing to raise awareness. All of us, including hon. and right hon. Members, as well as young people, can raise awareness of the campaign to get rid of domestic abuse. The “This is abuse” campaign has been really effective in raising awareness—if anyone has not seen “This is abuse”, I urge them to have a look at it. It is supported by “Hollyoaks”.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Domestic violence is obviously an important issue and she is highlighting some of the challenges, but public awareness and awareness among those who might be able to influence policy are important. Will she encourage local organisations and local charities to contact their Members of Parliament directly about the work that they are doing? In Basildon, Basildon Women’s Aid contacted me. I have seen the incredible work it is doing, but it took a number of years for it to highlight that to me. Perhaps more interconnection between Members and local charities would help.
I agree with my hon. Friend. We can also take such things into schools. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) and I visited one of my local schools, Chiswick school, for a discussion with 14 to 16-year-olds on sexual violence in conflict and domestic abuse. They were absolutely fascinated. They were brilliant, asked intriguing questions and got engaged with the topic. If we can help to link up all the organisations and people who know a lot about the issue and can offer support, the situation will be all the better.
There is also the use of technology and global social media to consider. We know that technology can be used by perpetrators to commit abuse, and we are battling against the tide of porn online and the impact it has on young people’s views on sex and relationships, but we can also work to use technology as a major part of the solution, not just the problem. The issue has been discussed this week in New York at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and it will come up with some ideas on how that will be addressed.
Women’s Aid has launched an interactive billboard for international women’s day, with a photo of a female victim of abuse and an invitation to “Look at me”. When passers-by focus on the bruises, their photo appears on the advert and they help to heal the bruises, which is a nice way of doing it. 3M has developed a unique technology to provide victims with an early warning of possible danger. It has been used in Spain, where it has been credited with reducing the number of domestic-related homicides. Body-worn cameras, which I have mentioned, are improving the capturing of evidence by the police. In global campaigning on social media, the Salvation Army is sharing its message about “The Dress” in its campaign.
Furthermore, it is important that we involve men, which is why I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) here today. This campaign affects so many people and families in our communities that we all need to work on it together to make a difference. This is not just a women’s issue; in fact, 700,000 men are also victims. That is probably the tip of the iceberg, as many men would not necessarily report abuse.
I return to the role of schools. If we want to change things for this generation and the next, we have to work with young people in schools—boys and girls, young men and young women—to say, “You can help us with this campaign. You can make a difference in your local community. Work with your MP and with the organisations and agencies to spread the word among the next generation so that they understand the warning signs of an abusive relationship and understand what a good relationship is.” Young people can help and support their friends who are going through those problems. They are more likely to see some of the signs, and their friends are more likely to confide in them.
My hon. Friend has been generous in taking interventions, and I am grateful to her and to all hon. Members who have given way to me. Physical abuse is very serious, but I want to highlight the fact that psychological abuse can be equally serious in its long-term effects. It might not have the immediacy of physical abuse, but in an ongoing situation psychological abuse can leave as many scars as what might be considered ordinary domestic abuse, if there is such a thing.
My hon. Friend is so right. If someone went into a relationship in which their partner hit them on day one, they would walk out, but they do not hit on day one; they wait for a point months down the line, when the other person is closer to them—loves them, is involved in the relationship and may also have children with them. That is why the situation becomes difficult. It starts with emotional or psychological abuse and often financial abuse—isolating the person and telling them that they are useless—and it just builds from that. Often, the women are dependent on the men and want to try to solve the situation. Then they are told, if there is any violence, that it is their fault anyway.
All the stories are so similar. Every time we speak to a victim, the stories are almost identical in terms of the process undertaken. That is what we need to get across to young people—that this absolutely should not be tolerated. We therefore need to go further in raising awareness, encouraging respect in relationships, using technology and social media where we can and involving both men and women in our efforts. It would be so good if we could use today’s debate, as part of the international women’s day campaign, to make that happen. Let us really make a difference to the lives of not just men and women in our society who are going through domestic abuse, but women across the world, and for not just this generation, but the next.
I want to make three main points. One is that violence against women and girls is serious. I want, secondly, to discuss better ways of preventing it and, thirdly, to raise issues about ensuring that policies and law actually work in practice.
The issue really is serious. I was looking at the statistics for Thames Valley, the police area that covers Slough, which I represent: one third of the assaults with injury, in the latest year for which figures are available, are as a result of domestic abuse—and actually not just assaults with injury are involved. If we look at the homicide figures for the Thames Valley area, we see that in the past five years there have been 86 adult homicides, of which 27 were domestic abuse-related homicides. One in three murders in the Thames Valley police area is domestic abuse-related.
This is a real problem, which is life-threatening for women and girls. We have to start from realising that and recognising that it is not just a question of bringing the perpetrators to justice. This debate has illustrated that very powerfully. It is also a question of preventing these kinds of incident in the future. That is mostly what I want to focus on—the education not just of girls but of wider society in how to protect girls and women from violence.
I held a meeting with women in my constituency about child sexual exploitation. They were concerned about the issue. They felt that policies were being developed “somewhere up there” and their experience, as anxious mums, was not part of the debate and discussion. It was striking that again and again they came back to the issue of education—education not just for their daughters, but for themselves.
One of my asks for the Minister is that every school should have not just education for girls, but PSHE education for mums and dads. That was the demand that came from the meeting in my constituency, and I think it is a brilliant demand, because lots of mums there said that they did not really know what their daughter or son was seeing on the internet. They did not realise that internet safety should mean that they keep the family computer in a room where they can see what is going on. They should not allow their sons to have access to computers in their bedrooms, because if they do, they will be looking at things that mum and dad do not want them to see.
I arranged an evening in a school to talk about just that. I invited two lots of parents from two very large schools to talk about what was happening. Do you know how many actually came? It was an official meeting at the school, and I had the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and child protection people there. Twenty people came, and most of those were teachers. There were probably four or five parents.
I think that part of the reason for this situation is that we do this education too late. I do not know whether the hon. Lady’s school was a primary or a secondary school, but if we did it in primary schools, with which parents have a more intimate relationship, it is more likely that parents would do it. I think that we should do it in primary schools.
In Slough earlier this week, I talked about this issue at a meeting—a kind of youth question time for parliamentary candidates and their MP. A young woman came up to me and said, “Do you know what? The PSHE I got was much too late. It was when I was in year 10 or 11—something like that. Actually, it’s in year 7 that you are trying to make your first relationships with boyfriends.” I had the impression that she had been a victim of exploitation. She did not say anything that implied that she had been, but the fact that she wanted to take me into a corner and talk to me about this made me feel that she had been vulnerable and had not known what to do about her vulnerability. My anxiety about the welcome announcement from the Secretary of State is that this education will not happen young enough.
I used to teach year 6 in primary school. Some of my colleague teachers—this was a lifetime ago—were frightened of doing sex education, so I tended to be the person who did it, but I think that we have gone past that. It is really important that before girls have boyfriends and develop a sense of their own sexuality, they are able to have these conversations with trusted adults who can advise them on ways to be resilient to exploitation.
I want to give the right hon. Lady this example. I ran the London domestic abuse summit, in Chiswick, with the Home Secretary. I invited a couple of students from each of my local secondary schools, and some of the schools came back and said, “Sorry, we think it’s inappropriate.” I think that there is some work to be done to educate teachers that this is a very important issue and they have to play their part in it.
The hon. Lady is right to say that we need to educate teachers. I used to be a teacher educator—a teacher trainer—and it is true that we gallop through so much training for teachers so fast that we do not train them in how to teach this. Primary school teachers in particular can feel anxious about teaching it, but in my view it should be mandatory at every level of a child’s education.
Children should have relationships education from the age of five. At five, children will be talking not about sex and sexuality, but about what to do about bullies and about sharing toys. Those are very important lessons about relating to other people that at the moment schools avoid. Not every school does so, but it is not mandated, as part of the national curriculum, that schools have to teach this, and many parents do not have the confidence to teach it. As a result, we leave our children vulnerable because they do not know how to protect themselves. The best form of protection against exploitation is self-protection. The police cannot be there all the time; mum cannot be there all the time. We need to develop young adults who can keep themselves safe and who know how to resist exploitation.
My right hon. Friend is making a very important point in a powerful speech. I was struck by a story that I heard recently about the impact of sex and relationships education in school. A young boy went home after some classes and realised that the domestic abuse—the violence—that he was seeing at home was not normal. He then raised a challenge at home, which led to the mum disclosing the abuse. Given the impact that SRE can have, not just in raising awareness but in making a change, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that it should be compulsory and that it can be age-appropriate and safe to teach from the age of five?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is also right to admit that dealing with such things is complicated for teachers. We need to support and educate teachers. I remember reading a story that a pupil of mine had written; it was obvious to me that she had been watching utterly inappropriate movies at home. I thought that they must have strongly informed her writing, because I did not believe that she could have imagined all the things that she had written about. As quite a young teacher, I did not really know how to respond to that situation. Young teachers will encounter that kind of thing, and we need to train them to deal with it.
Education is one of the keys to prevention, but I believe that there is another way of reducing violence against women and girls. Hon. Members probably know that I regard prostitution, as it actually happens, as usually being a form of violence against women and girls, particularly vulnerable women. I believe that the way to prevent that form of violence is to reduce girls’ vulnerability to being seduced into prostitution.
There has been much greater awareness of child sexual exploitation in debate and discourse recently, and that is an important step, but we need to reduce the number of women who are prostituted. As a state, we need to help women leave prostitution, and we need to deal with the demand for prostitutes. In my view, we should follow the Swedish example and criminalise the customers, who have choice, rather than criminalising the women, who have little.
I praise the Government for creating section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, which makes controlling and coercive behaviour an offence. That offence has the capacity to play a role in the prevention of physical violence, because physical violence is often not the first step; it follows on from, and is bound up with, controlling and coercive behaviour. Will the Minister tell the House the exact steps that she will take to ensure that police forces deliver on that? Earlier in the debate, we heard how for decades we have had legislation against cutting girls’ genitals, but there have been no successful prosecutions. I want to make sure that section 76 of the 2015 Act does not follow that trend, and that it is instead used by police services as an effective way of preventing violence against women and girls.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) referred to the additional £10 million of support for refuges announced in November 2014. I was glad to see that, but I have to say that, too often, services for women, whether it be Rape Crisis helplines or funding for refuges, are sorted out at the last minute with no time for people to apply. The requirements often mean that, as on this occasion, lots of brilliant services cannot get themselves together to access the money, because they get the rules and regulations too late.
We need to make sure that in the provision of such services, as with other things, women are not seen as an afterthought. It must not be a case of a Department—in this case, I believe it was the Department for Communities and Local Government—saying, “Oh, whoops, we have a £10 million underspend here, and we do not know where it came from. Let’s shush the women by giving it to them.” I suspect that that is what happened, although I might be wrong. That happens too often, and we need to make such services absolutely mainstream. If we protect women and girls, we will reduce violent assaults and cut by a third the number of women who are murdered. We must make sure that that is front and centre of everything we do.
The Minister will speak on Tuesday next week in ping-pong on the Modern Slavery Bill. I believe that the Bill gives us an opportunity to help a number of women who have come to Britain as domestic workers and who have been vilely exploited and hurt. I am glad that the Minister has agreed to take a step in the right direction on the Bill, and I hope that she might turn it into a leap and support the Lords amendment. The Bill offers us another opportunity to support a number of people, mostly women, who have been victims of violence and exploitation. I look forward to the Minister’s response on that.
I know that the right hon. Lady—she is a passionate advocate on this topic—cannot be here for my closing remarks, so I wanted to comment now. We are drawing up an implementation plan to deal with the domestic abuse offence. Officials from the Home Office have met the national policing lead on domestic abuse and the College of Policing, and they will be meeting the CPS, to work on implementing the offence in such a way as to ensure that it genuinely offers better protection to victims. We have debated the generalities today, but I wanted to make sure that the right hon. Lady knew the specifics before she left.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) on securing the debate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for their contributions. I want to acknowledge the girls who are shadowing us today. They have given us feedback on the impact that the debate has on them.
Some important points have been raised. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about the work that she has done to tackle female genital mutilation. She called for an even stronger prevention strategy, which would include making the encouragement of FGM an offence so that parents know that they will be prosecuted if they put pressure on their daughters to undergo FGM. She raised the huge concern that exists about the poor level of prosecution, and she made the point that cutting is indeed child abuse. I reiterate the point, which she made powerfully, that there is absolutely no cultural excuse for violence against women and girls. We must take a stand against all such violence, whether it be forced marriage, child marriage, FGM or domestic violence. I acknowledge the work done on the matter by Karma Nirvana, Jeena International, the Sharan Project, many FGM campaigners, Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis and others.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran raised concerns about the impact of the Government’s funding cuts on the survival of her local Women’s Aid refuge. Refuges around the country are under threat of closure. That has led Labour to commit to providing a £3 million annual national refuge fund to make sure that that much-needed and life-saving service has the resources that it requires to survive.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth talked about the horrifying statistics on domestic violence, which has increased in London, and described how things that go on behind closed doors are a matter for all of us. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) spoke powerfully about the fact that we need not only a serious justice response to ensure that many more perpetrators are brought to justice for violence against women and girls, but a stronger and more effective prevention strategy. She also stressed the importance of compulsory sex and relationship education.
As Members of Parliament, I am sure that we have all discussed the problem of violence against women and girls in our communities. As I have travelled around the country on the pink bus, I have held discussions with women about issues that they are extremely concerned about. As you may be aware, Mr Bone, 9.1 million women did not vote in the last general election. We want every single one of them to vote this time.
The issues that many local campaigners, victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence have raised with me bring home that every community is affected. Whether we are rich or poor, and whatever our social or ethnic background, this issue unites us all, which is why it is so important that we talk about it through international women’s day. The solution to so many of these issues can be found only by working across nations and cultures.
I am proud to have been part of the One Billion Rising event co-ordinated by Lynne Franks over the past few weeks. One in three women across the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, which is a staggering statistic—1 billion women will be affected. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth mentioned the women of the world festival, in which I participated last weekend and which explores these issues. Men are also campaigning through initiatives such as the white ribbon campaign against domestic and sexual violence. It is important that men also play their part.
In the past week we have seen “India’s Daughter,” a powerful documentary that sheds light on the appalling rape, suffering and death of Jyoti Singh. The cultural contexts within which that happened truly need to be addressed. As well as shocking India and the world, the documentary highlights the fundamental truth that violence against women and girls is a global issue. We need to support nations, but we also need to work together in this country.
Yesterday, I attended the Women’s Aid and Girlguiding event in Speaker’s house to launch the girls matter campaign, which calls for young girls’ voices to be heard—we must see her, hear her and believe her. The event also highlighted the staggering statistic that one in three young girls are subject to different forms of sexual harassment, even in school. We must ensure that their voices are heard and that they do not continue to suffer in silence.
We have heard the statistics about domestic violence, which is a national scandal. Millions of men and women are affected each year. In some areas, almost one in five 999 calls are related to domestic violence. One in three 16 to 18-year-old girls have experienced groping or unwanted sexual touching in school. Some 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. Shocking rape statistics have been made public today through the rape monitoring group. The number of recorded rapes in England and Wales has shot up in the past year. Indeed, since 2010 we have seen a 38% increase, but the number of prosecutions has gone down. There has been a staggering 50% increase in the number of recorded rapes in London in the past five years.
We recognise that there is a huge amount to do, but we are extremely concerned about the collective impact of some of the Government’s funding and policy changes, which have been implemented without evaluating their cumulative impact on women’s safety. One example is the scrapping of the welfare assistance fund, which left local authorities struggling to provide women who have left abusive relationships with basic items to start a new life, including bedding, cooking equipment and school shoes. Also, the lack of expertise in commissioning has sometimes led local authorities to ring-fence refuge beds for local women alone, which has had an enormous impact because women sometimes need to flee to areas away from where they live in order to stay safe. We have heard examples of other commissioning arrangements in which the right questions have not been asked and a quality service has not been provided and has subsequently failed. We also know that 43% of domestic violence survivors do not have the prescribed forms of evidence to access legal aid. We cannot have a situation in which women are not able to get justice because they cannot access the support they need. All regions have lost services supporting children living with domestic abuse, with the biggest losses occurring in the south-west, the south-east and the west midlands.
There is still a long way to go. I will say a few words about where there is good cross-party agreement on what needs to be done but where we need to go much further. The previous Labour Government made significant progress in a number of areas. Convictions for rape increased by 45%, and there was a decline in domestic violence. We introduced specialist domestic violence courts, multi-agency risk assessment conferences and independent domestic violence advocates. Many of those measures, including IDVAs, have been continued by this Government and have made an important difference. We have supported the Government’s work to introduce the new offence of domestic abuse. I am pleased to hear about the work to ensure that there is sufficient guidance and that training is implemented, so that there is understanding and awareness of the new offence of domestic abuse and so that that makes a difference to the lives of families across the UK. We pressed for legal aid for FGM protection orders, and I am pleased that the Government have confirmed that that legal aid will be available for girls at risk, but we have also called for the encouragement of FGM to be an offence. We will certainly be looking at that.
If Labour comes to power, we will put women’s safety much more centre stage. We will appoint a new commissioner to address domestic and sexual violence, and we will integrate the protection of women and girls across Government. There will also be new standards for policing. We will publish domestic abuse and sexual violence league tables for every police force across England and Wales to expose poor performance and poor standards.
We will also make sex and relationship education a compulsory part of school curriculums. In the past week there has been another missed opportunity for the Government to do that. Those issues have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the Select Committee on Education has made its recommendation on that subject in the past few weeks with cross-party support. The recommendation is supported by girls and young boys to whom I have spoken in a series of girl safety summits across the country.
We need to ensure an understanding of zero tolerance of violence in relationships. People must understand the difference between an abusive relationship and a normal relationship. They must know what rape is. One girl said to me, “Nobody ever taught us what rape was. I had to go on the internet to find out.” To hear such stories from young girls and boys growing up across Britain is a travesty. We need to take our responsibility much more seriously.
Although we welcome the moves by the Secretary of State for Education, it has taken the Government five years to recognise that sex and relationship education guidance needs to mention the internet. We are concerned by the announcement of what we understand to be non-statutory guidance for schools, which is just not good enough. Despite being urged by the Opposition, by charities, by parents, by young people and by the Education Committee, the Government have not taken this opportunity to make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools.
This has been an important and valuable debate. We face a real challenge, and not just in responding to the rising demand for services and support. I have talked to rape crisis centres, and they are dealing with not only historical but new reports and disclosures of rape and sexual assault. Some of that service needs to last a lifetime, and resources must be made available to do that.
The Government must commit to a long-term strategy for the effective prevention of violence against women and girls in all its forms, and we must play our part on the world stage to ensure that that work happens not only here but across the world. We must ensure that women and girls are safe not just in their own homes but wherever they work and wherever they are in society.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. The Committee showed great foresight in granting a debate on violence against women and girls, an important subject, on today of all days: we have seen so many young women coming to Parliament to see what we do here and to learn about the debates we have on such important issues that rightly concern us all.
There is no doubt that violence against women and girls ruins lives and has a devastating impact on victims and their families. The Government have taken strong measures to tackle all forms of violence and abuse, including domestic violence, sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and stalking. Too many women have been subjected to unacceptable violence. We have heard in contributions to this debate some powerful examples of the sort of violence that women endure, both here and overseas. The Government have been unequivocal that such violence must stop, and I am proud of the progress we have made since 2010 to realise our vision of a society where no woman is subjected to violence and abuse.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) made the point that the issue is wider than raising awareness among women and girls; we need to educate boys and men and ensure that people understand social media. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her tireless work on revenge pornography. That is the sort of work and those are the sorts of measure that will make tangible differences for women and girls here in Britain. She should be incredibly proud of what she has achieved.
We have made significant legislative changes since 2010 and ensured that more forms of violence and abuse are explicitly enshrined in law as criminal offences. The Government understand that domestic violence and abuse are more than just physical. To quote one victim who responded to our consultation last summer,
“my bruises faded, but the psychological scars didn’t”.
Last week, the Serious Crime Act 2015 received Royal Assent, and with it we created a new law that will ensure that manipulative, controlling perpetrators who cause their loved ones to live in fear will face justice for their actions. The new law captures coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate or family relationships and is a significant step forward in improving the protection available for victims of this sinister and pervasive form of abuse. The right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked what approach we would take to ensure that it works on the ground, and in my intervention I specified what action we are taking to make that tangible difference.
Within the same Act, we also introduced a requirement for mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire, who has done such incredible work on that issue. I will say more later about our work on it but in terms of legislative change, it is another significant step forward. We introduced two new offences of stalking in 2012 to reflect properly the seriousness of that insidious crime, and I am pleased that in 2013-14, more than 700 prosecutions were brought under the new legislation. We criminalised forced marriage last year, and the possession of realistic depictions of rape and revenge pornography both became offences under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
Protecting those at risk is fundamental to reducing violence. We rolled out the domestic violence protection order and domestic violence disclosure scheme, or Clare’s law, nationally last year. Those innovative measures are about stopping violence in its tracks, and there is clearly a demand for them; more than 2,500 domestic violence protection orders are now in place across England and Wales.
The orders sanction the perpetrators of violence and lay the culpability exactly where it should be. Victims are able to stay in their own homes, as they should be able to, and the perpetrator is the one who must stay away. More than 1,300 disclosures have already been made under the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which allows people to make an informed decision about their relationships. Women are absolutely entitled to know whether the person whom they have met has a violent history and to get out of the relationship before it is too late.
These crimes are often hidden and under-reported, but positive indications are emerging from data sources. I am particularly encouraged to see that the prevalence of sexual assault against women has fallen to its lowest ever level since the data began to be captured in 2004-05. At the same time, the reporting of sexual offences has increased by 19%, showing that more victims have the confidence to come forward. The Office for National Statistics has said clearly that the increase in reporting is due to more victims coming forward and better recording by the police. We must continue to do everything that we can to ensure that the victims of those terrible crimes have the confidence to come forward and that the criminal justice system does all in its power to support them through the difficult journey to justice.
Criminal justice outcomes for violence against women and girls have improved, with rape referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service increasing after swift Government action to tackle a fall-off in referrals last year. In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions anticipates that the number of rape cases going to trial this year will be about 30% higher than in 2012-13, meaning that there will be about 550 extra jury trials this year and 650 extra decisions to charge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth made an important point about body-worn cameras. We want them used to ensure that we have appropriate evidence and to make the criminal justice process as painless as possible. For women and girls who have already suffered horrendously at the hands of perpetrators to go through the criminal justice system without the support that we can give them through body-worn cameras is not acceptable.
Prosecutions for domestic abuse have increased. In 2013-14, there were just over 78,000 prosecutions nationally. Current projections estimate that the figure will increase to nearly 90,000 by the end of this financial year—by far the highest number ever—while out-of-court disposals for domestic abuse at the pre-charge stage have reached their lowest levels. “No crime” rates for rape have fallen year on year since 2010. More adult sex offenders are currently in prison—11,119 in 2014, compared with 8,980 in 2010—and the average sentence length has increased from 50 months in 2010 to 60 months in 2013. The number of sexual offenders with multi-agency public protection arrangements charged with a serious further offence has dropped from 162 in 2009-10 to 143. The conviction rate for domestic violence and abuse is also at its highest ever level: almost 75% in 2013-14, up from 72% in 2009-10.
Those figures are encouraging, but as we know, criminal justice and legislation are only one part of the picture when it comes to an effective strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. That is why we have taken a wider-ranging approach in our work—for example, by launching our “Body Confidence” campaign to challenge media representations of women and the highly acclaimed “This Is Abuse” campaign alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth, to encourage teenagers to rethink their views of violence, abuse, controlling behaviour and what consent means within their relationships. Since we first launched the campaign in 2010, the website has had more than 2 million unique visitors to the website, and we have spearheaded groundbreaking awareness campaigns within communities affected by forced marriage and female genital mutilation, which, as numerous contributors have said clearly, is child abuse, with no ifs or buts.
There are a number of plans to ensure continuing awareness. I could not tell the hon. Lady definitively about that specific campaign, but may I write to her on the Government’s plans to ensure that we continue to raise awareness? She is right that we need to keep hitting it home. We cannot let up now; we must ensure that we get the message across.
Ending those terrible forms of child abuse within one generation has been an ambitious vision of this Government. Through our work, public and media awareness of those crimes has rocketed. Our work to tackle FGM is an example of how the UK has provided global leadership on issues of violence against women and girls. My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) made the point that there have been no prosecutions to date for FGM. Legislation was first introduced in 1985, but not even a single referral was made to the CPS until 2010. Raising awareness is key, and we all hope that the measures in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and other legislation will prompt more prosecutions and convictions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned protection orders and their wording. We had lengthy discussions about the wording of the orders, but I assure her that protection orders are meant specifically to protect girls at risk of FGM; there is no doubt or ambiguity about that. The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduces statutory guidance that will make it clear to all front-line professionals what indicators they should look for and how to ensure that we protect girls, including those being taken abroad who are at risk of FGM. We have played a significant role, as have my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire and others, in pushing hidden, sensitive and neglected issues into the spotlight—not only FGM, but sexual violence in conflict and the need to address violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies.
We have hosted three major international summits on violence against women and girls: the call to action on protecting women and girls in emergencies; the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict; and the Girl summit, on eliminating female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage in a generation. By doing so, and by driving forward the agenda for change, we have cemented our standing as a world player in relation to this important issue.
However, if raising awareness leads to increased reporting of these crimes, then we need to ensure that the systems are in place to manage that increase—not only in the criminal justice system, but across the board. Broader recognition of violence as a public health issue, and specific training on domestic and sexual abuse, means that at every point of contact—whether in A and E, or with a midwife, health visitor, teacher or police officer—there is a greater chance that abuse will be spotted and stopped.
Sadly, I myself had to visit A and E last weekend with my little boy, who was not very well. However, I was very impressed by the way that the health care professionals there treated us as a family and asked what I now consider—with the knowledge I have about this issue—to be really appropriate questions, to get to the bottom of whether there was any risk of abuse within the family relationship. I am pleased to say that they did not think that there was any such risk, and clearly there is not. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the way they handled matters, and I pay tribute to the A and E professionals whom I encountered last weekend.
We have invested more than £600,000 since 2010 to provide training programmes for independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers, an FGM e-learning package and stalking training for professionals. We have also supported enhanced training on VAWG for health visitors and general practitioners, with more than 6,500 professionals having been trained in recognising domestic violence and abuse.
Our investment has had an impact. For example, following intervention by a multi-agency risk assessment conference and an IDVA service, up to 60% of domestic abuse victims reported that there had been no further violence against them. For victims who had engaged with an IDVA following the charge of a perpetrator, 72% reported a complete cessation of abuse, compared with 59% of victims when there was no charge following a report to the police.
We have taken steps to ensure that every agency, including the police, responds to VAWG crimes to maximum effect. In 2013, the Home Secretary commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake a comprehensive review on how the police deal with domestic violence, because she was concerned that the response was inadequate. HMIC’s report, published in March 2014, exposed significant failings, including a lack of visible police leadership and direction, poor victim care, and deficiencies in the collection of important evidence.
The Government have been determined to ensure that HMIC’s recommendations are implemented across all police forces, with the establishment of a national oversight group chaired by the Home Secretary. Every police force has now published its own action plan, setting out how it will address the findings of HMIC in its own area.
The Government have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of funding up to the end of 2015 to provide stability for specialist local support services, such as IDVAs and ISVAs, and for national helplines. Of course, that money is for England and Wales. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran talked about the situation in Scotland, where this matter is, of course, a devolved issue. Last week, we confirmed that that funding for England and Wales will continue at the same level into 2015-16 for those services, with an additional £10 million up to March 2016 for the funding for refuges.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth talked about the Chiswick refuge. Of course, that was the starting point for the Refuge charity, one of the leading charities in this sector. I was delighted to visit its head office recently and to learn about so much that they are doing to protect victims of sexual and domestic abuse. We have also announced an uplift of £7 million in additional funding to support victims of sexual abuse during the next two years, which will provide a critical bedrock of support to victims.
Of course, we have to get things right locally. We need to support local areas to get their responses to violence and abuse, and their provision of services to victims, right and correct on the ground. We have devolved power, resources and accountability to local areas, which is the right thing to do. Local areas are best placed to make decisions about local need. However, we need to ensure that they deliver those services in a consistent way.
In conclusion, we have made significant progress during the course of this Parliament and we have seen some encouraging outcomes. However, when it comes to violence against women and girls, we can never be complacent. There is always more to do to ensure that no woman ever suffers in silence or lives in fear of violence.
Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).