Domestic Abuse Bill (First sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Sir David Amess, David Hanson
† Atkins, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
† Coaker, Vernon (Gedling) (Lab)
† Dakin, Nic (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
† Graham, Luke (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Con)
† Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
† Jardine, Christine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
† Johnson, Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
† Jones, Mr Marcus (Nuneaton) (Con)
† Keegan, Gillian (Chichester) (Con)
† Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
† Morton, Wendy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
† Newton, Sarah (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
† Saville Roberts, Liz (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
† Scully, Paul (Sutton and Cheam) (Con)
† Smith, Eleanor (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab)
Joanna Dodd, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Nicole Jacobs, Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner
Deputy Chief Constable (West Midlands Police) Louisa Rolfe, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on domestic abuse, National Police Chiefs’ Council
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 29 October 2019
[Sir David Amess in the Chair]
Domestic Abuse Bill
Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements. Please switch your electronic devices to silent. I would certainly like tea or coffee, but the rules are set in stone and we would have to agree that through the Chairman of Ways and Means, so I am afraid that, at the moment, you cannot have tea or coffee. I do not really want to tell anyone off; I am afraid you are just going to have to deal with water.
We will first consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication, and a motion to allow us to deliberate in private about our questions before the oral evidence session. In view of the timetable, shall we just get on with it? I call the Minister to move the programme motion, which was discussed yesterday by the Programming Sub-Committee.
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 29 October) meet—
(a) at 2.30 pm on Tuesday 29 October;
(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 31 October;
(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 5 November;
(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 7 November;
(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 12 November;
(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 14 November;
(g) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 19 November;
(h) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 21 November;
(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:
Date Time Witness Tuesday 29 October Until no later than 10.55 am Nicole Jacobs, Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner Tuesday 29 October Until no later than 11.25 am National Police Chiefs’ Council Tuesday 29 October Until no later than 3.00 pm Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary Tuesday 29 October Until no later than 3.30 pm Nazir Afzal, National Adviser to the Welsh Government Tuesday 29 October Until no later than 4.00 pm Action for Children Tuesday 29 October Until no later than 5.00 pm Age UK; Respect Thursday 31 October Until no later than 12.30 pm Women’s Aid Federation of England; Refuge; SafeLives Thursday 31 October Until no later than 1.00 pm Local Government Association Thursday 31 October Until no later than 2.45 pm Crisis; Giles Peaker, Anthony Gold Solicitors Thursday 31 October Until no later than 4.00 pm Imkaan; End Violence Against Women Coalition; Southall Black Sisters; Cris McCurley, Ben Hoare Bell LLP Thursday 31 October Until no later than 5.00 pm Amnesty International UK; Hestia
Tuesday 29 October
Until no later than 10.55 am
Nicole Jacobs, Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner
Tuesday 29 October
Until no later than 11.25 am
National Police Chiefs’ Council
Tuesday 29 October
Until no later than 3.00 pm
Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary
Tuesday 29 October
Until no later than 3.30 pm
Nazir Afzal, National Adviser to the Welsh Government
Tuesday 29 October
Until no later than 4.00 pm
Action for Children
Tuesday 29 October
Until no later than 5.00 pm
Age UK; Respect
Thursday 31 October
Until no later than 12.30 pm
Women’s Aid Federation of England; Refuge; SafeLives
Thursday 31 October
Until no later than 1.00 pm
Local Government Association
Thursday 31 October
Until no later than 2.45 pm
Crisis; Giles Peaker, Anthony Gold Solicitors
Thursday 31 October
Until no later than 4.00 pm
Imkaan; End Violence Against Women Coalition; Southall Black Sisters; Cris McCurley, Ben Hoare Bell LLP
Thursday 31 October
Until no later than 5.00 pm
Amnesty International UK; Hestia
(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 37; Schedule 1; Clauses 38 to 78; Schedule 2; Clauses 79 to 86; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(4) the proceedings on the Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 21 November.—(Victoria Atkins.)
That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. If there are any complaints, please direct them to our wonderful Clerk.
That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Victoria Atkins.)
The Committee deliberated in private.
Examination of Witness
Nicole Jacobs gave evidence.
Nicole, would you please tell the Committee—not in huge detail—something about yourself?
Nicole Jacobs: Good morning, and thank you for having me. I am your new designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales. By way of background, I have worked in the domestic abuse sector for more than 20 years—in the US at the very start of my career, but I moved to the UK about 20 years ago —and have worked in a variety of local and national domestic abuse charities.
Splendid. You are projecting your voice well—we can all hear you—so that is a good start.
Ms Jacobs, congratulations on being the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner. You have explained your expertise and experience in this area. Could you please help us with your thoughts on how you see the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner? What do you hope to achieve?
Nicole Jacobs: I was attracted to apply for the role at the start of the year because I feel, having worked for many years, that there is a real need for public leadership and an independent commissioner to hold the Government to account and look at the provision of service across England and Wales. You will have heard the term postcode lottery, and you will probably hear it many times in the next few sittings. I have worked in the field for more than 20 years and know what it feels like for people who are subject to domestic abuse, how services change and how the response of statutory services will differ from area to area.
My vision for the role is to instil a co-ordinated community response to domestic abuse, where essentially you have specialist services—we all know that victims of domestic abuse say time and time again that such services make a life-changing difference, and that has been well evaluated—with the survivor voice at the centre of the response; and where all entities, including housing, health, the criminal justice system and community and religious groups, are doing their part to address domestic abuse properly, as they should.
That is why I loved the job description set out for this role, which is about mapping provision and looking at our findings from homicide reviews. I have just come from an organisation that, sadly, has chaired over 60 homicide reviews. The idea of co-ordinating the learning from those reviews highly motivates me, as well as other aspects of the co-ordinated response.
Tangibly, what I would like to set out and do, as quickly as possible, is to get on with that mapping and really help to shine a light not only on where practice is lacking but on where there is good practice, because we need to emulate that and really push for that to be much more common across England and Wales.
Nicole Jacobs: I have been in post for a month, and one of the things that has struck me already—I was not fully expecting the breadth of this—is how much survivors and people who work in the sector and elsewhere have embraced the idea of this role. I understand the idea of public leadership in the role and what that means to people, but the powers that the Bill will give my office are critical.
I am an expert in domestic abuse, not in commissioners’ powers, but I have done a bit of looking around and talking to other commissioners and I have had in-depth talks at the Home Office about this. Essentially, I feel that the powers in the Bill are fit for purpose, as far as I understand them. Obviously, I will defer to you if you think they should be strengthened, but what I like about them as they are set out is the ability to table reports to the Home Secretary and Parliament, and the timeframe in which the Government must respond if my office has made recommendations in those reports. I know from having talked to other commissioners that that is very important. The ability to redact information in my reports is limited; there have to be compelling reasons.
You know all those details, but the powers are quite well set out and have been well thought through, as far as I am concerned. Having said that, more power is fine with me, so if you, in the course of your duties, come across things that you feel would improve the independence and power of my office, I would certainly welcome that.
Nicole Jacobs: I would love it. I have said from the very start that I recognise that this is a huge role. I am certainly 100% committed and passionate, and I would welcome working more. I will obviously be building up a team, which will sit around me in my office. I am slowly starting to recruit for it, and I will feel better when I have got it. I always try to point out to people that they should not worry about the fact that there is not a team sitting around the commissioner. There is resource there, but of course I believe that it is more than a part-time role.
I understand from my conversations with the Home Office, which is my host, that there is a real openness to doing that. People made that clear on Second Reading—I was listening in Parliament—so I do not worry about that so much. Once I have been in post a little longer, I can make a decision if I believe I need more time, but I would certainly welcome your support on that. I would really like that.
Nicole Jacobs: I am of the view that there is a gendered nature to domestic abuse. Going back to the homicide reviews that I was talking about earlier, three fourths of them are intimate partners or former intimate partners—that is highly gendered. A fourth of those homicides are adult child to family—again, that is highly gendered. That does not mean that there are not male victims of domestic abuse. Both those things can be true. In my area—I have just been working in central London—there were 4,000 women who came to services in just one tri-borough area last year. That is a lot. The facts speak for themselves.
I appreciate that your dilemma is that you want to write inclusive legislation that is clear that domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Where I have eventually fallen on this is that there is strength in the statutory definition in wanting the gendered nature of domestic abuse to be very prominent in the statutory guidance. If you can all figure out a way to make the law gendered and still address the breadth of people who suffer domestic abuse, I would welcome that. My understanding is that what you would like, and what the Joint Committee on the draft Bill looked at, is to have gender-neutral language in the law, underpinned by much more informed statutory guidance related to the gendered nature. I hope that makes sense.
You made a compelling description in your opening remarks about the landscape of community services and specialist services commissioned by the NHS, local authorities, children’s services, and police and crime commissioners. I am delighted that you have picked mapping this provision of services as a key priority. Are you also looking at prevention services? We know that, unfortunately, if children grow up in a home where they witness domestic abuse and violence, they are far more likely to become perpetrators or victims. Given the scale of the challenge—we have heard your reflections on time—will the budget of £1 million be enough to undertake such a mammoth mapping exercise? What role does sharing best practice have and how would you undertake that partnership working, given the range of agencies involved in providing services?
Nicole Jacobs: I will take on prevention first. You are exactly right, and we will all differ in our views of what we would undertake if we were preventing domestic abuse. Some of us would be interested in a public health campaign. Some would be interested in work within schools. Some might say that we need to do a lot to intervene early, so that we are educating all manner of frontline services about how they can prevent this. With any issue as complex as domestic abuse, it must be all three, and we must do all that.
Although I endorse the idea of a public campaign, I am aware that we would have to have the services and the breadth of development and understanding to underpin that. If we raise the expectations of the public—if we want them to understand that we are there and they can reach out for help—we need to have the help in place. I can see a role in helping to shape some of those prevention activities, but that responsibility rightfully sits within Government. My office, for example, cannot run a prevention campaign, but I really endorse the idea of helping to support the Government to do that.
In respect of my budget, I understand the scope of the staff team I can hire. I understand that I can have roughly 13 staff members with that budget. I can anticipate what I think they could do in terms of analysis, stakeholder engagement and policy work. As the Committee hears further evidence, I encourage you to be mindful of the fact that there are a lot of ideas and discussions about what else my office might do. Please be mindful of the fact that if there are any additional responsibilities, they will need to come with additional resource.
I am a bit concerned about being able to do the breadth of that mapping. I would have to depend on Departments sharing with me the information that they already have, and charities in our sector doing the same. I do not intend to start from scratch. I know there has been a lot of work, and I would like to have access to that information and make sense of it, and to use it as part of the mapping. There are some efficiencies in that way.
In terms of my background and the breadth of what gets mapped, which was the last part of your question, the organisation I have just come from is about promoting a co-ordinated community response. We have specialist courts, and we had health-related and housing-related work. I feel that I would have a level of precision in terms of knowing what I would be looking for. You are right to say it is a huge endeavour, but there are definitely areas of work where we know what the practice ought to be. We do not have to worry about figuring that out; we just need to know who is doing it and who is not, and why not. With the breadth of that, there is a bit of expertise that I can bring that will help to make that a little more precise and efficient.
Nicole Jacobs: To be perfectly honest, I applied because of the job description. I was very motivated by the job description. In fact, I looked at that more than I looked at the part-time nature of the role. I would have questioned it a bit, but then thought, “Well, there’ll be lots of full-time staff on my team.” I was very relieved in my initial conversations that it was likely, if I wanted to spend more time—
Nicole Jacobs: I can imagine that if I were at a different stage in life, with different responsibilities, I might find that attractive. Right now, from my current thinking about it, I would love to be doing it full time but it did not dissuade me when I saw it was part time. I just assumed I would have to work around that.
Kevin Hyland, who was a commissioner with whom I am sure you are very familiar, gave evidence that the Secretary of State would have too much control over the commissioner’s budgets, the staff employed and the content of the commissioner’s reports. I note that you said at the beginning that you wanted to be a publicly independent commissioner and hold the Government to account. What is your view on what Kevin Hyland said?
Nicole Jacobs: Obviously, I have really considered that, because the last thing I want to do is stop the job that I love in the charity sector and come to a role in which I would not be able to exercise my independence as much as I would like. In the ebb and flow of the work on the Bill, I looked at a framework document just last week that set it out more clearly. I am sure you will have sight of that in the Committee. I feel quite confident in the way I have negotiated thus far with officers at the Home Office, in terms of asserting different changes and things that I would like to be clarified. I have felt confident in the way that that has been conducted to date.
I would highlight that the budget is set out year to year. My view, as I have said to the Home Office, is that if I have a three-year plan and my term is for three years, I should have assurance over the budget over that time. I will have people working for me, for example, who will be working on things, so I would rather have the assurance of three years at a time rather than year to year. Again, I am highlighting that to you not because I am concerned about it but because we are discussing that now. In other words, I have felt assured by the reactions of the Home Office to date, in terms of how I will conduct myself independently.
Nicole Jacobs: I have considered that as well. I have worked in this sector for many years. There is expertise in many Departments, obviously, but the Home Office has traditionally been the centre of activity, not just for criminal justice related work but for good leadership in terms of violence against women and domestic abuse, in any number of areas. There is a certain level of expertise within the Home Office of which I am appreciative; I have less experience with the Cabinet Office. I know people who work there. I would defer to your view, but I feel confident about the hosting at the Home Office.
I hope I am not naive, but I fully intend to be independent. I do not intend to wilfully disagree if I do not disagree, but I do not feel hindered in any way in the process to date, in terms of my independence.
Nicole Jacobs: By tabling reports to Parliament and annual reports. One of my biggest regrets about only being in post for a month is that I have not been able to get around and speak to many parliamentarians yet, and there has been all this activity related to the Bill. I feel that I would be accountable to Parliament in the way that I would table information and reports to Parliament, and be clear about the work of my office, what we are finding and what we are doing about it. I thoroughly understand how accountable I am in this role, and I would welcome any ways that you wish to improve that.
I listened to what you said about mapping and co-ordinating support services to eliminate the postcode lottery across England and Wales, and to make sure that we have a clear idea about what services are there. We know that there are big gaps in services for survivors and children. It is a massive brief. Like many Committee members, I have concerns about whether this can be a part-time role or whether you will end up doing it three times over. This is going to take up a lot of time.
You have a staff of 13. Could you give us a bit more colour about what that staff looks like? How are you going to eat this elephant, in a way? It is a massive thing to do. What can we expect? Perhaps our expectations are too high. What can we expect in the first 100 days or so? Now is the time to say and to give us all the feeling about whether the role ought to be considered to be full time, whether the budget is sufficient and whether you have the right staff. We want to make sure that you are successful and that we get it right. We do not want something where we all come back later and think, “That’s disappointing.”
Nicole Jacobs: In terms of the first 100 days, to give a little more colour, I would expect to be hiring a chief of staff next week and some element of communications specialism within the office, but primarily having analysts, policy leads and officers. For me, having a stakeholder engagement post is very important in order to feel like I am doing as much as I can to reach out to frontline services and individual people, and to have built up an advisory board, which would include people who have been subject to domestic abuse.
I agree that there is a lot to do and a lot of breadth of work in that. One thing that would help me is for you to consider the statutory duty for services. If my job is to help shine a light on what practice ought to be out there and end the postcode lottery, I cannot do that on my own. One of the things you will be thinking about in this Committee is the statutory duty for accommodation-based services, which I wholly endorse, and I congratulate the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on all the work and leadership on that. I believe that duty should be expanded to the breadth of frontline services for domestic abuse.
You will understand that housing-related services will excellently cover refuge and those types of associated services, but there is a whole breadth of other services such as community-based independent domestic abuse advisers. A significant majority of domestic abuse services that we call specialist services do not fall within the duty as it is set out. That would be a great help to me as the commissioner, because that would strengthen the services that must be provided. In some ways, the underpinning of that would be a huge boost to not only my role but the provision of services in England and Wales.
I would love to give you a precise budget increase that I would like, but I have been in role for a month and I do not have my full strategic plan and the costings set out. I would feel a bit embarrassed to come to you and say, “Could you provide more resource, but I can’t really tell you the strategic plan and exactly how it will fall out?”. I feel I have the resource now to get started, certainly, and to make headway. My understanding of the framework document, which I would love for you to take a really good look at and consider, is that as that strategy is set by my office, there is a process of negotiation related to what resource I need. I would really appreciate anything you could do that would strengthen my hand in terms of what I can do at that point.
Nicole Jacobs: In my mind, the absolute stakeholders are the adults and children suffering domestic abuse. They would be first and foremost in my mind. I know that sounds possibly clichéd, but in every decision I make and everything I do, that would be the first thought I have—what the implications are, what is needed, what people are saying about services. It would be the first thing I consider.
I will not go into all my thoughts about this, but it is difficult to consider how we would do that properly. How do we engage? We are talking about millions of people, so I would like to think carefully about how to do that in a meaningful way, in terms of advisers and whatnot.
I brought with me something that I was struck by—of course I cannot put my fingers on it right now, but I do have it somewhere. I know several of you were at the Law in the Making launch in Parliament last week, and there was an amazing booklet that set out priorities that were set by survivors. It is an excellent example of the careful bringing in of the views of stakeholders. I fully intend to take every one of the recommendations and, if they are not addressed in the Bill or the statutory guidance, to use them in some way in my mapping.
I know this is a long answer, but it is worth you understanding that my view of stakeholder engagement is much broader than that. Going back to that co-ordinated response, where is health? We talk about the health response to domestic abuse, and one of the recommendations from the Law in the Making booklet was about mental health services. There is a lot to do to engage stakeholders, such as mental health trusts, acute hospital trusts and clinical commissioning groups, and in every area that is being mapped, a whole host of stakeholders need to be engaged fully and to understand where the practice is, where their practice should be, and what we expect. I will aim to do that.
Nicole Jacobs: That is why I feel strongly about the broadening of the statutory duty. One of the things that I want to point out is that when you hear about refuges or community-based services, all those people are serving the needs of children. They are the people who are finding the school places and thinking about advocating to CAMHS—child and adolescent mental health services—for example, about waiting lists and all sorts of things.
That aside, there is still a distinct lack of services that address the child directly. There are the needs of the child and then what services a child in their own right should have, such as counselling support to understand and make sense of the trauma they have suffered. Those services are seriously lacking because in the local authority, at the local level, it is the crisis-related services that are prioritised for funding.
Believe anyone who gives you evidence on the lack of services for children, because it is true to say that it is very unusual to find an area with genuine nice provision and breadth of services for children in that respect. Again, that is why we need to be clearer about where that is happening, so that we can learn from it—how do they fund it, or which partners come together at the local authority level to fund it? Even better, that should be included in the breadth of a duty that we would expect everyone to have. That would make things significantly better.
Nicole Jacobs: My colleagues at Women’s Aid, whom I trust, would say that we are turning away one in three people who seek a refuge. I know what it is like to try to find a place in a refuge—I have many years’ experience in frontline services and I have been at the end of the phone on a Friday night trying to find a place for someone sitting in front of me who has nowhere to go. I welcome the establishment of a solid fundamental duty to ensure that that provision is in place.
I like the way that MHCLG has consulted many stakeholders about having a board that would include specialist services that map and think carefully about the priorities in any area. All those things would end the idea of, “I am funding something that is not for ‘my residents’,” which has been the attitude from some, although not all, local authorities. Some local authorities have had an attitude of, “Why are we providing this service when it is not our residents who are attending?”, but if everyone did that there would be no place to go.
Some of the measures being introduced will address that in part, but I stress that things such as provision for migrant women or people with no recourse to public funds—I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when you are desperately trying to find suitable, safe accommodation for someone in those circumstances. I am sure you will hear a lot of evidence about that, so I will not go into great detail, but we must seek to improve those things through the Bill in terms of our duties. I do not see it happening any other way.
Local authorities are very constrained. For example, even when you go to a local authority with great solid information and say, “This is the percentage increase in our referrals; this is the breadth of what we are not doing,” the response is not, “Okay, you have given me the evidence, here we go.” Usually, it is, “Let’s have a 10% cut because we are cutting all services right now.” That is the reality out there, and that is why there has been such a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of a duty, which I feel needs to be extended.
Nicole Jacobs: Yes, it is quite different. I am used to working in an organisation where if I wanted to recruit someone, I could go to my office, write a job description, put in an ad, and it would all be done. It is a bit of a shock. There has been some real learning from Kevin Hyland. The team in the Home Office that has been helping me get set up—I have had some support—has really got ahead of that and the recruitment, which has been great. I feel it has helped to manage my expectations a bit, but it has got a few key posts in place. To be honest, if the team had not done that—it was a courtesy to get me off to a good start—I would be doing it now, and instead of interviewing next week I would be interviewing in three months’ time.
I understand what Kevin Hyland was saying, and it reminds me of something that I would like to point out. I was madly reviewing all the documents in preparation for coming before you—although you are very friendly and not as intimidating as I had thought—and one of the things that I noted was this thing about recruitment. It says that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner would approve the recruitment. When I read that wording, I thought, “This is my staff team, and I will select it. If it is not me, it will be my chief of staff.” I would not approve the recruitment; I would be doing it. Again, I do not anticipate that I will not be able to negotiate that in the framework agreement, but it is something that I noticed yesterday, and I thought, “Actually, it should be worded to be really clear that I or someone on my team will be recruiting, as it is my staff team.” I will be advocating for that small change in the wording.
Nicole Jacobs: Without saying some of what I have said already, I think it is necessary to have the basic services on a very solid footing, in terms of the provision of funding, and to include that for all survivors, no matter whether they are disabled, LGBT or migrants. Frankly, to be the bearer of bad news, there is massive room for improvement in every direction. That would be central to my thoughts about what those levers would need to be—the levers that would enable the funding to be settled and much more stable. Later, you will hear from Jo Todd about male victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse, and I would endorse all those things.
It is not as if people who experience domestic abuse line up at the specialist service door or call. They are most likely to receive support through the nurse, the housing officer, the neighbour or the community leader. There will be a pathway to support. It is interesting to think about those levers individually. What does housing need to do? What does the criminal justice system need to do? I am a huge advocate of specialist courts so that when people access the criminal justice system for redress, the system really pays attention to them as a witness. The levers are different for different types of service and different pathways into support. I know that is not a very succinct answer, but there are many things we can do in every area that would lever support. Some would not need to be contained in the Bill; some would rightly sit in the statutory guidance alongside the Bill. An exciting aspect of this process is strengthening that guidance. I have had sight of an initial draft and was pleased to consider what this would be like and what kind of effect it would have, once it was in the statutory guidance.
Nicole Jacobs: I always really admired Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner. She has been quite active in this process and you will be hearing various things from her colleagues who work with her. In a lot of ways, the synergy with her office is quite clear to me, because of the breadth of her understanding and her background. I feel the same about my initial conversations with the national advisers—I met with them yesterday—and the Children’s Commissioner and others. Technically, there will be a memorandum of understanding that will set out and make clear the delineation of priority, duties and how we will co-ordinate. Practically speaking, we are off to a good start: I feel really enthusiastic about how we will work together and think about really practical ways to work so that we are not stepping on each other. There is plenty to do and if anything I do not think there will be any stepping on toes; there will be a lot of co-ordinating work and prioritising of what we would like to see done. That should work quite well.
One thing I find is that there has been a lot of discussion about the breadth of violence against women and girls, and that could sit in certain aspects of what I will do but it could also sit well with the Victims’ Commissioner and other commissioners. There is a lot to do to co-ordinate that work, but I feel confident that will happen.
Nicole Jacobs: I see it in a fairly similar way, in terms of feeling that I would want people to feel I was championing and amplifying their voice, their views and their needs. I would not see it as wholly different in that way. For example, in many aspects of my career over many years I have worked with male victims, particularly in health settings, where perhaps you would be more likely to have people come forward or be able to intervene early. I would see it in a very similar way, but that does not mean it would be the same. We have to realise that there are all sorts of intersections. We have to appreciate the differences: male victims may not need the same provision of services or types of services. I would be open to having these conversations and understanding what would be individually needed for any number of groups, including male victims.
Nicole Jacobs: I highly prioritise it, partly because I understand that people who are subject to domestic abuse are very diverse. We say that it is a gendered crime, but all women are not the same. There are older women, disabled women, lesbian women—there are all sorts of people that I would want my office to represent. I really want a diverse range of people represented in my office and being engaged by my office. Put simply, I would absolutely be committed to that, because we have learned in the past that sometimes we have geared our services and responses towards people who might be similar to those running the service.
Over the years, we have learned that we must have a more diverse service pathway. For example, in the area of London where I come from, instead of commissioning one service, there is a partnership of nine services. It is a partnership and it is commissioned as one. That has allowed for smaller, community-based BME services to thrive and be part of the service framework. That is the kind of thing I would really like to see more of and to be encouraged.
There are unintended consequences of promoting the provision of service. The worry is that larger charities will come into the frame and provide more generic services. People who have been subject to domestic abuse tell us that they want many pathways and to know that there are people in particular communities whom they could approach. I am a huge advocate of making sure that we do not do anything that would make small charities even more fragile in that way.
Nicole Jacobs: I think so, because the approach is very much based on the idea of mapping and understanding needs. Anyone who is doing that properly will understand this gendered nature. What I want to get across and achieve is, at the very least, a prominent statement about that in the statutory guidance, because that would have an influence and would be something tangible to point towards. It does not happen in every single place, but it is not unusual for services to be commissioned in such a way that people think: “Well, we have to take a gender-neutral approach, so that is not fair, so it has to be a much more generic service.” That flies in the face of all that we know is likely to work.
I feel comfortable with what you describe. I would very much welcome your views on whether you think it should be in the law versus the statutory guidance. At the very least, it has to be prominently put in the statutory guidance. A lot of the mechanisms that are being promoted in the statutory duty, such as the mapping and multi-agency planning of services, should, I hope, address that as well, if done properly.
Nicole Jacobs: I have been shown the guidance and I had a session last week where I was able to suggest changes. I would like to think the changes will all be there the next time I see the draft, but it is in process right now and I think the idea is that the guidance will be published by the time the Bill passes. I am perhaps being a bit trusting, but I believe that I will have input.
As long as I have made my case strongly, and it is fair and clear, I do not see any reason why my input would not be in the guidance.
Nicole Jacobs: No, in the present circumstances I do not. That does not mean that I am not interested. I am the type of person who would be very interested in the services needed—all that we have discussed—in Northern Ireland; they would be needed anywhere. As for raising the quality and provision of services, my assumption would be that that all stands for Northern Ireland, but in terms of what I have been hired for and what I am currently doing, it is for England and Wales. It would be entirely up to you potentially to change that.
Nicole Jacobs: If am being totally honest, I am still working that out. One of the conversations I had with the national advisers yesterday was precisely about that so that I would fully understand what is currently happening in Wales, which is quite impressive in terms of the structure of legislation; there is a lot to learn. Some of what I was doing was listening and hearing their experiences from the last two years in post and what they know of from before that. I am sure you will hear about that today.
I asked the national advisers, quite openly, where they see the potential for us to work together, and obviously they thought that particularly in the criminal justice or court systems there are lots of ways we can work together in joined-up efforts, but I would be respectful of the notion that many duties are devolved.
There is a lot of progress. If anything, there is a lot of learning to do on the agenda in Wales. The overarching duty of Government has been to ask and act—I am sure you will hear evidence about that—which is very impressive, as is the headway they have made. The advisers were talking to me yesterday about how many thousands of frontline workers have been trained in Wales. The proportion of Government Ministers who have been trained in Wales is extremely impressive. I would want to be cautious. I would want to plan with them essentially what we can learn but also what exactly I should do, because I would not want to do anything that would disrupt those structures.
Nicole Jacobs: I understand what you are saying. In other words, would I welcome the idea, for the issues that I would predominantly be working on, of answerability to Wales or Welsh Ministers? Of course, any mechanism that is appropriate to do that would be important to me. In fact, yesterday the national advisers were saying that they really welcomed the idea that I would be meeting the breadth of Ministers in Wales. They were not very territorial about that; they liked the idea that, once things have settled down, we will find ways to work together. There is obviously some resource that I can bring, in terms of things that they would like to get done. Again, I would be very cautious to learn exactly what is happening before setting out some kind of plan, not knowing how all of it co-ordinates or connects with Welsh colleagues, or whether it is welcome.
Nicole Jacobs: Potentially. Because some of those issues are devolved to Wales, I would not want to impose the requirement that someone would have to come and sit on an advisory committee of mine if they thought, “In actuality, this is something that we govern ourselves.”
My intention is that the advisory committee will not just be set at 10. That is something that I was looking at last week. It could be set there, but there could be any number of advisers. In fact, I have been highly encouraged to use advisers from areas that perhaps do not sit in that official capacity. I think I would be seeking out advice. There is incredible work being done in Scotland. There is good legislation and really interesting work there. I think that, in any respect, I would be very curious and would want advice from outside Wales and England.
I suppose I would leave it to you to consider whether it is necessary to have them as official advisors. If my role and passion in life is seeking out the best practice —I assure you that it is—I would not be restricted by borders in that way. I would be very interested to visit—I often do this—and hear about work in Scotland, and I would like to know more about Northern Ireland. I am learning every day about Wales, and have done for the past few years, since that legislation was introduced.
Nicole Jacobs: No, not at all. You will have issues related to people moving from one place to another. In fact, that is a tactic that abusive people use to isolate their partner or family from sources of support. There is no doubt that there is a need to co-ordinate and understand cross-border.
Nicole Jacobs: You are correct that that is true. My understanding is that what is happening in Scotland is quite impressive in terms of legislative changes. I know from a frontline-service perspective that in England we often look to Wales and Scotland to see what is happening there. I would not anticipate there being something superior happening in England. It would be more about learning, co-ordinating and making sure that my office would talk to equivalents in Scotland. My understanding of Scotland is that there is more of a regional and planned perspective of services. There is a lot of learning there, and certainly co-ordination.
Looking down the line, if there was a view taken between countries that there was inconsistency in service provision and something to bring back to you, that would certainly happen. I can imagine there would be a lot of cross-border support. I am about ending the postcode lottery: if there was a related issue in Scotland, I cannot imagine we would not find ways to work together and to promote those ideas. I hope that addresses it.
To be devolved does not mean to be separate. You come from a country with a federal system; the point about eminent domain still rests within this UK Parliament, as the sovereign Parliament. I do not see this as an either/or model. I would be very keen for a role such as yours to have a UK-wide remit, following a similar model to the Office for Veterans’ Affairs that was recently launched, which connects devolved and reserved matters and guarantees guidelines and standards throughout the United Kingdom, which I think is exceptionally important.
Do you foresee any problems? The Bill is quite specific about Wales. Paragraphs (c) to (g) of clause 6(2) talk about
“undertaking or supporting (financially or otherwise) the carrying out of research; providing information, education or training…to increase public awareness…consulting public authorities…co-operating with, or working…with, public authorities, voluntary organisations and other persons”.
At the moment, the Bill talks about
“co-operating with, or working jointly with, public authorities, voluntary organisations and other persons, whether in England and Wales or outside the United Kingdom.”
I find it bizarre that we are creating a Bill that says, “We want you to co-operate with England and Wales and other countries outside the UK, but not the two other constituent parts of the United Kingdom.” Do you foresee any problems for us in trying to extend your role in just paragraphs (c) to (g)—which currently apply to Wales—to Scotland and Northern Ireland? Obviously we might have to stagger that for Northern Ireland because we have no Assembly just now, but do you foresee any problems with extending your role for guidelines, consultation and research, so you can complete the mapping exercise and make sure that the service is provided to all citizens of the United Kingdom, rather than just two constituent parts of it? I will take away the political side for a minute—that is our job—but from a practical point of view, so long as you got a budget uplift to match, do you foresee any problems in your role being extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland?
May I intervene for a moment? We have less than 15 minutes left and we still have four colleagues who have been waiting patiently to ask their questions. I wonder whether we could just speed it up, please.
Nicole Jacobs: I will give you a quick answer. I am not sure about some of that, but my instinct about the things you listed is that certainly some would be easier than others and, from my own knowledge of working, some things—such as the good practice mapping and some research—might be more welcome to colleagues in Scotland. Whether that extends to the whole breadth of the activities you described, I am not sure. My understanding of Scotland is that there are different structures, and different things are perhaps being mapped and planned that I am not aware of.
Nicole Jacobs: Without having thought about it very much, I would say that some of those points seem obvious, but I am afraid I would have to consider some of the others further. There are things I know of happening in Edinburgh in children’s social care—“Safe and Together”—on which we are already co-ordinating with England. There are really obvious things to me about learning and maybe some shared research and other matters. On whether it extends to the whole list, I would have to come back to you or defer to your decisions.
Nicole Jacobs: I would say a couple of things. There are some criminal justice elements in the Bill. Making those robust and effective is not necessarily to do with locking people up but about ensuring that the criminal justice system is working in the way that it should and that is set out. I believe that one of the things we do not do enough is to prioritise multi-agency working around the courts system. In the area I have come from, we have specialist courts. We have a court management group, which is all the criminal justice partners and the specialist service, and they can collectively remember and problem solve around the mistakes that they inevitably may be making. That is not intentional; sometimes it is to do with the bulky way that our criminal justice system works. In terms of holding perpetrators to account, I suppose the one thing I would really encourage the Committee to consider is in what ways, in piloting the DVPOs, we could consider what helps to make the implementation work. We should not just say, “Are the police doing it or not?”, as if it is down to one entity; it has to be the whole of the criminal justice system working.
Having said that—I talked about the duty—I believe there is very little consistency in terms of enabling people to engage and change their behaviour. I would include that in the broadening of the statutory duty. Again, you will hear later from Jo Todd, who is much more of an expert than me, about the breadth of service. There is a perpetrator strategy that many organisations have signed up to that I am very interested in, and which I am sure you will have sight of or will perhaps be given in written evidence. I would stand behind that type of strategy, which is about prevention, provision of service and what I would call incentives to change—both carrots and sticks. What do we do to really have the breadth of provision that we need? Of all the domestic abuse provision, that is probably the most patchy in terms of where you could find places to change.
Nicole Jacobs: I can imagine, yes.
Nicole Jacobs: I understand the logic. Obviously, some of those who have said that are colleagues of mine. One of the things we would all have to understand about doing that is just how broad a remit you would be moving to. That would certainly extend well beyond all the discussion we have had this morning, to do it properly and do it well.
While many strategies and, certainly, the Government strategy is a violence against women and girls strategy—I appreciate that—when I am describing to you the breadth of what needs to happen for domestic abuse, it is a heck of a lot of work. There is a lot of progress to make. In doing that, it will strengthen certain aspects of what we call those strands of violence against women and girls. For example, so-called honour-based marriage, forced marriage—all these things intersect. By strengthening the approach in general, you are addressing aspects of that, but you are certainly not covering the whole breadth of it. That is when I was referring back to my looking forward to working with the Victims’ Commissioner, and certainly the national advisers in Wales and colleagues in Scotland, where there is a lot of expertise on that. If you wanted to broaden my remit to that, I feel I have the background and understanding to do it, but I would just caution that you are talking about a huge difference.
Again, going back to the very first thing I said to you, the reason I was so motivated by this role is the breadth of what still needs to happen. Sometimes, we think, “Oh, we’ve been talking about domestic abuse for years and years and somehow it’s all sorted.” Well, it is really not. It has shaky foundations, and I think that is what we can address here.
Nicole Jacobs: I guess what I meant by that is that there is not a budget to run a huge public campaign in the same way as those run by the Home Office in the past. That rightfully sits within the remit of what needs to be funded and developed in Government, including in the Department for Education and in public health. My role would be to influence that type of campaign, and I would be mindful that my role would be about asserting what kind of services are needed to underpin that campaign. We are raising expectations and awareness. That is a good thing, but we must have the infrastructure in place to meet the needs of what that would bring.
This will probably have to be the last question.
Nicole Jacobs: My understanding is that this Bill will help us to meet those commitments. It is incredibly important. The Istanbul convention is important symbolically, in terms of the message that is sent. A lot of what it does is to create an expectation of Government commitment. Some of the elements of the Bill are tidying up certain things, but there are also elements of broadening the duty—which we will hear about from other witnesses—and broadening the statutory provision of services and strengthening the duty for that all the more. I know I sound a bit like a broken record. Other colleagues will present fine-tuning of anti-discrimination clauses and that kind of thing, which I would obviously support. Symbolically, the Istanbul convention is very important, and what it would deliver practically is important.
Nicole Jacobs: I hope you have found my evidence and advice helpful. I have been in post for a month, so I am doing my best in terms of trying to give you the information you need. As you go through the process, I feel confident that you will be presented with a lot more specific information by other colleagues.
I did want to talk about a couple of things that you will be hearing, and I want you to know that I feel strongly about them. I would like you to consider them. We have talked about migrant women, and you have heard and will hear a lot about that, obviously. I am interested in whatever we can do that would improve the family court response in statutory guidance or in the Bill. There is a real, desperate need to better understand what exactly we have to do in relation to the family court. You might be tabling amendments relating to women charged with crimes, understanding their past in domestic abuse, and understanding how that may have influenced their offending. I am encouraged to know that that may be coming.
Lastly, there is the issue of the kind of abuse and financial abuse that happens post-separation. Our coercive control law requires people to be living together, when in fact some of the financial abuse will come after separation. You will be hearing evidence about that. Again, I would like you to know that I am encouraging of those types of provisions and improvements. Thank you for being patient with me and for understanding my new role. Thank you for your support. I was struck on Second Reading by the level of support from all parties and by the wish to strengthen my role and powers. Thank you very much for all your support today.
Nicole, on behalf of the Committee, I thank you for the time you have spent with us today. We wish you well in the challenge that lies ahead.
Examination of Witness
Louisa Rolfe gave evidence.
Louisa Rolfe: Good morning. My name is Louisa Rolfe and I am Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands police, but I have been the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on domestic abuse since 2013. The job involves working closely with the sector, the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, HMICFRS and the College of Policing. For four years I have reported quarterly to the Home Secretary at the national oversight group, and my focus is on improving the police response to domestic abuse.
Louisa Rolfe: I think it is improving. It has significantly improved over a number of years, but I think it is stretched, and it is highly dependent on partnership working with other agencies, particularly the provision of IDVA services and refuge services. As you will be aware, we have worked hard to improve identification, and since 2013, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services has noted substantial and significant improvements in the police response. It recognises, however, that the service is stretched in its response to domestic abuse.
Reporting has gone up by more than 90% since 2013, and some of that is down to improved accuracy in recording and reporting domestic abuse. Up to 40% of that 90% increase could be because we have got much better at identifying things that might have been recorded in the past as a non-crime incident that involved a verbal argument. There is now better identification of things such as common assault and harassment within those incidents. The proportion of reported incidents that become crimes has increased and, despite forces reducing in size since 2010, all have either maintained or invested in their response to domestic abuse, with dedicated investigators and specialists working in the field.
We have worked with the College of Policing to develop the domestic abuse risk assessment, which is an improvement on the established DASH risk assessment process. Evidence-based research helped us to develop that, and with a number of charities we have also developed the Domestic Abuse Matters training programme, which has been academically proven to increase the empathy of officers with victims and their understanding of abuse. Things are improving.
We are at a challenging time for prosecutions, and a number of things are driving that. Between 2013 and 2016, prosecutions for domestic abuse increased rapidly. They plateaued in 2016 and have fallen since. A number of things are driving that—this is about demand and pressures on the police service and the Crown Prosecution Service. When you look end to end at cases, however, it is also about the higher thresholds required for charging, the standards expected of digital evidence, medical evidence, and disclosure. Attrition in cases, post-charge, has reduced dramatically, but the number of cases hitting the threshold for charge has also reduced. I think that has gone too far, and we are working hard with forces nationally to improve the number of cases that achieve a prosecution and get justice for victims.
Louisa Rolfe: There is a quite robust challenge. Certainly, at the last couple of meetings, we have talked quite extensively about the police response to migrant women and ensuring that our work with immigration enforcement services is effective in identifying and recognising the particular challenges and concerns faced by women who may have no recourse to public funds or have uncertain immigration status. There has been an appropriate challenge from the sector in ensuring that there is an informed and thoughtful response, not a clumsy response, in addressing those issues. There has been a robust challenge about the decrease in prosecutions and particularly referrals to charge. I have worked jointly with the Crown Prosecution Service to present to that meeting a detailed overview of the challenges as we understand them and the work we are doing to improve the situation.
Louisa Rolfe: The Office for National Statistics collects police data and the dataset in terms of calls to police, reported incidents and crimes, is publicly available each year. We are talking about more than 2 million reports to policing every year. It is important to understand how it is a growing proportion of demand to the police service as well. More than 11% of emergency call demand to the police service is now domestic abuse and more than 30% of violence with injury incidents recorded by the police are domestic abuse. So, it is not only increasing, it is a growing proportion of caseload. It is often multiple issues together: a significant proportion of rape investigations are domestic abuse rape. Honour-based abuse, or FGM, are often issues of domestic abuse as well. It is not a simplistic issue, but very complex.
Louisa Rolfe: From my work with charities I know that that is a very real issue. It goes back to the discussion earlier about the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Some of it is inextricably linked with people’s perceptions of a woman’s place. Particularly with older generations—I know from charities that people are less inclined to report and can often feel more isolated, and that statutory agencies will be less likely to listen, support and understand if someone has been married for a long time in an established relationship.
We have found that domestic abuse is not restricted to one societal group or one area of the UK—it happens everywhere—but perpetrators, particularly manipulative perpetrators, will focus on the vulnerabilities of their victim. If that victim feels that they do not have a close network of friends or family and that agencies are not likely to believe them—perpetrators will often tell a victim, “Nobody will believe you”—that can be exacerbated by their vulnerability.
It might be that their vulnerability is that they are older and more isolated; it might be that they are somebody with uncertain immigration status and their spouse holds all their papers. There are many ways that perpetrators will manipulate and seek to control victims. This is why I promote the work that we have done on the Domestic Abuse Matters training, because it is about understanding what is behind the abuse and looking for signs of control. A lot of research now shows that violence is not necessarily an indicator of more violence, but that coercion and control tends to be the highest risk indicator that we have in domestic abuse.
Louisa Rolfe: I have spoken to forces about this, and I think it will not. The cost of the DAPO would be the least of our concerns. There are many positive aspects to the DAPO: that it protects from all abuse and not just violence, that it is more flexible, that anyone can apply, that there is no restrictive duration and that it can include positive and negative restrictions. Policing is not deterred by cost, and I have some examples of that. We have a strong record of sometimes stepping in where other agencies are not able to.
A good example is that in my own force last year we spent more than £40,000 over a couple of months on emergency accommodation for women with no recourse to public funds. Where even local authorities and refuges are not able to find emergency accommodation, the police service will fund that, because our priority is the safety and protection of victims.
With the DAPO, there are some costs, and it is not just how much it costs—at the moment, it is £500 to present a domestic violence protection order at court—but often the on-costs and logistics that we must consider as well. When the domestic violence protection orders came in, they were something that the police service must present at court. Some forces employed lawyers to do it and others trained staff to do it, so there is an investment in an additional team and extra resources. Every force has done that, but we have done it to variable degrees.
I think the DAPO will focus on assessing the resources required to do this effectively, but we also need an understanding of the scale and volume. Are we anticipating domestic abuse protection orders for all 2 million victims, or are we thinking of the thresholds at which they would apply and how they could be used most effectively?
Louisa Rolfe: I am concerned that a distinct register, not embedded within established police systems such as the police national computer, the police national database or the ViSOR—Violent and Sex Offender Register—system, adds unnecessary complexity cost and, most importantly, risk. The Bichard inquiry following the tragic deaths in Soham recommended that information about dangerous perpetrators should not be dispersed over different systems. That is why the PND system was introduced. There are established ways of registering dangerous individuals on the police national database. The disclosure and barring scheme system has access to that database, as do other agencies such as probation.
There is definitely work for us to do in the police service. I have been working with the College of Policing on what the principles for managing serial perpetrators should look like. It recently reported and provided a draft report in which it made some recommendations on improved use of tools to identify dangerous serial perpetrators, effective use of the systems that we have, such as the PNC, PND and ViSOR, and effective multi-agency management of those individuals at the most dangerous end, using multi-agency public protection arrangements effectively in the way that we do now for dangerous sex offenders or dangerous violent offenders, because those methods are established and it would worry me if we tried to create something distinct over here.
The draft report also recommended a more proactive use of the domestic violence disclosure schemes. If we have identified a dangerous serial perpetrator and we are really clear about the thresholds, when the police service or any other agency involved in the management of that individual becomes aware of a new relationship, there should be more proactive disclosure and use of right to know for potential victims.
My concern about the domestic abuse register is in the logistics and practicalities. Where do we draw the line? Do we intend to add 2 million individuals to that register each year? What are the risks and implications if your perpetrator is not on the register because you have not reported to the police? Would that offer a false sense of security to victims? I would be the first to say that there is more to do to use the systems we have effectively, but I would worry about creating a list that might present as a quick fix but does not address the risk.
Louisa Rolfe: We have done a lot to improve people’s confidence. If a victim is to have confidence, I have got to ensure that all the charities I work with have confidence, so that every IDVA we have a relationship with, as well as every GP or health visitor who might come across a victim, will reassure them and give them confidence in reporting to the police.
There is a lot of really good work going on nationally. For example, the IRIS—identification and referral to improve safety—project is live in Birmingham and a lot of other places across the UK. GPs and health practitioners are trained to recognise the signs of domestic abuse and to be able to tell a victim in a very informed way what happens when you report to the police. Often, people have a lot of fear about the consequences of reporting to the police, and it is really important that there is immediately accessible advice and support for victims as well.
One of the real issues that has dogged us for years is the postcode lottery in dealing with domestic abuse and the different responses from agencies and police forces in different parts of the country. Some do it better than others, and prosecution rates vary, with some taking into account emotional abuse as well as physical abuse. Your role is to try to pull all that together and generate a national standard that everyone adheres to. Is it fair to say that there is still a lot of difference between forces? What are we doing to try to ensure that everyone is raising their standard to that level?
The National Police Chiefs’ Council will say, “As senior officers, we will adhere to these standards. It is absolutely right and we agree with all of it,” but we all know that sometimes it does not always work in practice. How big a challenge is that for each force? What will you do on that and what more could we do to help?
Louisa Rolfe: There are a number of issues here. When I meet with the sector and the charities, I also meet with a representative from every policing region in the UK. Additionally, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Police Scotland and the Welsh forces are represented in that meeting. We share best practice.
There is a lot to be said for working closely with the College of Policing in ensuring that, when we are developing policy and practice, it is evidence-based. We took a long time developing the Domestic Abuse Matters training with charities and what I like about it is that it is very focused on challenging culture and perceptions. We have run a number of independent academic evaluations that prove that it increases officers’ empathy and understanding. That is the one training that I recommend nationally, and forces are rolling that out.
It is quite challenging: in my own force, the training has taken us nearly a year, because it requires an abstraction of nearly 25% of your workforce to be trained face to face. You need to commit to developing trainers within your workforce who can continue to develop practice and understanding. It is quite a big ask, but we are rolling it out slowly across forces nationally.
On the work on the domestic abuse risk assessment, the DASH tool is very good and still very effectively used by IDVA services, charities and specialists. For many years, lots of forces and academics told me that it was not working for first responders. We have worked with Cardiff University women’s safety unit to develop something that we know through evaluation better identifies coercion and control with first responders. We have worked with the College of Policing to develop authorised professional practice, so that there is one standard, and I work with regional leads and force leads. I publish a newsletter regularly to forces and practitioners across the UK on improvements and the work we are doing.
A lot is going on to improve practice, but some is dependent on local variation and local arrangements. There is a balance—I do not want to stifle innovation. Some of the best work has been developed in forces and then shared. Northumbria has done a lot of work on developing a multi-agency tasking and co-ordination response to perpetrators. That has now influenced the work the College of Policing has done and will be part of the guidance on how to better manage serial perpetrators. One of our challenges is the willingness of partner agencies locally to work with policing to develop an approach to multi-agency safeguarding and management of perpetrators.
Louisa Rolfe: HMICFRS has included domestic abuse in its PEEL inspections—police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy—and it has been a significant part of that. You will hear from Zoe Billingham, the lead HMI, later. We talk quite regularly. If she finds significant variation in forces, she will often flag it with me so that I can work with local leaders to address that. The biggest challenge is how we embed a more public health approach. I hear from charities that their concerns are less about policing and more about how we ensure that all agencies can work together and prioritise this effectively.
I thank the deputy chief constable for being with and answering the questions so well. In the new definition in the Bill, we will extend domestic abuse to other family members—grown-up adults and older people—and the abuse that they commit, which is really important. You have described a long process of domestic abuse training—IRIS training, partnership working—to get the frontline police officers sufficiently trained to be able to recognise domestic abuse. This is another huge challenge you are now going to face in extending that definition and the training, so that people are looking out for a different group of victims and perpetrators. How will you go about doing that?
Louisa Rolfe: Thankfully, much of the training we have invested in and the work on domestic abuse risk assessment will apply, because it identifies coercive controlling behaviour, which is often prevalent in those relationships where there are adult children and an elderly parent. I do not worry that we will struggle.
The police service has been working for many years to better understand and address vulnerability, and that is why we had such a dramatic increase in the reporting and recording of domestic abuse. In reality, many of those incidents are already recognised and reported. The challenge is often in the provision of adequate support services, to ensure that victims feel confident that they can take that leap and pursue a prosecution.
There are some great domestic abuse perpetrator programmes out there, such as the Drive Project, which focuses on addressing behavioural change. The evaluation of that programme has shown that it reduces abuse by 30%, which is hugely impressive. However, the reality is that the College of Policing recently looked at the provision of perpetrator programmes and found that only 1% of perpetrators participate in them. I do not think that that is because of the reluctance of perpetrators; it is about the lack of availability.
We found in the significant increase in the reporting of domestic abuse that many incidents might not meet the threshold for prosecution. In the absence of perpetrator programmes to address the behaviour, we are in a difficult position. We must do something, so we focus on safeguarding victims, but we really want to work with other agencies to ensure that there is also a solution to address that behaviour.
Louisa Rolfe: In reality, often our specialist officers who investigate child abuse or domestic abuse work within public protection investigation teams in forces. For many years, our approach to child abuse investigation has been more advanced than towards domestic abuse, so there has been some catching up to do. While it is something that causes a little bit of consternation, the reality is that, in terms of the service provided to victims under 16, we would identify an abusive relationship. There is probably something about the justice system approach as well. If you have an older perpetrator, you might get an improved justice sanction if you address it as child abuse, as opposed to domestic abuse. The reality is that we would not be blinkered and say, “It is this, not that.” We would look to understand the dynamics of the relationship.
Some of that might be down to the vagaries of our justice system. The coercion and control legislation was so groundbreaking for us because it was the first time we had an opportunity to move away from focusing on single incidents of abuse, which often meant that much of the dynamic of what was going on was lost in the presentation of evidence and so we lost the opportunity to present to the court the totality of abuse and the impact on the victim and their life. At the moment, the reality is that we would provide an equitable—if not an improved—response to someone under the age of 16. The definition, in that regard, does not affect the support that victims might receive from the police service.
If there are no further questions from Members, I thank our witness very much indeed for the time you have spent with us. We are very grateful for the evidence you have given us.
Colleagues, that brings us to the end of our morning sitting. The Committee will meet again at 2.30 pm in this room. The proceedings will be chaired by the right hon. Member for Delyn. It is quite safe to leave your possessions here—the room will be locked. In the event that there will be a general election, quite where we are going with the Bill I do not know.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Marcus Jones.)
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o’clock.
Domestic Abuse Bill (Second sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Sir David Amess, † David Hanson
† Atkins, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
† Coaker, Vernon (Gedling) (Lab)
† Dakin, Nic (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
† Graham, Luke (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Con)
† Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
Jardine, Christine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
Johnson, Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
† Jones, Mr Marcus (Nuneaton) (Con)
† Keegan, Gillian (Chichester) (Con)
† Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
† Morton, Wendy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
† Newton, Sarah (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
Saville Roberts, Liz (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
† Scully, Paul (Sutton and Cheam) (Con)
† Smith, Eleanor (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab)
Rob Page, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Zoe Billingham, HM Inspector of Constabulary and HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services
Nazir Afzal OBE, National Adviser on Domestic Abuse to the Welsh Government
Eleanor Briggs, Head of Policy and Research, Action for Children
Sally Noden, Children’s Services Manager, Newcastle Family Support Service (Breaking the Cycle programme), Action for Children
Emily McCarron, Policy Manager, Age UK
Jo Todd, CEO, Respect UK
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 29 October 2019
[Mr David Hanson in the Chair]
Domestic Abuse Bill
Examination of Witness
Zoe Billingham gave evidence.
We are quorate, so we will commence. If anybody wishes to take off their jackets, they can. I welcome our first witness. Please introduce yourself.
Zoe Billingham: Hello. I am Zoe Billingham, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, and I am also responsible for the work that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services does on domestic abuse.
I am grateful for your attendance today. I call the Minister to commence questioning.
Zoe Billingham: Considerable changes. We started this journey back in 2014 with our first report. We called it “Everyone’s business”—slightly ironically, because what we found in 2014 when we looked at the police response to domestic abuse was that, in forces, it most certainly was not everyone’s business. A second-rate service was being provided to victims of domestic abuse when you compared it with that provided to victims of other crime. There was a poor understanding of domestic abuse among frontline officers and insufficient leadership to make lots of promises an operational reality. It was a pretty dire situation that we found in 2014.
We made a series of recommendations. We were hugely grateful for the support of the national oversight group, chaired by the then Home Secretary and Ministers, in holding the police’s feet to the fire. We are also very complimentary of the work police forces have done in the intervening five years to make this a real priority—to focus on domestic abuse in the way it ought to be focused on and to ensure that officers are trained and equipped to deal with domestic abuse, that victims are listened to, understood and taken seriously, and that investment has been made in areas of specialisms and protected, despite reductions in police budgets across the board.
We highly regard and highly commend forces for the changes that we have seen in terms of both the attitudes of frontline officers and the leadership displayed across forces. However, there is always a “but” with inspection findings: the “but” is that there are still a number of areas that forces need to improve on.
The acoustics in this room are not great. Some Members have indicated that they have difficulty hearing. If witnesses, both present and future, can boom, that would be very helpful.
Ms Billingham, you just mentioned that there are some areas that still require attention. Are you able to summarise those for us?
Zoe Billingham: I can give you a quick rundown of the areas that we identified in our last published report, which was in February 2019.
A better understanding around coercive and controlling behaviour: while frontline officers better understand domestic abuse and what their role is in keeping victims safe and bringing perpetrators to justice, the nuances around coercive control still need to be improved. We recognise that many forces have invested very heavily in training—in particular, face-to-face training, which has been successful. However, there is still further to go.
Issues around identifying risk: how much risk is a victim of domestic abuse at? There is still a lot of variance in how officers identify and classify that risk and inconsistencies in how that is being supervised. In our last report, we expressed real reservations and concerns around the drop-off in pre-charge bail and the protections that that may afford. We are also concerned about the number of occasions on which cases are discontinued on the basis that the victim does not support police action. We would also like to see forces take more action to receive feedback directly from victims of domestic abuse themselves, so they can tailor their services more appropriately to put the victim at the heart of the services provided.
The shadow Minister has only just arrived from the Division, so I call Gillian Keegan.
Zoe Billingham: In our inspections, our basic, fundamental question is how well the police are keeping victims of domestic abuse safe: how well they are using the powers they have been given to make sure that victims are safeguarded and perpetrators are brought to justice. The proposals in the Bill regarding the new order are really positive.
The use of DVPNs and DVPOs has been very patchy, and some of the lessons that forces should have drawn from their use need to be applied to the new orders if they are to be successful. We will test this through our inspections when these new orders come on board, because we test how well forces are using DVPOs and DVPNs now and we find that it is very patchy; it varies from force to force.
A number of things will need to happen if the new order is to be successful. First, officers need to be properly trained. They need to understand the value of these orders, because a degree of effort will be involved in obtaining them. There needs to be clarity within forces as to who is responsible. The forces that are best at the orders now are those that have specialist teams dedicated to undertaking that work; Essex police are a really good example.
Forces will also need to have the time and necessary resources to make sure they not only apply for the orders but enforce against breach of orders, otherwise there will be a danger of undermining victims’ confidence. If there is something there to protect victims, but the forces are not geared up to use that tool appropriately, that is a potential risk. Of course, the pilots of the new orders are to be commended and we would like to see forces stepping forward and volunteering if they have not already, so that the implementation of these orders gets off on the right footing.
Zoe Billingham: When we inspect across domestic abuse, we try to take a whole-system approach, in so far as it relates to policing. We look at a whole range of measures all the way across; where we see drops in areas of performance, we are concerned.
Starting with the moment a call comes into a control room, if we see that forces are not attending to domestic abuse incidents as quickly as they should, that is warning flag No. 1. Warning flag No. 2 is when the responding officers who attend those incidents tend to arrest less. All forces have a policy of positive action, but the number of times that an alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse is arrested varies between 80% in some forces and 30% in others, and that variation worries us. Warning flag no. 3 is when too many cases are being discontinued post-arrest on the basis that the victim does not support police action. Nearly 50% of domestic abuse cases are discontinued on that basis, and that worries us. We see variance among forces in all parts of that whole-system approach, and the orders are one part of that system in which we see that variance.
As an inspectorate, we would like to see less variance and greater consistency, because a victim of domestic abuse in Cumbria is self-evidently entitled to the same level of police service as a victim in Camden. We set that as our expectation—rightly so, I think.
Zoe Billingham: It is really interesting; policing has a habit of working like the swing of a pendulum. A force may be at variance in, for example, its rate of arrest, and we will put in our report—our local report—a recommendation that that should be reviewed and looked at. When we come back, we are listened to and we will follow that through, and we find that that may have changed. However, the danger is that, in addressing and focusing responses on one particular area that we have identified in our report, the eye is taken off the ball elsewhere. Although the force may correct one part of the whole-system approach, there may be something that then surprises us and surprises them.
For example, the force may be arresting more but may actually then be disposing of more cases, on the basis that the victim does not support police action. Now, that may be an appropriate thing to do, but we are concerned that too often that resolution is being used because hard-pressed officers simply have not got the time to take the correct action to pursue the criminal justice route and outcome.
Would it not help if there was greater public awareness of that? How can the inspectorate publish that information so that people can look at it and say, “My police force is not as good as equivalent forces”? League tables?
Zoe Billingham: Well, I am not sure—
Zoe Billingham: What we have promised to do since 2014 is to inspect police forces on domestic abuse every year—year on year—until the service is what we would want it to be. We have lived up to that promise and we are still inspecting forces year on year, which is an indicator that we are still not satisfied with the performance that we find. We have to bear in mind that in the intervening period—between our starting in 2014 and now—there has been a whopping great increase in the amount of demand being placed on officers. There has been an 88% increase in recorded domestic abuse-related crime.
Zoe Billingham: Some 10% of all recorded crime that police deal with, and 40% of all violence, has a domestic abuse-related basis.
We do what we call our police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy, or PEEL, inspections; I am sorry to go into so much detail. We review police every year, and within our vulnerability section we always look at domestic abuse. Within that, we always provide the public with a judgment on their police performance, of either “outstanding”, “good”, “requires improvement” or “inadequate”. We think that brings a degree of transparency, and we supplement that with an annual report. We have published four—in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019—to shine the light on this area.
However, I think that the sentiment behind your question is this: “Should the public be made increasingly aware of this issue?” Our answer would be a resounding yes. We are playing a small part in that as the inspectorate, but there might well be more that we can do—in fact, I am sure of that.
The Bill seeks to simplify procedures for police officers, which hopefully will result in higher levels of prosecution. It also gives new powers or responsibilities to police officers, particularly for two groups of people: children and family members. We increasingly understand that when children in households are under exposure to domestic abuse and violence, it will make them more likely to be either a perpetrator or a victim. From your inspections of the constabulary, what steps are you seeing them take to identify those children and refer them?
The other type of domestic abuse now caught in the Bill, which I think is brilliant, is adult family members abusing elderly members or people with disabilities in their families. Again, that is a new area for the police to be tackling. Bearing in mind what you said about resource constraints, what evidence have you seen of the police tackling those particular issues?
Zoe Billingham: I can help particularly on the children front because we do a lot of inspection, including with other inspectorates, on the police response and other agencies’ response to children. Since 2014, we have seen a far greater awareness, particularly among those initially attending officers on the scene, of the importance of considering the impact of the domestic incident on the child.
When we first started inspecting, I was new to the area, but I was pretty horrified that police officers would often go into households with children who were themselves victims of the particular incident, even though they may have been in another room. The police officers were not even speaking to the children and checking that they were okay. We have seen a big shift now in the police’s understanding of the importance of safeguarding children and referring them into local authorities as appropriate, so that the appropriate safeguarding conferences can then take place.
We have seen an increase in the workload, which is why forces have invested in protecting vulnerable people areas and departments, which includes children. We continue to encourage that as an inspectorate so that children are put at the heart of this. We also see the prevalence of schemes such as Operation Encompass—an incredibly simple scheme where, if police attend a domestic abuse incident overnight, an arrangement with all the local schools means that a single person in the relevant school is notified that the child has had the most traumatic experience. The teacher can take steps—perhaps seemingly very small ones—to care for that child during the course of the following day, and subsequently. Some of these things are very easily done. They take a bit of arrangement to put in place, but they are not that costly. They do require a will and leadership.
I am not as able to help on elder abuse specifically, but would be happy to write to you if there are any specifics that I can think of that would help on that.
The fact that you need to do that shows that that is an area of work, once the Bill goes through: police forces have to consider that as domestic abuse and violence. That is a whole new area for the police to be trained on and for you to inspect, ensuring that the new requirements are understood and the services are there to support victims. Clearly, there is some work to do there.
You will be aware, as I am, that women’s prisons are full of women who have experienced domestic violence. When these women are convicted of criminal offences, it is very often through coercive control and behaviour. Are police forces aware of that and are resources stopping them from identifying that these women are victims of trauma?
Zoe Billingham: To reinforce what you say about women in prisons, perhaps the most profound thing I have experienced in the five or six years I have been doing this work is visiting a women’s prison and speaking to prisoners, all of whom have been victims of domestic abuse. They all gave an account in a very small focus group of the failure of the police to understand the circumstances that had, they said, driven them to activity that resulted in their being in prison. I would certainly like to look at that in greater detail in the future. It is certainly something that I know more forces are thinking about: how they can ensure, through training, that the home circumstances of alleged offenders are being taken into account when looking at women’s offending particularly. I am afraid it is not something that we have done a specific inspection on, but it is an area that we are interested in looking at in the future.
Zoe Billingham: We have no powers of direction. We are an independent inspectorate, so our recommendations are just that. A force could, if it so chose, ignore our recommendations. We find that that happens almost never; when it does, it will be because forces have had to prioritise in different areas. Our power is to come back time and again, to check whether the changes that we recommended have indeed been made, and to report to the public—in a clear way, I hope—whether the improvements we thought necessary have been made and, where they have not, to explain that that has not happened. That will obviously affect the grade that we provide to the force in that particular inspection.
Zoe Billingham: I wish there was a simple answer; if there was, it would have happened and the changes would have been made. There is a whole range of issues, starting from the moment when the police are informed about an incident, that are leading to an attrition.
One concern, which we want to look at in the work we are doing this year and into next year, is how potential offenders are being dealt with and brought to justice, the interface between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, and in particular the number of referrals being made to the CPS by the police and the advice on charging that the CPS is providing to the police.
We have not done the detailed work on that yet, but the issue is about the interface between the police and the CPS, the decision on whether a charge should be brought on a domestic abuse-related case and whether—as I often hear from the police when I go into forces—the CPS has set the bar to secure a charge impossibly high. Obviously, if we do not secure the charge then we will never secure the conviction. We hear a lot of anecdotal evidence in that regard, but I cannot give you specific, hard and fast evidence.
One thing that we are doing next year, which may help to shed a little bit of light on some of the areas where we lose victims, is whether the issue of bail and release under investigation is leading to a diminution in attendance of those needed in court and an eventual loss of victims who basically give up, because the timeframe is spread out so long across a whole domestic abuse case. We are doing a specific piece of work looking at the effect of release under investigation postal requisitions, so that we can see the real reasons behind the elongation of the time factors and the changes around safeguarding that may flow as a result.
Zoe Billingham: Obviously the uplift programme, as it is called across policing, is welcomed, and 20,000 officers will address some or most of the reductions in police officers since 2010. There has been a reduction in police staff and police community support officers during that period as well. The crux of that, in terms of how the police respond to domestic abuse, will be where those officers are deployed.
Of course, a whole lot of work will be done to ensure that frontline preventive policing is enhanced through the uplift programme. Although that is not a specific investment in specialist domestic abuse officers, in our view prevention is much better than cure. Clearly, however, forces will need to look at their uplift—what they are going to receive in terms of additional officers—and see whether the stretch in the system that we have identified can be alleviated by effective and smart deployment in a whole range of roles across police forces. That is really a matter for forces.
We are into the last four minutes, so we must have short questions and short answers.
Zoe Billingham: It is patchy, again, in terms of not just right to know, but need to know. We encourage forces. Each year, we have identified the patchy use, knowledge and understanding of Clare’s law as something that forces have responsibility to do more about in terms of greater publicity and awareness-building. It is another one of those powers that the police have and that are available to them, but that are too often used inconsistently.
Zoe Billingham: Obviously, putting this on to a statutory footing will help, but two other things need to happen in conjunction with that. First, it needs to be publicised effectively in forces and across the broader population. Secondly, it is absolutely imperative that forces have sufficient resources to deal swiftly and effectively with what we suspect will be an increased number of requests. Our concern is that there might be a lot of local publicity about, “Your force will do this”, or, “Come forward and ask this”, only for victims to be let down because forces have not geared themselves up with the right resources. That would be our word of caution, but as I say, putting it on a statutory footing is welcome.
Zoe Billingham: We welcome the introduction of the commissioner’s role. I have met her briefly. We need to ensure that we, as an independent inspectorate, work closely alongside the commissioner, that we do not duplicate our efforts, and that our learning from inspections is passed to her and vice versa, so that we can continue to set the expectation that is required of police forces. I expect us to work in close concert on that.
Zoe Billingham: I would say that we are independent. As you know, Minister, we make recommendations without fear or favour. We are very happy to make recommendations directed at the Home Office and have often done so in our work around domestic abuse. We expect action to be taken not only by police forces or police and crime commissioners but by Departments. I feel extremely independent in my role. I suspect that that will be reflected in the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner as well. The fact that I have a relationship with the Home Office does not undermine my personal statutory independence as an HMI or our organisation’s independence.
I am grateful for your evidence today, Ms Billingham. Thank you very much. We will move on to our next witness, Nazir Afzal.
Examination of Witness
Nazir Afzal gave evidence.
Welcome to the evidence session this afternoon. For the record, please introduce yourself and state your job title.
Nazir Afzal: I am Nazir Afzal. One of my roles is independent national advisor to the Welsh Government on what they call VAWDASV: Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Previously I was chief prosecutor, and I led for 10 years on violence against women and girls for the Crown Prosecution Service.
Nazir Afzal: I met with her yesterday, and I very much welcome her. I think she is sitting behind us right now. Obviously, there are restrictions on what she can do: there are devolved areas for the Welsh Government, and she is not permitted to comment on or analyse those areas. There are reserved areas where she can. We agreed yesterday to collaborate, and I know we will do that from here on in. There are opportunities for the sharing of good practice, and there are opportunities for commissioning joint research and things like that. I have no doubt whatsoever that our relationship will be very fruitful.
Nazir Afzal: We live in the real world, and it is acknowledged that 84%, or thereabouts, of victims are female. Much of the men-on-men abuse, for example, is men abusing, and the vast majority of perpetrators are male. When you recognise that, it does not mean that you ignore male victims. The Welsh Government have been working closely with organisations that support male victims, and I have no doubt that that will continue. Being one thing does not mean that you have to stop being another. That should not cause any problem for us in England and Wales, because it certainly has not caused any problems in Wales.
Nazir Afzal: There is a substantial learning. For example, there are people working in the male victim sector who previously felt that they were being ignored and not listened to and that perhaps—I think this was underlying your question—they were second-class victims. What they have picked up from those who are suffering has informed the Welsh Government’s work in relation to female victims. There is substantial good practice in that area, which perhaps would not have been picked up had we not engaged with them in the way that we are doing.
Nazir Afzal: Do you mean the national advisor role?
Yes, the national advisor role.
Nazir Afzal: I job share the role with a colleague of mine. I do two days and she does three days. It is a statutory role that was created by the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. Going back to a question you put to Her Majesty’s inspector, independence is a state of mind; it does not have to say “independent” in the Act. What we have been able to do—I spoke to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner about this yesterday—is to have access. My colleague and I were able to meet with the whole Welsh Cabinet a year ago and talk about this issue, and about cross-Government work that needs to happen. There are four director generals in the Welsh Government in four Departments, and I meet them every quarter. I would hope that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner would have similar access. We know that this is not just a policing issue; it is an education issue and a health issue—it is cross-cutting—so it needs that kind of access. We get that kind of access.
We are also advocates for the sector. When people knew I was speaking today, I got several hundred emails from the various NGOs, which do phenomenal work, saying, “Raise this; raise that”—although there is not enough time. We can do that advocacy for them or with them within the Welsh Government. We are literally on the road all the time—with the geography of Wales, you have to be on the road all the time—in order to try to understand the various issues that take place. We alert the First Minister and his Government to those issues in an intelligence-based, early way so that before it hits the proverbial, some action can be taken. It works really effectively.
As I said to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner yesterday, if she gets the kind of access that we have been given, if she gets the kind of freedom that we have, and if she is able to enforce her independent way of thinking—it goes without saying that she has enormous credibility within the sector—all those things will make her role really fulfilling. We have been able to look internationally and look at best practice across the UK. I think Wales lead the way—they will love me for saying this. The VAWDASV Act was four years ago, and they have put in place so many things.
One of the things I am concerned about with this Bill is what is underneath it—that is, the implementation strategy. Wales has grasped that and there is a phenomenal implementation strategy. There is the national training framework; you name it, there are all sorts of things underneath which will enable, and are enabling, us to deliver on the Act. We are there as critical friends to the Welsh Government and also to the Home Office here. We are able to share learning from Wales, and also to the Scottish Government.
Nazir Afzal: Somebody will die or be severely injured in Wales today because of domestic abuse. There is no way on earth that I am going to be complacent, and neither should we. There will be victims with every minute of every day. On that basis, what progress has Wales made? There are issues with the Bill that I am happy to share with you, but implementation is key. If you do not have leadership from the top, it will not happen.
Let me give you another example. The First Minister has asked for his whole Cabinet to get training. Then he asked all the Assembly Members to get training, and he asked all their support staff to get training—to the point where, in Wales, 170,000 people have now been trained under the 2015 Act. Some 4,000 professionals—that is, pretty much every professional in the ambulance service and police service—have been trained. I encourage you as Members of Parliament, if you have not done so, to undergo some training to enable you to spot the signs. If leaders are doing it, it comes down from that. If you have done it, others who work for you and with you will do it as well.
With the implementation strategy, the amount of guidance that has been produced is second to none. There are guidelines for governors of universities and governors of further education institutions; there are guidelines on elder abuse, which I think you mentioned earlier on; and there are guidelines on children as victims. That is what we call “ask and act” training guidance, because in the legislation it invites professionals to ask if something is not right and act upon it. That is all in place.
A key point with regard to the Bill is that every local authority has a public duty to compare and publish annually their strategy on violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and to put that out to the public and say, “This is what we are going to do”, and be challenged on it. Unless you mandate that and prescribe it, it is not going to happen. That is why I encourage you—it is not too late—to do that in the Domestic Abuse Bill. The Welsh Government have done that. They have commissioning guidance, so that every commissioner of services, and there are many, knows how to approach it. There is guidance left, right and centre.
In terms of what we still need to do, there is a big issue that only the Treasury can help us with: sustainable funding. From all the non-governmental organisations that mailed you and me, you will know that on 31 March they will not know whether they will have a job on 1 April. The people they service will not know whether they will have a service on 1 April. Unless you have at least an indication that your funding is x number of years, you cannot plan. Cardiff and Vale has a seven-year funding cycle. It tells everybody, “This is what we’re going to give you this year,” and indicates what they are going to get for the next six years. It can plan on that basis, and that is what we would like the rest of Wales to do. That is certainly what the NGOs in England would prefer you to do.
Nazir Afzal: It is premature, to be honest. The Scottish Government do not have a role of the kind that you have in the Bill, and that the Welsh Government have. It would be premature of me to tell you what their plans are. There is certainly good practice—there is no getting away from it. When we talk about knife crime, we talk about the public health approach in Glasgow, do we not? If the public health approach can work for knife crime, it can work for violence against women and domestic abuse. The idea of being able to contain people who are currently infected, for want of a better term, and then prevent others from becoming so by dealing with the infection—it is the same thing with domestic abuse. They are applying the kind of approach we are taking in Wales, and I hope England will do the same. There is good learning, good sharing and good practice. The Scottish Government are probably no further forward than England in relation to structural governance issues, but the will is certainly there.
I go back to what I said. Part of the problem, as HMI indicated earlier, is that we have a bit of a perfect storm right now. Scottish police numbers and health service numbers have been reduced. There has been an impact on all sorts of areas where previously the people were there to provide that level of service. NGOs do not have the same funding. If you have a significant increase in victims, as we have had over the past three years or thereabouts, there is nobody there to provide them with the service. Scotland is no different from England and Wales in that regard.
Nazir Afzal: Not me personally, because I have not got the time, but I certainly think that Wales should be on it. It is an England and Wales board, even if there are reserved and devolved areas. I cannot see any reason why Wales should not be present. We currently engage with the Home Office even though, technically, it does not have responsibility for certain parts of what we do in Wales. I see no problem with that.
Nazir Afzal: Yes, 100%. The victim referral pathways could involve a victim from—well, I had one a long time ago in London who was moved to Inverness. If we do not have common practices, and so forth, rest assured that that would be a recipe for disaster. You need to have an understanding across borders, despite the fact that, jurisdictionally, there will be differences.
Nazir Afzal: Absolutely. The main one is the public duty. We have found in Wales that unless you mandate it, it does not happen. Furthermore, unless you ring-fence it, it does not happen either. Our experience—the experience across England and Wales, actually—has been that if people have made cuts, they have made them in areas they see as soft, and strangely, they see this area as soft. That is ridiculous, frankly, but none the less that is what they do. Unless you say—we have not said this in Wales—“0.5% of your income must go on whatever it is” and ring-fence it, it does not happen.
The public duty side of it certainly needs to be clearer, because people do opt out. One third of mental health trusts in England do not have a strategy that deals with domestic abuse. Given the number of victims who will be suffering either as victims or, potentially, as perpetrators, that is scandalous. My experience tells me that unless you mandate these things, it does not happen. That is issue No. 1, and I clearly think that is right.
Black and minority ethnic victims have been let down. Do you know how many independent domestic violence advisors in England and Wales work specifically with BME people? There are four.
Nazir Afzal: Hundreds. That issue needs addressing.
There is also the rural-urban thing—I have said this specifically about Wales, but it is true of England as well. If you are a victim in a rural area, the perpetrator is probably known to everybody. To access support, you need transport—the support is not available locally—but we give everybody the same amount of funding. We give an NGO in Birmingham the same funding as we give one somewhere in Shropshire, but the one in Shropshire probably needs more funding per person than the one in Birmingham. We need to address that. Again, I do not know how you do that, but it needs to come from the top down, rather than the bottom up.
There are issues around refuge funding and refuge services. My personal view—it is the Wales view, too—is that the safest place for a victim is his or her home. The refuge should always be seen as an emergency, rather than as the first port of call, which is what it is commonly seen as. There are very few refuges with provision for children. You wait until mid-December, when it is coming up to Christmas: they will be turning away children left, right and centre, but what happens? They end up in emergency accommodation or going back to their abuser, because the support is just not available to them. Strange as it may sound, when I spoke to the Welsh Cabinet, one of the environmental Ministers mentioned pets. I was not aware of this. Victims do not leave home because of their pet. Apart from the Dogs Trust, as I understand it, there is very limited provision for animals in those circumstances, so they end up remaining with the perpetrator. Something needs to be done about refuge funding. It goes back to the sustainable funding issue I mentioned earlier, which needs to be addressed.
There are bigger issues. Your colleague, Sarah Champion, mentioned early marriage or child marriage yesterday. There are a substantial number of victims. I know the Minister asked for more detail, but my personal view is that you should ban child marriage under the age of 18. Too many 16 and 17-year-olds are forced into marriage, and too many suffer significant abuse at that age. Unless you put an age limit of 18 on marriage, you are not going to be able to prevent that from happening. The Bill offers you that opportunity.
Nazir Afzal: I do not know. Again, the Minister will know better than I do. I have dealt with cases, and the most amazing ones—the most bizarre, horrible ones—involved people who were forced into marriage at 16 and 17. Some of them died at the age of 19 and 20. There is a gap that needs to be addressed, and maybe the legislation could do that.
There is another area in which I would agree with other campaigners. Twelve years ago, I met with somebody called Iain Duncan Smith—I don’t know if you know him—and he was running a campaign with Refuge about driven suicide. A lot of victims of domestic abuse are driven to commit suicide, and as it currently stands, there is no law that can hold somebody to account for that. I tried to bring one in back then, and the Court of Appeal said that we could, but we were not able to succeed. You probably know the fact that two women are murdered every week in domestic abuse cases, but you probably do not know that 10 women kill themselves every week.
The Minister wants to come in on this point.
I am going to bring in Carolyn Harris to ask some questions. If anybody else wishes to speak, please indicate now.
Secondly, you talked about IDVAs; is there a programme in Wales for having IDVAs in hospitals, specifically for elderly people? I was in A&E with my son, who had pneumonia a couple of weeks ago, when I heard the nurse at the next bed asking a young girl if her problem was because of domestic violence. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Nazir Afzal: The second one is easy. Yes, there is a programme to recruit more IDVAs. It is a bit haphazard because they are employed by different agencies—health, police and crime commissioners and so on—but there is a significant programme to increase the numbers. There was a dip in the mid-2010s, for all sorts of resource reasons.
On the first question, there is another campaign, which is about religious marriages also having to be certified—that is, to become marriages recognised by British law. I support that, too. You have given one example; I can probably give you several hundred others of people who did not know that they were married. In any event, if these people were married, their ability to seek a divorce is challenging, to say the least, and abuse is often tolerated in such circumstances. There is a role for the state to say, “If you enter into a religious marriage, you should also have a civil marriage.” There is some good practice around that—for example, just up the road in the Regent’s Park mosque you have to have the religious marriage and a civil marriage at the same time. Why can they not do that anywhere else? I absolutely agree with you on that.
Are there any further questions from Members?
Nazir Afzal: Can I just say one more thing about release under investigation, because I forgot?
Nazir Afzal: Her Majesty’s inspector mentioned release under investigation. The previous time I gave evidence to the Joint Committee, Lord Blair was here, and he and I agree on this. The Bill should specifically say that domestic abuse is excluded from the provision on release under investigation. There is tons of evidence already out there—you may want to get your own, Minister—that shows that there are suspects waiting for a long, long time before a decision but, worse still, that there are potential victims waiting for a long, long time, who are under enormous pressure to go back to their abuser or potential abuser, and who lose interest and so on because the process takes such a long time. If you had bail with conditions, it would offer protection, and it also concentrates minds in respect of decision making. We did not anticipate it happening when the Act was passed, but my personal view and, I think, that of anybody in the sector is that we ought to exclude domestic abuse from that provision.
Do Members have any further questions? If not, we are grateful to you, Mr Afzal, for your contribution, and will bring your session to an end.
Examination of Witnesses
Sally Noden and Eleanor Briggs gave evidence.
Sally Noden: My name is Sally Noden and I am a children’s service manager in Newcastle.
Eleanor Briggs: I am Eleanor Briggs and I am head of policy and research at Action for Children.
Sally Noden: In Newcastle, I oversee a cluster of services, but one of them is called Breaking the Cycle. This is a service that was specifically designed by us several years ago, when we saw a gap in recovery services for children. We work with children between the ages of four and 16 who have experienced domestic abuse, and we offer them one-to-one counselling.
The way the piece of work is done is that we normally meet the non-abusing partner—normally the mum—and we do a session with her, and then we bring the child in. One of the big points of the model—this is why it is a specialist service—is that we name why the children are there. It is named. That is actually a really big issue for a parent who has spent a long time thinking that they are protecting the child. They realise that the child’s behaviour—the traumatic behaviour that they are displaying —is because of the domestic abuse that they have experienced. We need to spend time with the non-abusing partner, getting them to understand their story and what has happened to their child.
We then offer up to 10 sessions with the child, and they are child-led sessions with the counsellor, using a variety of tools that the counsellor is extremely skilled at using: sometimes they use play, sometimes they use games and words, and they do special box work with the young people. We then have a review session with the child and the non-abusing partner and parent. Some of that is very much around looking at their relationship, because children can be really angry. Suddenly they can be angry and confused, and the relationship between the parent and the child can be really broken, so we need to do some work to improve that parent-child relationship and have an understanding on both sides. That is the work that we do up in Newcastle at the moment.
Eleanor Briggs: It is certainly a really complex issue and something that we have thought really hard about and discussed in great detail with other children-sector organisations. Ultimately, we agree with the Government’s decision to go for the 16 age limit. We talked in detail to frontline practitioners, such as Sally and others, and to our safeguarding experts, and the final decision we made was that because abuse of someone under 16 is child abuse, we did not want to muddy the waters. We wanted to keep it absolutely clear that under 16 it is child abuse. Also, the age of consent is 16, so that is another factor to consider.
We do recognise, though, the need for support for children and young people in romantic relationships under 16 where abuse happens, and we warmly welcome the recommendation from the Joint Committee around the need for a Government review to look at those relationships. One thing we would stress is that the experience from when the age limit in the definition was lowered from 18 to 16 showed that adult responses are not necessarily the right ones, so a different model could be needed for 16 and 17-year-olds. We would ask that that review consider 16 and 17-year-olds as well. Sally has extensive experience of what services work for young people and how they need to be different.
Sally Noden: It is great that we are looking at it, but we need to recognise those relationships and we need to look at services through the lens of a young person or teenager. An adult service may not meet those needs. In Newcastle, we have a service called West End Women and Girls Centre, which has peer educators, and those peer educators are young people who have been through abusive relationships and are now trained to be peer educators with other young people. That sort of service is really important.
I have experience of a young person working in a service. I was in a children’s centre and I was running the Freedom programme, which is a social educational programme. This young person was 17 and I suggested that she came on to the programme, but there were women who were much older than her and their experiences were very different to her experience, and she did not feel as valid. I learned from that mistake. She did not feel valid because her relationship was an 18-month relationship and she was listening to women who had been in abusive relationships for 30 years. I did a lot of work with her after that. We absolutely need to recognise that there are abusive relationships, but we need to have the right responses for them.
Sally Noden: We need to have the right services and we need to invest in services for some of our young victims. In Newcastle, we have one of the only specialist services. In the past four months, I have had 59 referrals, but I have one and a half counsellors. In the sense that the resources are not there to do the work, we need to look at some peer education work and work on what healthy relationships are about. We need to look at some early intervention work, but then there need to be those specialist services to help break the cycle. There are a number of fantastic programmes out there, such as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education programme and the Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together programme, but again, from my experience in Newcastle, we had the programme running, the funding stopped, and it has not run again. It might come back again. We need to have the right resources to have the right community responses.
Sally Noden: There is some very good joining up. I sit on the violence against women and girls strategic group in Newcastle with a whole host of services, and we work really well together. However, there are not the resources to continue the work that we need to do.
Eleanor Briggs: That is where the Bill offers a real opportunity. Two things can happen in the Bill that would contribute. The first is to put children as victims into the definition. Our view is that that being in the statutory guidance is not strong enough. We can talk in more detail about the definition.
Secondly, the duty on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should be extended. We really welcome the duty and the fact that it will look at accommodation-based support but, as the previous witness said, we really feel that the refuge should be the person’s home and that the support needs to be there in the community for children. That will build into the whole cycle: if we get the support for children early on, they will learn what healthy relationships look like. We know that Sally’s excellent service in Newcastle is Big Lottery funded and only has two more years to go, so what happens to it after that? If we had the statutory duty extended out, we could have secure, proper and long-term funding for services for children, and that would help to break the cycle.
Sally Noden: It is a battle to get the money to keep going. As Eleanor said, our money comes from the Big Lottery Fund. I work really closely with Safe Newcastle, with their offices, and they are really supportive—they were supportive of our Big Lottery bid—but they are not able to give us the funding.
Eleanor Briggs: And that is one of our concerns. If the MHCLG duty comes in as designed at the moment, just for accommodation-based support, the local authorities will be under pressure to fund refuge and accommodation-based support. Obviously, we see the need for that, and it is very important, but the duty needs to be wider, because if the funding is all going into that, funding will come away from non-statutory services, as we have seen with children’s services. Under the Children Act 1989, statutory services are still being provided, with increased money going into them, but the funding has come away from the non-statutory services—the early help services. Although we welcome commitments to funding for the new duty, which is fantastic, this will be in law for the long, long term and we cannot guarantee that the funding will always be there. That is why the legislation needs to be right and why we need to have a statutory duty for both accommodation-based and, crucially, community services that include children and young people.
Sally Noden: I think it is about linking up with community services—making sure that there are the resources within community services. We talked about Operation Encompass, which I think is fantastic, but it needs to go further. There needs to be the support. It is great to do the silent monitoring or to enable the teacher to help that child through the day, but are we actually saying, “It’s okay—it’s okay to go back home”? We have to be honest: children will be going back home, so there needs to be an open discussion and resources to be able to work with a child to make sense of that and enable them to be resilient. There are services to support women who are in abusive relationships and plan to leave, and there is support to enable them while they are in that relationship. We need that for children as well.
Sally Noden: Absolutely. We have to then be very mindful about making sure that we are not keeping children in the abusive relationship, and about whether the parents are willing to do that piece of work or whether someone will continue to be controlling. It is really important to have that open dialogue, and name it. There are a number of projects, such as the Helping Hands project, that you can work with children on, and I know of a number of youth work projects working with young people, but you are right to ask whether they are really doing the joining up. We need to look at that further.
Eleanor Briggs: I have touched on that already. Although we really welcome the duty and see it as a step forward, we think that, as it stands, it is not adequate and will not provide the support that children and young people, and adult victims and perpetrators, need. We welcome the focus in the duty as drafted on children’s support, and we welcome the fact that children’s social care will sit on the board, although we would like to see DFE on the national steering group as well.
We need to face up to the reality that most victims will not be in a refuge. That is a positive thing—people should not need to leave their home to get support. It seems logical to us that if you are getting all the local partners together, including children, to look at an issue and how they are going to respond to domestic abuse, you should not limit that to accommodation-based support. It should be a holistic, expanded duty where they can look at what support we need in the community as well.
There is a particular concern about refuges and the amount of support, because of the fact that people are being turned away and that children are being turned away. From what Sally has said, and from what we see in our own research with Stirling University, we know that those issues are also there with community-based services. Currently, there is a real postcode lottery for access. Research that we did with Stirling University and local authorities showed that in two thirds of areas there were barriers to children and young people accessing community services. Also in two thirds of areas the funding issues that we have already spoken about were present, with projects being funded by unstable funding streams and not knowing what their future was. In 10% of local authorities, there were actually no services for children and young people, and only two had services for children in the early years. There is a real problem around adequate services for children and young people in the community, which the Domestic Abuse Commissioner picked up this morning.
The duty is a real opportunity, which we welcome, but to do its job properly, it needs to be widened. In that research with Stirling University, local authorities said that there is an absence of guidance, that they are not sure what they are supposed to be providing, and, unusually, that they would welcome a duty to give them that clarity about what is wanted. Of course, they will need it to be properly funded, but having that clarity would be a real step forward for everyone.
I have already addressed our fear that unintentionally the duty as it stands might have a negative impact on some of those vital community services for children and young people, particularly given the funding pressure that we know local authorities are under. MHCLG has said that the duty will not have an impact on community-based services, but no detail was provided about how or why that is the case. We therefore echo the Joint Committee’s recommendation that the duty needs to look at how community-based support can be provided. We know from the services that Sally provides how important that support is in helping children to recover and preventing further abuse in the next generation.
Eleanor Briggs: Yes. The research that we did with Stirling has three different case studies of how local authorities are operating. One is high functioning, one is doing okay, and one is a really poorly functioning local authority. We will happily share that to show you how the different models are working. We hope that through an expanded duty everyone could get up to that high-functioning model.
Sally Noden: I can talk about a case study. I think this will answer your question—tell me if it does not. Within our service, we had a referral of a sibling group. There is a waiting list, and by the time of the referral one of the children had been removed—in fact, all three of them had been removed and one was in a foster placement on their own. We continued with that work; our original piece of work was with the foster carer and the young person.
We linked up with children’s social care and with the foster carer, and we met with mum, because the young child was potentially going to go back home—so we linked up in terms of what sort of therapeutic support we could offer this young person. In fairness, children’s social care linked up with us as well and ensured that we were speaking to the right people. We needed to speak to the foster carer. We might have spoken only to mum, or we might not have spoken to her.
The big piece of work that we did with that young person was trying to work out their emotional responses to the uncertainty that they were going to go through. That was a huge piece of work, because they did not know whether they were going to go home. At one point, the courts were looking at whether dad was a potential caregiver. Dad had been the perpetrator of domestic violence towards mum. We had to do some work, although the child was not really in recovery because they still had lots of uncertainties; they really needed some therapeutic support in working out their emotions and their lack of knowledge about what was going on.
I do not know whether that quite answers your question. We ensured that we connected up, and doing so has to be everybody’s responsibility. It is the same with adult services. Often you see the adult presented, and you do not connect up whether the child will have to move school, and what will happen to them and their education. That is why it is so important to have children named as victims in the Bill, because people then have to connect it up, from all services.
Eleanor Briggs: I would add that if we got a wider duty, looking more broadly than accommodation-based services, that would help because you would have the board and representatives from all relevant partners across the local authority on that board looking at their joined-up response. That would get them talking, and would be such an opportunity. If they were looking more widely than just at accommodation, they would pick up on those issues.
Eleanor Briggs: I suppose the way the duty will be set up is that the boards will come together and do an assessment of what is happening their area; what the needs are and how they can commission services to meet those needs. I think the current version of it will look at accommodation-based needs, whereas the way that we envisage it, they will look at the whole spectrum. With other organisations, we would like to look at perpetrators as well, so that we can get a proper picture. We are looking to end this problem and that also involves support for perpetrators. They look at the whole thing as a holistic issue and look at where support is needed. Obviously, that demands a good risk assessment and the right people being there, but proper funding is also key. For this duty to be in place will need proper funding, so that once the assessment is done, the right services can be commissioned and funded properly so that that support is in place.
Eleanor Briggs: Absolutely. That is why for us this is the part of the Bill that offers us the best chance we have to get those services. People have already talked about how something gets done when you make it statutory. When there is an obligation, it will be provided. We want these services to be a statutory obligation to provide support to children and families and then we will see it funded. As I mentioned, we have seen children’s services, where there is no statutory obligation. Those, as you say, are the low-hanging fruit and the ones that go when there is a problem.
You say we are putting all our eggs in one basket. This is absolutely key for us and the best way that we can see at the moment to secure vital support. We also definitely want to see children in the definition on the face of the Bill. That is really important in getting a response from all services. Zoe has already mentioned that the police are doing much better, which is great to hear, but we know from studies abroad that the police have responded to children much better when children are named as victims in the definition of domestic abuse, so we want to see that here as well.
Eleanor Briggs: We really welcome that. We were really pleased to see the Joint Committee recommendation. The Children Act is a fantastic piece of legislation. We are excited its 30th anniversary is coming up next month. It is a great piece of legislation because it has adapted and changed as things have moved forward. As part of that, in 2002, the definition of harm was changed to include impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. That was added in relation to domestic abuse, so that recognition was there. We support the Joint Committee’s recommendation for it to be absolutely clear that coercive control is included. Our research with Stirling University, that I referred to, showed that the local authorities we spoke to felt that social workers still did not recognise coercive control and how dangerous it can be. Research shows that children really do suffer when coercive control is going on in the house. It is also very high risk. There is a high chance of very serious violence related to coercive control, so we support that widening.
We would also like to see the definition change slightly so that it talks about children seeing or hearing—experiencing—the domestic abuse that goes on. This point was powerfully made when we went to see one of our services. We did not prompt them or say anything when we did our initial research, but one of the service managers said: “Children don’t witness domestic abuse, they experience it.” She was absolutely passionate about that. They are not sitting there as some kind of secondary part of it; they absolutely are experiencing that. The Bill provides an opportunity to get that into the Children’s Act and to link it to the definition in the Bill. I am not concerned about it limiting, because from my understanding it was introduced in 2002 to be around getting domestic abuse in there. To get that right and to make sure it is up to date with the Domestic Abuse Bill, now feels like a real opportunity.
Three more Members wish to speak and we have just under 10 minutes, so questions and answers need to be relatively quick.
Sally Noden: Yes. Actually, over a third of our referrals come from CAMHS, and I also oversee a family support service within Early Help. We work really closely with our CAMHS colleagues, because mental health is a real issue for our young people and for parents.
Sally Noden: Yes, I think so. I do not know whether Eleanor would answer that better than I would.
Eleanor Briggs: We have not done a lot of work on this, to be honest, but we can speak to others and come back to you. I know that Hestia Housing will be appearing before you on Thursday and that they have done a lot of work looking at CAMHS. That is one of their asks, so it might be good to ask them about that.
Eleanor Briggs: The research that we did with Stirling University looked at 30 local authorities and at where services were available and where they were not. It varies a lot. In two thirds of local authorities involved in the study, there were some barriers to accessing services. In 10% of areas, there were no support services available. In a third of areas, access to services was restricted by postcode. We know it really varies, which relates to the lack of duty and the instability around funding being an issue.
We really welcome the role of the commissioner, and it is fantastic to see that. We welcome that she has a specific remit on children and that she will have a child advisor as part of her office. We would really like to see children included in the statutory definition, just to strengthen it and ensure that it is absolutely clear. We would also like to see a bit more clarity in the wording—when she looks at the provision of services, it should include children’s services as well, because it could be a real tool if it was absolutely clear that she is going to look at that.
“Behaviour of a person (‘A’) towards another person (‘B’) is ‘domestic abuse’ if…A and B are each aged 16 or over”.
Are you suggesting it should be the case that, in that scenario, B does not have to be aged 16 or over? Is that what you were driving towards?
Eleanor Briggs: No.
Sorry—I beg your pardon.
Eleanor Briggs: It is really confusing, and we have spent literally hours thinking about this. We want to keep the domestic abuse age at 16, because of the issues around child abuse that we have talked about. We are working on various amendments. We would like to see something added, probably under clause 1(5), so that the impact of domestic abuse on children is recognised in the definition. The offence would be between A and B, who would be over 16, but then further down we would have the impact recognised on children, as happens at the moment in the Australian model. It is complicated legally, but we are working with a number of barristers and there are options that we are pursuing about how that could fit.
I have probably missed it—if so, my apologies—but, from a legal perspective, what would you be wanting to occur as a result of that addition at paragraph 5?
Eleanor Briggs: We would want it to be linking in to the commissioner and to the new MHCLG duty that we have there, so that it is absolutely clear. The notes with the Bill also make very clear that this definition will be used well beyond the scope of the Bill. It will be used by frontline practitioners as well. We are really passionate that that has to be in there, so that when healthcare or the police are responding to a domestic abuse incident, they are recognising children in there. We know from the joint targeted area inspection reports that were done in 2016 that a lot of adult services just did not ask any questions about children. We think that we need it there in a definition, so that everyone is aware. The Children’s Act is great, but it does not do all of that, and a lot of other practitioners will not be looking at it.
So it is a similar concept to the discussion we were having about recognising the gender imbalance and that being on the face, but there was also a feeling that that could be covered by the statutory guidance that comes out. Could that not be a place for what you just described there with regard to children, in terms of the guidance, and knock on to the providers of the services?
Eleanor Briggs: We do welcome the guidance, and that is definitely a step forward. But for us, that is not going to be strong enough. We do not feel that you can guarantee that everyone is going to read the guidance—or when they see the guidance they might see children and think, “Actually, that is just relevant to children’s services”. If you have got it on the face of the Bill it will be much stronger, and we can guarantee that we are getting the proper response that we need.
Do any Members wish to ask further questions? I thank both witnesses for their contributions today and discharge them from the Committee.
Examination of Witnesses
Emily McCarron and Jo Todd gave evidence.
Good afternoon, Emily and Jo, and thank you for your attendance at the Committee this afternoon. For the purposes of the record, could you introduce yourselves, starting with Emily?
Emily McCarron: My name is Emily McCarron. I am a policy manager at Age UK.
Jo Todd: I am Jo Todd. I am the chief executive at Respect.
We are grateful for your attendance today.
Welcome. We are very interested to understand the impact that domestic abuse can have on older people. Ms McCarron, could you help us understand what action you would like to see the Domestic Abuse Commissioner take around older victims of domestic abuse?
Emily McCarron: Certainly. When we are talking about older people and domestic abuse, those circumstances are often very much overlooked. We want older people who experience domestic abuse to start getting the support that they need. With this Bill, there is an opportunity to remedy that.
The first thing of crucial importance is that we do not know much about how much older people are experiencing domestic abuse. We know that about 140,000 older women and 74,000 older men experienced domestic abuse in the past year—therefore more than 200,000 older people. We know also that they face many barriers to reporting this abuse, so that figure is likely to be much higher. Of particular importance is the fact that data collection on the incidence of domestic abuse stops at 74. We would like that to be changed and fixed on the face of the Bill, so that data on domestic abuse is collected for all ages, not just under the age of 74.
Thank you. Ms Todd, will you explain what Respect does as an organisation, and then help us with the Drive project? I will then ask you about the lessons that can be learned from that programme in relation to the positive requirements in the domestic abuse protection orders.
Jo Todd: Respect is a membership organisation. We focus on perpetrators of domestic abuse, male victims and young people, particularly those that use violence, abuse and controlling behaviour in their family home and in their intimate relationships.
The Drive partnership started off as a project between three organisations: SafeLives, Social Finance and Respect. It was to develop a service delivery model for perpetrators causing high levels of harm. That partnership came together about five years ago, and we have worked on developing that service delivery model. It is now just about to publish the third year evaluation report: the University of Bristol has been our evaluator all the way through. That has shown really positive findings. They are not quite out yet, but they are all in the right direction.
Part way through that partnership, we began to have conversations about the strategic needs around perpetrators: not just looking at one part of the perpetrator cohort— the perpetrators causing the highest levels of harm—but actually looking at what is needed by the whole cohort, and what a good whole-system approach would look like. We have reached out to others in the sector and developed what we have called a call to action for a perpetrator strategy. I can go into that in more detail if you like, and can certainly submit it as written evidence. We have a draft of that, and more than 60 organisations have signed up to it.
It looks at the comprehensive strategic approach that we think is needed for perpetrators. The spotlight has been on victims for too long: keeping themselves safe, keeping their children safe, keeping each other safe. Perpetrators have been very invisible, or if they have been visible the approach to them has not always worked. We need an approach that stops domestic abuse happening. That can work in different ways. You can have behaviour change programmes. I have worked on behaviour change programmes with perpetrators. There are men out there who want to change, who recognise the harm they are causing, and are motivated to change. They may be the ones that Sarah Newton was mentioning, who have grown up around domestic abuse. It is all around them in their community, and they do it without even considering that there are other ways of having relationships.
We need to offer those people opportunities to change, but we also need to be clear that we hold them to account when those opportunities are there and are not being taken by them, and that we have robust measures in place through the criminal justice system and also through a multi-agency approach that will stop their abuse, and limit them from being able to be abusive and controlling in their relationships through a series of actions that different agencies can take. We call it disruption. It can be housing, or it can be a police-led response. Lots of children’s services are included. There are lots of different ways in which agencies can disrupt perpetrators and stop them causing harm.
Jo Todd: That is a really good point. When you work with perpetrators, it should always be alongside a programme of work that keeps victims safe too. That is the approach taken by the Drive project. The victim will always be offered support but also information about the perpetrator, about whether or not he is changing and about what the risk levels are, to help her make decisions for herself.
The Drive project is a case management-based system. There are case managers who will have perpetrators on their books, who are all levels. Some of them might be in and out of the criminal justice system; some of them may be in prison and coming out. They work very closely with the probation and prison services, as well as the police. They are often resistant to change. They are not in the place I was just speaking about, where they have recognised their behaviour is a problem and they want to change. They often have multiple needs themselves. Sometimes that is trauma in their own lives; sometimes it is drug and alcohol problems and mental health problems. They are often, but not always—this is always often, but not always—unemployed or have housing problems or chaotic lifestyles that mean that engaging in any kind of intervention might be difficult.
The caseworker will take a view on whether it is appropriate to engage directly with that person, or whether to work behind the scenes in a co-ordinated multi-agency way to start tightening the net around them and to start making sure that every agency is aware of the problems they cause and the risk of harm there is and can take appropriate action. Someone mentioned earlier the carrot and the stick. It is very much that. It is, “We will work with you if you work with us, but if you won’t, we will use everything we can to stop you being able to be abusive.”
Jo Todd: It is true of any intervention around domestic abuse that it has the possibility to solve the problem and be safe and effective as an intervention, or to make things worse. Whenever we are looking at developing new things, and DAPOs and the positive order requirements are one of those, we need to really think about how this might raise the risk, as well as how it might reduce it. There are concerns—about not putting enough resource in and not being specific enough about what the positive order requirements are—that mean it could go in the wrong direction. We are hoping to work with you and possibly put amendments in to make sure that that does not happen.
With certain things, such as the specified responsible person who recommends to the courts what should be included in the DAPO and then is responsible for monitoring that requirement, there is not at the moment the same level of specification about whose that role should be. The Government may already have plans and thoughts around who would fill that role: whether it be probation or police, I am not sure. However, at the moment, that is not clear. It is really important that that role is of high quality, is an expert, is able to assess suitability and risk for various different interventions, and is then able to manage that risk. That is an important part of it.
Quality assurance is key, and you know that Respect has a set of standards for perpetrator work. When new interventions come up, we have to flex those standards and think about what is appropriate for the new types of work. It is really important that there is quality assurance around the DAPOs and the role. That means really thinking hard about what those positive requirements might be. Is it a range of requirements? What I would like to see, and what we have advised the Home Office on already, is not just having a one-size-fits-all short intervention, which I think is the risk, but having at your disposal the kind of things we have talked about already that Drive has got. You could just say, “You can go on this behaviour change programme for six weeks,” or something like that, but if someone is not suitable for a behaviour change programme because they are resistant to change and their lifestyle is chaotic, there is no point putting them on one. They will sabotage the whole process for everyone who wants to be on it. In that case, the disrupt and the case management element of Drive would be suitable.
I would like the DAPO to have the flexibility to be able to say, “You are suitable for this and this, but not this, this and this.” Obviously, it all takes resource to be able to do those assessments. I am plugging the call to action and strategy on perpetrators, but if the Government were able to comprehensively write a strategy on perpetrators, it would cover all those things, ensure a range of activities and have to be in every geographical area, and that is a real challenge; that is really resource-intensive, but I think you would see results.
We know the costs of domestic abuse are astronomical—I am sure everyone in this room knows the £66 billion a year figure that the Home Office published earlier in the year. I do not think the public realise that £66 million is frittered away on the social and economic impacts of domestic abuse. If we were to use some of that money in a proactive and strategic way to address the cause of the problem—the perpetrator—we would start to get somewhere.
Jo Todd: Some of it—some of the things I have mentioned—goes alongside the legislation. Domestic abuse legislation is focused on responding to abuse that has already happened, which of course is really important, but we need to prevent it from happening or stop it happening again if it has already started. That is hard to put into legislation. Some things have been suggested, such as polygraph testing—that is in the Bill at the moment.
I think you could spend your money a lot more wisely than on polygraph testing, and really think about GPS tracking. It has been piloted around the world, but in Spain in particular, and has been very successful. In case you do not know, because technology has moved on so much and we are all running to keep up with it, the tags that people on probation can have when they are released into the community can restrict them from going into wide geographical areas. You can put protections around victims, such as a 10-mile radius, or saying that he is not allowed in a certain town or cannot go where the school, the hospital or her mum’s house is, and all the travel in between those places. You can programme those tags. I would like money to be put into those kinds of things. If probation took forward technological advances, that would be really interesting to pilot, rather than polygraph testing. I didn’t know if anyone would ask me about that, so I thought I would get it in.
I keep coming back to quality assurance, but if I was putting anything into the Bill, it would be around the standards for work with perpetrators and the commissioning guidance around that. At the moment, commissioners are sometimes flailing. They want to do the right thing, but they have limited budgets. It is great when commissioners take notice of our standards—quite a lot do—but they are not compelled to, so some do not. Standards that are looking at safe and effective practice need more money than quick, cheap options.
I would look at putting an amendment in the Bill on quality assurance in perpetrator work. I have had a conversation today with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner on how that might fit with her role and with her oversight. There is still a bit of thinking to do about that, so I would be happy to take that forward with the Home Office, although we have all been watching the news today and are not sure where we will be in a few weeks’ time, but the positive thing is that everyone—in this room, it is a cross-party group—wants to take this Bill forward. Whoever ends up in government, and whatever form of Government we end up with, I am hoping will take forward the Bill. Again, that is something that the sector would appreciate some reassurance on. We will all be knocking on the doors of the people writing the manifestos really soon, to get some of the things that we want from the Bill into manifestos. You will be expecting us, I am sure. Does that answer your question?
Emily McCarron: I am not a statistician, so I cannot advise on the exact statistical methods, but there are opportunities with IDVAs, as you imply. We are also trying to raise the opportunity within the healthcare setting to better detect where domestic abuse of older people is occurring. Admission and discharge are critical points, when the experience of domestic abuse of older people can be picked up by healthcare professionals, so that is an opportunity potentially for data to be collected on, or certainly for more understanding of, the incidence of domestic abuse. That is why—for that point—we are calling for healthcare professionals to receive specific and ongoing training so that they can identify when domestic abuse is occurring, and so that they can better support older people.
The same goes for IDVAs. We know that only 5% of the people who seek support from IDVAs are over the age of 60, which is extremely low, so there is an opportunity here also to boost that role, particularly in the healthcare setting, where older people are likely to turn up with domestic abuse issues. Many older people are perhaps reliant financially or physically on perpetrators for financial or care support, and go to GP appointments with the perpetrator perhaps, but when they go to hospital, perhaps alone for the first time, there is an opportunity to intervene, to see what is going on and to see what support can be provided.
Emily McCarron: I cannot comment on the specific situation in Wales. We have identified a gap overall in the NHS, which could be providing much more training—or there is an opportunity for those healthcare professionals to intervene and to provide support, as well as to identify.
Emily, you gave us very good written evidence on a different type of domestic abuse for older people from what we have been talking about. We have very much been talking about intimate partners, and this is really about adult family members abusing the older members of their family, or people with disabilities in their family. Perhaps you could talk to us a bit about what you know about that and the prevalence of it. What more do we need to do to reflect on it? For the first time, that type of domestic abuse is being captured in legislation.
Emily McCarron: We know that domestic abuse is a gendered crime. However, at Age UK we receive about two calls a day from older people, their families and their support about this issue. Older men and women, as they age, are more likely to experience domestic abuse at the hands of family members—not just intimate partners. Older people are almost equally as likely to be killed by a partner or spouse as by their adult children or grandchildren. We are very pleased to see the definition of domestic abuse expanded, particularly with regard to the inclusion of statutory inquiries into suspected financial abuse, which is very relevant to older people.
We would like that definition to be expanded further so that it recognises the whole array of family relationships and the complexities and vulnerabilities that arise in those relationships as a person ages and their care needs develop and change. We are calling for the definition to be expanded to include abuse that is perpetrated not just by family members and intimate partners, but carers, because they provide care in a domestic setting to a person whose vulnerability has increased as they have aged. That is why we are calling for the definition to be expanded. We must recognise that older people experience domestic abuse not just at the hands of intimate partners; it is a new array of family members, neighbours, friends and carers.
Emily McCarron: You are right to say that older people often suffer in silence because they face a range of barriers to reporting the abuse. In many instances, it might be that they have suffered from the abuse for a very long time and are simply resigned to it or feel that no one is really listening to them. They might be very frightened. It is also the case that some older people have cognitive and physical decline, which makes it much harder to report. We know that there are very few services available to older people. We have reports from older people that they think that domestic abuse services are not for them; they think they are for younger women and do not want to take up the places of younger women and children, so are reluctant to report the abuse. It is also due to fear and a reliance on people financially. In many instances, they might not want to leave the perpetrator, so it is about what the correct response to that person’s needs is. That is why we are calling for a better response from healthcare professionals.
As it stands, the Bill is very focused on the criminal justice response, and that may not always be the only response that is right for older people. We are calling for better co-ordination and links between the criminal justice system, the healthcare system and local authorities, for a more co-ordinated response that is also linked up to social care, which obviously plays a part.
We are also calling for greater links with local authorities. At the moment, the possibility of domestic abuse is not always fully considered in assessments under the Care Act 2014, so we are calling for a better understanding of it. Certainly some successful training programmes have been delivered specifically to train people up on the needs of older people, because it is not always the criminal justice response that is needed.
Emily McCarron: We have. We see that there is a role for the Care Quality Commission to play in ensuring sufficient safeguards for professionals who provide paid professional care. We are going on the evidence we see at Age UK, on what the calls to our information and advice service tell us, and on case studies. We are seeing that, in addition to intimate partner abuse, older people raise concerns about the abuse they experience at the hands of unpaid carers. I can see that there would be some concerns about how far that goes, but we are just going on the evidence.
We see that older people are experiencing abuse at the hands of their carers. As I have said, that is related to their vulnerabilities, and often that person is the only person who they see—they are not in contact with many other people. We are seeing evidence of the same coercive control and of older people adapting their behaviour to deal with the abuse that they experience—for example, sticking to their rooms and avoiding all conflict. That is exactly the same pattern of abuse and coercive control that we see in other examples of domestic abuse. That is really what is driving our desire for this amendment to expand the definition of abuse.
Emily McCarron: I do not think that it is ever neat—I do not necessarily think that anything fits neatly into this area. There are other opportunities beyond the Bill. There are opportunities to look at the guidance for the Care Act and how we address that. There are also discussions around the definition of coercive control and whether that is always in the domestic setting. The Bill provides an opportunity to improve the lives of older people who are experiencing domestic abuse. That is why we are focusing on this as a vehicle to make some change and have some relevance to the lives of older people who are experiencing abuse.
Emily McCarron: The first step is the need to correctly identify that this is happening. A budget of £100,000 was allocated to support older people experiencing domestic abuse. While we are certainly not arguing for resources to be diverted away from younger people, that indicated to us that this is not recognised as an issue. In part, as I have explained, that is a data issue: we just do not quite know how many older people experience domestic abuse. We have quite a stark figure that one in four victims of domestic homicides are over the age of 60. We believe that is a consequence of the fact that older people are not accessing the services they need.
Really, this is about recognising that this is an issue for older people, that it is quite a hidden issue, that more needs to be done and that their particular needs must be recognised in terms of the response. The response should not just be a criminal justice response; it should also be about healthcare, social care, housing and the provision of services. On asking the commissioner, this is about recognising the issue and allocating resources—or the Government response—in accordance with the number of older people who experience it. It is quite a stark issue, but it is still very hidden.
Jo Todd: I would like to mention something about culture change. It is really easy to focus on individuals. The Bill is a real opportunity for the Government and society to reflect on what it is to have a healthy relationship. That is about equality. A lot of the reason we talk about gender all the time is that domestic abuse is a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality. There is a broader landscape around this issue. I think addressing that, alongside the measures we are looking at in terms of individuals, would help a lot. If we are talking about individual relationships, shared decision making, and having equality in the relationship, an unhealthy and abusive relationship is where there is an expectation of one partner having control and power in the relationship, and that their entitlement to make decisions for the family and for the other people in the relationship overrides everything else. We increasingly recognise that it is the control at the heart of an abusive relationship that is the problem, and the violence or abuse—economic abuse or whatever it is—is just a part of the mechanism for maintaining control.
So there is a bigger piece of work—it was mentioned earlier—about Government campaigns. There really is a mixed method approach to trying to shift the society we live in and the views that we all have, whether it is the older or younger generation. We are all from different generations in this room, and there is no generation that has got this right, so there needs to be a national dialogue about what healthy relationships are so that everyone knows what they are. And there needs to be campaigning targeted at perpetrators, or people who might end up as perpetrators, that gives very clear messages.
The Met police did a campaign probably 12 or 15 years ago that was directed at perpetrators. They put it on tube platforms and it had a really positive recognition rate among men. Media testing of how campaigns had worked found that it had a really positive impact, but we have not seen much since that is aimed at perpetrators. When you think about the Bill, I encourage you to think about a broader package of what the Government can achieve. We want services and the statutory response to victims, perpetrators and children to be as good as they can be, but we also need the wider conversation to happen.
Emily McCarron: I have been talking about older people and in particular a response to domestic abuse that moves beyond the criminal justice response. Although we have advocated for the needs of older people, looking at healthcare, housing, social care, the local authority response and the need for a multi-agency response and better co-ordination, this does not only benefit older people; it benefits all those who experience domestic abuse. There is a real opportunity for the Bill to meet those needs and bring real change.
I am grateful to the two witnesses for their contributions, which brings us to the end of the proceedings for oral evidence today.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Marcus Jones.)
Adjourned till Thursday 31 October at half-past Eleven o’clock.
Written evidence reported to the House
DAB01 Transform Justice
DAB02 Equi-law UK
DAB03 Amnesty International UK
DAB04 Step Up Migrant Women Coalition
DAB05 Prison Reform Trust
DAB06 The ManKind Initiative
DAB07 Dogs Trust
DAB08 Dr Tirion Havard, Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University
DAB09 Refugee Council