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House of Lords Hansard
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Sexual Assault Referral Centres
25 November 2010
Volume 722

Question

Asked By

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to maintain and increase the services provided by Sexual Assault Referral Centres.

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My Lords, the Home Office and the Department of Health have allocated £2.2 million to new and existing SARCs this year to help increase and improve the services they offer to victims of rape. We have announced today in a Home Office publication, Call to End Violence against Women and Girls, that further Home Office funding to support the development of SARCs will be made available over the next spending review period. Further details will be announced in due course.

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I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sorry that we are having this discussion when we have not yet seen the statement, which would have been very helpful. I am pleased that a further 13 SARCs will be established but perhaps I may probe a little further about the funding. The Minister indicated an allocation of £2.2 million but that is a legacy from the previous Government. What is the future funding going to be? Will it be direct government funding; will it be matched funding and, if so, what would be the consequence if locally it was not possible to match that funding; or will it be purely local funding? If either matched or local funding cannot be provided, are the Government prepared to allow SARCs either to close down or not be established?

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The noble Baroness is aware that SARCs are funded on a partnership basis between police forces and PCTs and that therefore the majority of funding already comes through local sources. The Stern report recommends that in future there should be partnerships between police forces, local health bodies and local government. Central funding, which will come out of the £28 million that my noble colleague has already announced over the next spending review period, is intended to assist, above all, in set up and development, and in encouraging areas of the country which do not yet have SARCs to have them. Beyond that, we see this as being very much a partnership between police forces and local health bodies.

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My Lords, the Minister will know that follow-up work for victims of rape and sexual assault is often carried out through the voluntary sector. Voluntary organisations find it very difficult indeed to maintain their funding as they are often not seen sympathetically by the general public despite their services to victims. What support do the Government intend for the incest and rape support lines that give so much help to victims?

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I should perhaps explain to noble Lords that SARCs—sexual assault referral centres—are part of the statutory sector and rape crisis centres are part of the voluntary sector, with additional funding from government bodies. We recognise that continuity of funding is a huge problem for voluntary bodies under all circumstances. Part of government efforts, both under the previous Government and this one—let us be clear that there are no partisan differences in the approach to this difficult area—involve raising public awareness and changing attitudes, both within the public services which deal with these issues and within the wider public. This will help to increase awareness and reporting and reduce the incidence of offences.

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My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, the National Health Service makes a major contribution to these centres. Does he share my regret that the Department of Health is closing down its monitoring unit? Will he assure me that GP consortia will be instructed by the Government to continue funding these centres when primary care trusts are closed down?

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My Lords, one of the underlying motifs of this Government is that central government does not always know best. Incidentally, I have been trying to discover over the past few days why it is that West Yorkshire does not yet have a SARC. The pattern of distribution over the country leaves some rather large holes in Yorkshire. There is much better provision elsewhere. Noble Lords will know, particularly if they have read this morning’s Guardian, that the oldest SARC—and in many ways the best SARC—operating is in Manchester. The centres are not evenly distributed around the country but certainly central government intends to give every encouragement possible for all local agencies, including local health bodies, to give every support to these centres, which provide a very valuable service.

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My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether SARCs have helped to improve the rate of prosecution and conviction for rape and sexual assault and whether they have encouraged further reporting of assaults? Underreporting is notable.

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My Lords, there have been some encouraging developments in this regard. I am told that the reporting of rapes has increased by some 16 per cent during the past year. We all know that the level of reporting is part of the problem. For cases which get to court, there is a 38 per cent conviction rate for rape and a 58 per cent conviction rate overall—people are often convicted for other offences but not for rape. There is movement in the right direction, but there is still much to be done.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that 44 per cent of children in custody report abuse, that 23 per cent of children in custody have been in local authority care and that one in three girls in custody reports sexual abuse? Will he discuss with his colleagues whether more of these girls in custody might go down the welfare route rather than the criminal justice route?

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I am very happy to consult further on that.

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My Lords, how will the Government ensure the continuation of funding for existing centres given the very large reductions in both police and local authority budgets within the area where many of the services are supported?

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The noble Baroness is aware that we are in difficult circumstances. We are giving every encouragement for all these local services to be continued. They are not cheap. The three SARCs operated within London cost £4 million between them. The excellent centre in Manchester costs £1 million. Most of them are partnerships between the police and local PCTs and are paid roughly 50 per cent by each.