Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to improve how local services respond to women with multiple and complex needs including homelessness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and physical and mental health problems.
I start by thanking noble Lords for participating in this short debate, offering what I know will be their valuable insights and expertise. It is very timely that we have an opportunity to consider what more could and should be done to ensure that the well over 10,000 women in this country with multiple and complex needs receive the help that they need to start rebuilding their lives.
These are women whose lives have been blighted by more than one of the following: homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, mental health problems, physical health problems, rape, imprisonment and the consequences of prostitution. If your Lordships believe, as I do, that public services, be they in the public or voluntary sectors, have a moral duty to improve the well-being of the worst off, then the plight of these women demands our attention.
I want to set the scene by painting a picture based on a visit that I made a couple of months ago to a St Mungo’s women’s hostel in north London. The hostel had 29 beds for single homeless women with high and medium support needs. To give an idea of the challenges that these women currently face, let us consider the following snapshot of the hostel’s 28 clients at one point last year. Of those 28 women, 22 had a problem with crack cocaine or heroin, 10 used alcohol problematically, 25 had a mental health problem, 23 had some form sort of physical health condition, 15 had engaged in prostitution, 15 had experienced violence or abuse from a family member and 13 had been in prison.
St Mungo’s is a fantastic facility. It provides women with resources such as access to counsellors trained in helping people with multiple needs and complex care caseworkers, who, among other things, understand the intricacies of the benefit system. Crucially, it also provides emotional support to women regarding their relationship with their children.
However, far too few women have access to somewhere like St Mungo’s. It is clear from both recent and forthcoming research that we need to make a greater effort to consider certain gender-specific concerns about services for people with multiple needs. New research commissioned by the Lankelly Chase Foundation, which will be published shortly, finds that gender matters a great deal when it comes to the causes and effects of vulnerability, and that gender-specific analysis and solutions are needed.
To try to bring to life what I am talking about, more than one in every three homeless women who seek a bed in a hostel will have experienced some kind of domestic violence, as opposed to fewer than one in 10 men. Often, the lack of a safe home is the key reason why these women have no place to live, yet many areas lack any kind of all-women facilities such as hostels, mental and physical health clinics and drug treatment centres. Something is wrong when a woman turns to the state or, indeed, to local services for help only to be offered a situation in which she will feel just as unsafe as she did prior to seeking support.
Of course, I am not suggesting that all men who turn to hostels for an emergency bed are a threat to women’s safety—anything but. However, the testimony from the women at St Mungo’s suggests that some men in these settings do target women. Stories abound of women in drug treatment groups and hostels being targeted by unwanted sexual advances. These women are at their most vulnerable and need a place where they feel safe and secure. For many, given the traumatic experiences of their lives, that place will simply have to be an all-woman environment. If it is a mixed environment, they will at least need a safe place within it.
Indeed, that was a key recommendation in the St Mungo’s report, Rebuilding Shattered Lives, published in March this year. The report found that homeless women have a number of severe interrelated and exceptionally complex problems and that they tend to access support services later than men, when their problems have escalated significantly and they are less ready to begin their recovery. I am aware that this report has been considered by the ministerial working group on homelessness, and I should be grateful if, in her summing up, the Minister could update us on the Government’s response to the report. The report contained recommendations targeted at a wide range of government departments as well as at local service providers.
Of all the terrible things that have happened to these women, for many the worst thing by far is being separated from their children. Given the social stigma attached to having children removed, it is not surprising that many of these women suffer from deep feelings of shame and distress as a result of their loss. They need access to highly skilled social workers and counsellors who are experienced in helping women to deal with the emotional distress it causes, without having to keep telling their life story again and again at each step in the process of accessing services.
In addition to the increased need for a sense of safety and security, there is a pressing need for more gender-sensitive support and staff training. For example, eating disorders are common among women with multiple and complex needs. However, a recent article in Community Care tells the story of a woman who was repeatedly told that her problems with food were due entirely to alcohol abuse, despite the fact that she had been previously diagnosed with an eating disorder.
We also need to think seriously about how the criminal justice system treats these women. Many women with multiple and complex needs end up imprisoned for non-violent crimes such as shoplifting, prostitution or drug-related charges. Women who are imprisoned are likely to be separated from their children and to have further traumatic experiences while in prison. I know that there was a separate debate this afternoon on ending custodial sentences for non-violent criminal offenders. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend because I was speaking in the debate on the voluntary sector; indeed, there seems to have been rather a pile-up of debates on similar issues today. However, I look forward to reading the transcript of that debate, knowing that other noble Lords will have had much relevant expertise to bring.
It should be clear by now that improving the lives of women with multiple needs is part of a wider need to join up more effectively homelessness, mental health, drug treatment, domestic violence, criminal justice and other services, and I am sure that we will hear today about how the troubled families initiative is attempting to do this. It is also an area in which the charitable sector has been making significant progress. As I declared in the register of interests, in the past year I have had the privilege of serving as chair of Making Every Adult Matter, a coalition of the following charities: Clinks, which focuses on working with offenders and their families; DrugScope, which supports drug and alcohol recovery professionals; Homeless Link, a membership body of charities working to end homelessness; and Mind, a leading mental health charity.
One aspect of the coalition’s work is to form a local networks team in localities where those four charities operate. The local networks team then partners with a local authority or other local organisations to develop a plan for how best to co-ordinate the delivery of public services for adults with multiple and complex needs. A good example of this is in Oxford, where the local networks team, in partnership with the city council, met a wide range of local stakeholders to receive feedback on how homelessness services, mental health services and those working with young people could work better together. The next step was to engage the police and public health authorities to continue building this co-ordinated, interdisciplinary network. With such laudable efforts at local level to join up local services, the question must be asked what more central government could and should be doing to improve the lives of the people we are talking about today.
In March, the Fabian Society, in collaboration with CentreForum and the Centre for Social Justice, produced a report entitled Within Reach: The New Politics of Multiple Needs and Exclusions. It highlighted that helping people with multiple needs would require both more collaborative working across government departments and more devolution of power to local level. It really is both/and, not either/or. Recommendations include putting the right financial arrangements in place locally, such as: pooled budgets; allowing local areas to keep savings made through co-ordinated action; and raising new sources of funding, such as social investment. Finally, the report makes a compelling case that national government needs to play a strong role, working collaboratively across departments and between central and local government, including things such as cross-departmental projects, data sharing and pooling of budgets.
In her summing up, will the Minister say what role the Social Justice Cabinet Committee is playing to ensure a more joined-up approach across government in meeting the needs of people with multiple needs, when it last discussed the subject and, indeed, when it last met? If it is not the role of the Social Justice Cabinet Committee to co-ordinate this approach across government, then whose role is it?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on initiating this debate. However, as she said, it is one of several debates taking place today and some of us have had to choose the one in which we wish to speak.
This is a very important issue. I declare my interest as chairman of Changing Lives, which is a national organisation, although it is based in the north-east. It started as an organisation for the homeless, working almost exclusively, but not quite, with men. Now it is a very different organisation working with clients with complex needs, the majority of whom are women. That has presented the organisation with lots of challenges but has also energised it and, importantly, has brought about new thinking and new ways of working.
I, too, have read the document produced by the Lankelly Chase Foundation which will be important in guiding those organisations looking to work with women with complex needs across the board. I was also involved in some of the early meetings at St Mungo’s which led to its Rebuilding Shattered Lives report, which is a significant piece of work.
When I was Social Exclusion Minister, my department studied what causes people to end up with such enormous problems with which the state hardly comes to grips. We did a scoping study in a north London borough, looking at the people who turned up in police cells, at mental health projects, A&E and housing departments, and found—surprise, surprise—that the same people turned up at the different agencies on different days. They did not turn up at agencies where they had recently upset someone; they went somewhere else. They were looking for assistance but no one was getting hold of the underlying issue. That is one of the things that I want the Minister to think about. These women were frequently labelled as being addicts, having mental health problems, being homeless or whatever, but we need to ascertain who will work with them in a locality to understand what their problems are and to find practical ways to deal with them.
I helped set up one of the very first women’s refuges in Sunderland 40-odd years ago. However, even I underestimated the impact of domestic violence on some women’s lives. It has affected many more women’s lives than we ever imagined. I have read the Troubled Families Programme case studies and they are deeply shocking. Every single case study talks about the prevalence and acceptance of violence. That violence is also seen and experienced by the children in these families. One never actually changes the experience of those families, to which the children are exposed as they grow up.
One of the best things I ever did as a Minister was bring to this country what was called in America the Nurse Family Partnership. We rebranded it the Family Nurse Partnership. The results were staggering. The personnel involved in the partnership work with young women when they first become pregnant on the issues that they will face as new young mothers, and tackle their addictions and alcohol problems. I urge the Minister to go out with some of the nurses. In the second session, they look at the image of the brain and go through what happens. Surprise, surprise, the young women realise that if they change their behaviour with support, the outcomes for them and their children are going to be better. When the child is 15, the outcomes for the mother and the child are phenomenal. I encourage people to look at that. I congratulate the Government on having expanded what the previous Government did on this.
As we do more work with women, we are becoming more convinced that these early intervention programmes are very important and that we need to look at them much more carefully. We have a lot of addiction services and try to work with women in women’s centres in a holistic way, but we have one project that I want to tell the Minister and noble Lords about. It is a residential project for women with their children. They are there for about six months and follow very intensive parenting programmes. They are women who have lost one or more children into care or are danger of doing so if they do not sort out their problems and their addiction. Last week, we had a shocking report about the number of women who continually show up in court, with their child going to be taken into care because of their addiction, behaviour problems and multiple complex needs.
We are demonstrating that you can change behaviour and opportunities. At one level, it is ridiculous because the NHS said it wanted this programme and paid for it. It is now jointly done between the NHS and the local authorities. It started by the NHS not being able to refer people because we work on the abstinence model only, and the NHS kept upping the methadone, which made it impossible for the women to undergo the programme. We think we have now sorted that, and the local authority, without bidding, now talks to visitors looking at the programme and the work that is being done about how much money it is saving and how much better the outcomes are. There are programmes out there. I urge the Government to look at them with more care and to work together—rather than have the rows that I know sometimes go on across government—to begin to change opportunities for these women.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on obtaining this debate. Having taken part in the earlier debate, I am very glad that this debate leads on from it. I am also very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, because what she has just said coincides with the themes of what I was going to say about joined-up government and cross-party work.
Noble Lords will not be surprised that I come at this initially from a criminal justice system point of view, because as Chief Inspector of Prisons, on the first night of my first inspection of Holloway, I was very taken to find a remarkable organisation then called the Bourne Trust, now called the Prison Advice and Care Trust, running a first-night centre in Holloway. Volunteers were asking the women what problems they had. They were, of course, staggering, and they were otherwise unknown to the prison authorities. Women coming into prison brought all sorts of problems which had nothing to do with the daily routine in the prison but which dominated their thinking, such as their children, their accommodation and so on. If there is one Act of the 1992 Conservative Government I would wish to be repealed it was one that was passed just before that Government left office when the then Secretary of State for Social Services, I think, passed a rule that anyone leaving their council property for 13 weeks or more lost it. That period I thought was far too short, not least because of the time people spend in prison. How on earth is a woman coming out of prison with £46 going to restart her life, having lost the property and everything in it, and the children gone? The time allowed used to be a year. I cannot think why it was taken to 13 weeks, when all the advice was not to do so. It was done. Look at the damage that it has caused.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons has drawn attention to the vast number of women with complex problems, in particular mental health problems. More than 70% have least two personality disorders of some kind. That does not mean to say that they are mad, but that there is something impacting on their behaviour, which can be identified. If it can be identified, something can be done. Then there are the 50%-plus who have been victims of domestic violence, and 47% who have attempted suicide. More than 60% have children under 16. There is substance misuse. There are the numbers who have been in care, and so on. Add it all up and it is a pretty complex problem. What on earth can the Prison Service do during the very short time that it has them there, other than identify some of these problems? It can do very little. That is why I am so glad that the noble Baroness included the phrase “local services” in her title. That is why I agree so much about the need for a joint approach. It does not matter where these problems are identified. Their solution is going to happen in the community. It is essential that anyone who discovers any information that can help that treatment is made to pass it on to those who can do something about it.
I am chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, and we recently conducted an examination of the links between social disadvantage and speech, language and communication needs. It was a very revealing report and it entirely endorsed the proposal that every child should have their communication abilities assessed by the age of two, to enable them to engage with education. I hope that that is going to come to something. We found outstanding examples of where the problems of mothers and children were being looked at by people outside the normal structure. For example, in Stoke, the lollipop men and dinner ladies were being trained to identify children who might have problems, which could then be followed up. That was intelligent, because they come into contact with people in a different situation.
I was very interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, said about eating disorders. I am also vice-president of the Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour, which concentrates on nutrition. We have carried out work both in a secondary school in Dagenham and in young offender institutions, proving that the right mix of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids can improve behaviour and so can improve comprehension. Of particular value, because of the influence that it has on the growing brain, is starting the right nutrition during pregnancy. Here again, one feels that the complex needs are being exacerbated by a lack of complex education for the women. They need to know what is best, particularly in order for their children to avoid their growing up with the same complex needs.
In an earlier debate this afternoon, I appealed yet again for something I have been appealing for since 1995—a women’s justice board with somebody responsible and accountable for looking after the needs of women in the criminal justice system, whether in custody or in the community. I particularly say that now, in view of the new transforming rehabilitation rules whereby people on short sentences are going to be put under supervision in the community.
The number of women on short sentences is proportionately vastly more than the number of men. The attempt by the previous Government to do something about this— the “custody plus” scheme—failed because of the concern that magistrates in particular would take advantage of the fact that people on short sentences would be supervised, and therefore award them short-term custodial sentences in order to get the supervision. There is a danger that that might happen now.
I am worried about the content of the supervision because, bearing in mind how many women have these vulnerable and complex needs, it is essential that whatever supervision they are given is directed at challenging those needs and educating the women to live better lives as a result. It could, therefore, be termed a positive, provided that it is properly orchestrated—and it will be orchestrated only if someone is responsible and accountable for the orchestration. That does not mean a Minister who is overseeing it: it means an official who is responsible for seeing that it happens everywhere, that people are trained to do it and that it is followed up. Bearing in mind the fact that this kind of work will be covered not by the old Probation Service but by people on contract to the new community rehabilitation companies, it is even more important that someone should be put in charge.
Everyone has got to pull together—those in the criminal justice system and those outside—in order to make certain that these women are helped to overcome some of the problems that are exacerbated by their wide-ranging and complex needs.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for keeping this vitally important area high on the agenda. I confess that I was slightly reticent in putting my name down to speak today because it is not an area in which I am an expert. However, I find myself regularly bumping into people who are involved in it and come across it as a matter of real concern for us. Certainly we are discussing a complex subject which affects women in many different ways and impacts on a wide range of agencies—police, health professionals, probation services and statutory and voluntary groups which are working in homelessness, substance use and abuse, human trafficking and so on.
It is interesting that a theme is emerging about the importance of multi-agency working and joined-up thinking, which seems to have caused so many problems in trying to move this area forward. In talking about the topicality of this subject, I noticed a few days ago reports from West Yorkshire Police that it received twice as many calls reporting abuse after England’s first match against Italy in the World Cup, much of which was domestic violence. This is not just a general problem: we see it at key flashpoints. Certainly it becomes more difficult around Christmas and on the very occasions when people want to have a more relaxing time. Indeed, it seems to be those flashpoints that are so difficult.
My personal interest in this area arises from some of the churches in my diocese which are involved in supporting women with multiple and complex needs, not least through raising money, donating clothing and food and in many cases acting as volunteers. The Mothers’ Union also does significant work in this area. Within the diocese of St Albans we have members who are actively involved in contact centres, in the prisons in Bovingdon and Bedford, the Women’s Refuge, the mother and baby home in Bedford and Manor Farm Family Centre in Sandy. Some years ago, my cathedral was one of the main funders in the early years when the St Albans and Hertsmere Women’s Refuge was being set up. I pay tribute to the work of such organisations.
I do not want to use the short time available to describe the problems—they are all too evident and well documented—so I will home in on four areas. First, let me say something about the funding of this vitally important work. It is difficult to get hold of hard evidence but it is fairly clear that funding is declining. Like everyone in your Lordships’ House, I am well aware of the financial constraints facing us in many areas, not least the problems that local councils face. However, it is vital that councils and the NHS maintain a basic level of support, not least because a lot of money going into this area is matched by funding from companies, charities and churches. We cannot solve the problem with just the voluntary sector being expected to pick up these extraordinarily complex problems.
Secondly one of the main problems for women with multiple and complex needs is affordable housing. I know this is stating the obvious but if we do not address it we are not going to get very far. When women are identified as having this need we must find a way to ensure that it is addressed with some kind of housing support, especially in places such as London where rents are prohibitively high and in situations such as those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, where people are coming out of custody or prison. I do not intend to trespass on the deeply conflicted area of how we find that support, whether it is through rent caps or finding additional funding. However, unless the accommodation issue is sorted out, we are actually immediately moving people coming out of hostels or whatever back into a situation which is much worse than before.
Thirdly, I am aware that there is a pretty vigorous debate on the Troubled Families programme, which the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, mentioned. I have been watching this subject and have asked one or two questions on it in the House. From talking to noble Lords and other people involved, I have picked up the fact that one of the most effective aspects has been the appointment of key workers. Their job is to ensure one point of contact, so that people do not fall between the various agencies, that there is data sharing and that there is a champion who will be a friend. The key is trust: in my own—limited—experience and that of everybody who talks about this, building up a strong, one-to-one relationship is absolutely crucial if we are to move forward.
It is interesting that the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, described graphically the way people turn up in place after place for all sorts of reasons. They may be told some blunt truths, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes they are simply passed from pillar to post. The key worker needs to co-ordinate data sharing and so on. We need something similar with those working with women who have multiple and complex needs. We also need to co-ordinate the financial resources as well as the personnel. For example, I was glad that in April last year the National Offender Management Service provided an extra £3.78 million to probation trusts for the rehabilitation of women. It is crucial that this is joined up to make a difference.
In my previous post I had a number of roles but, particularly, I chaired the strategic partnership in Shropshire. I know that, in some cases, partnership working is now being derided but the great advantage was that we got everybody round the table. As chairman, I had to knock heads together but there were occasions when we got various agencies to start putting funding together and thinking, “Rather than holding on to our bailiwicks and saying we are king of our castle, can we put this together and try to find a way forward that will make a real and significant difference to these people?”. This multi-agency work, with key workers or someone similar who could provide skilled help—by gum, we need seriously skilled help—and know their way round the different agencies and can gain the trust of the victims who are suffering is the way to get this level of co-operation.
Finally, I notice, in passing, that there is very wide variation in the number of successful prosecutions for domestic violence in different parts of the country. The statistics are really rather stark. For example—I have, of course, picked some of the most extreme to make the point—in 2013 just 4.2% of reported incidents of domestic violence in the Thames Valley resulted in prosecutions, but in Cheshire it was 21.7%. Would the Minister agree to write to chief constables and the Crown Prosecution Service to highlight these discrepancies and see whether there is either some way to ask people from those areas where it seems less effective to go and learn from those where it is clearly more effective, or in some other way to learn how to achieve more effective rates of prosecution? That may prevent some of this in the first place.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on initiating this debate and thank all the speakers who have spoken. It strikes me that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is multitasking this afternoon with the number of debates in which he is participating. At my count, there are also five Bishops taking part in debates this afternoon. It is absolutely wonderful when they bring to us the value of their experience. I also thank my noble friend Lady Armstrong, who brings huge wisdom and experience to this field.
This debate has shown that, without doubt, we have a very serious problem to address. As several noble Lords have said, women who are homeless tend to have multiple and severe support needs, including high levels of poor mental health, loss of and separation from their children, and drug use. Women who are homeless also progress more slowly than men towards recovery when the services are not tailored to meet their needs. We know also that the price being paid for these shattered lives, as the St Mungo’s report calls it, is huge. It is a huge price for these women, their children, their wider families, their communities and indeed the state because of the resources needed to put their lives back together and support them back into health, work, homes and relationships. Sometimes the price they pay is their own lives.
The right reverend Prelate mentioned domestic violence. We know that domestic violence has a part to play in this complex and sad web. We also know that it is not only an urban problem. It is important to say that. I have the statistics for homeless women in London and, like the right reverend Prelate, those for domestic violence across the country. However, I wonder how many more women will end up homeless or dead because of the cuts to our domestic violence services.
For example, the Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service has seen a 35% rise in the number of calls and referrals from women and girls suffering from domestic violence in Gloucester over the past 10 months. I also remind noble Lords that three women have been murdered in that county. One of these women was Hollie Gazzard who in February, at 20 years old, was stabbed to death at her workplace in Gloucester city centre by her ex-boyfriend. Another was a 16 year-old, Kayleigh-Anne Palmer, who was strangled and died a few days later. She was pregnant. I pay tribute to the family of Hollie Gazzard who, in the wake of that, have established the Hollie Gazzard Trust, which will help to support and finance a programme to be taken into schools to help educate teenagers on how to identify abuse and subsequently deal with it. Prevention seems to be one of the key things in this debate.
Women make up 30% of the clients of single homeless accommodation projects in 2014. There were 786 women recorded as sleeping rough in London in 2012-13, which is 12% of the total. Around a quarter of the clients of St Mungo’s Broadway are female. I congratulate St Mungo’s on its excellent report Rebuilding Shattered Lives from which I, like other noble Lords, have drawn much of my information. I am aware that this problem and that of supporting families and women would be much worse without the work of voluntary organisations and charities such as St Mungo’s. Indeed, today I was visiting the Ismaili Centre in Kensington and learnt that, next weekend, that faith community in London is collecting and providing thousands of food baskets for distribution among many organisations, including St Mungo’s. As the right reverend Prelate said, local organisations and their work are absolutely vital.
It seems clear that the true number of women who are homeless is probably higher than the statistics show. Women take care to hide themselves when sleeping rough and many more will be the hidden homeless, those living outside mainstream homelessness accommodation, sofa surfing, trapped in abusive relationships, living in crack houses or engaging in prostitution.
The problems that women face in becoming homeless, as the noble Baroness has said, are multiple and complex. Addressing these problems requires concentrated and co-ordinated action across government departments and at a local level. For example, the reports of my noble friends Lady Corston and Lord Bradley have demonstrated how taking an overarching view of complex issues and identifying practical solutions across the relevant services is an effective driver for change. We strongly believe that understanding how to support women to be independent and, importantly, to prevent them becoming homeless would not only be transformative for those individual women but also financially prudent. Indeed, changes to the welfare system have had a disproportionate effect on women who are most likely to be dependent on benefit income, including housing benefit.
The facts are before us and, like other noble Lords, I have some questions for the Minister. In 1997, the incoming Labour Government pledged to end the disgrace of youth homelessness on our streets. They largely did so through a co-ordinated, cross-government national and local effort. Does the Minister think that there are some lessons to be learnt and how that might be applied today?
I echo what the right reverend Prelate said about domestic violence. What are the Government doing to ensure that police forces in the country receive training about how to deal with domestic violence? What are the Government doing to ensure that schools educate young people about domestic violence?
On mental health, mental health services have received a 20% cut compared to other health services. What impact does the noble Baroness think that this will have on the women we are talking about in this debate?
I have a particular concern about women’s centres, which have often been pivotal and played a positive role in co-ordinating services to support homeless or vulnerable women. Funding for women’s centres is guaranteed by the Government for 2014-15, but then becomes part of the decision-making process of the private sector bidders who win probation contracts. I would like some assurance from the Minister that the important work of women’s centres will be protected within this bidding process.
Does the Minister agree with her noble friend that strong national leadership is needed to address women’s homelessness? For example, how is the Minister for Housing working with the Minister for Women to consider the needs of homeless women? How is that being focused across government?
Again echoing a point made by the right reverend Prelate, data are very important here. What data do the Government hold on women’s homelessness and have they been published? Indeed should the DCLG publish an annual report analysing existing data on women’s homelessness, drawing together data from the full range of sources available to them? How will the Government ensure homelessness provision includes gender sensitive issues?
The Troubled Families Programme has been mentioned. It is important because there are lessons to be learnt about early intervention. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, says, it seems likely that that provides us with a useful framework for addressing the multiple needs of vulnerable people. Does the Minister agree, and how will the Government take that forward? How will they apply those lessons?
How will the Government respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham? Given the vulnerability of women in prison and the risk of homelessness, it is important to increase the availability of court diversion schemes to women. Are the Government supporting the work of organisations such as the Prison Reform Trust to improve responses to women in the criminal justice system?
These questions have been raised throughout the debate and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, should be congratulated on holding her own Government’s feet to the fire on this issue. We join her in doing so. This is a long-term issue and therefore not only this Government will need to resolve it. My Government will also need to address it next year.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Although I cannot say it has been enjoyable—it has been very serious—it is obviously vital to ensure that the services we provide are effective and joined-up, as most contributors have said. Perhaps I may also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, because he appears to be taking part in every Question for Short Debate today. That is a marathon effort.
Many noble Lords have asked about the various programmes and funding streams that are available to tackle these issues and so I will go through some of the current initiatives. I turn first to the preventive services, for which the Government are providing £580 million over five years for homelessness prevention. I congratulate councils on this. Early intervention is very important because it stops minor problems from escalating into homelessness crises. In 2012-13, some 202,000 households were helped in this way.
Many contributors mentioned cross-government working and the Public Service Transformation Network, which is a very important aspect of joined-up thinking in the provision of these services. As a local council leader, I saw many an instance of vulnerable people going to different organisations to see where they could get help. When one failed them, they would move on to the next. On cross-government working, the Government have brought together relevant departments, such as health and education, in order that the Ministerial Working Group on Homelessness can help to identify and then begin to tackle the multiple and complex needs of homeless women.
As I am sure noble Lords will know, the Public Service Transformation Network brings together local and national public service providers. Some of the councils which are tackling the way in which they approach domestic violence include Essex, Hammersmith and Fulham and Surrey; they are exemplars of this kind of public service transformation.
There were contributions about helping women to not only get out of domestic violence or homelessness situations but to turn their lives around by giving them skills and basic training in how to support themselves. The STRIVE programme has been effective in this area. The treatment system works hard to respond to the needs of drug and alcohol-dependent women which, as noble Lords have said, can often be linked to both homelessness and domestic violence. It is alert to the changing patterns of use among women so that it can respond and promote recovery and reintegration.
A big issue that I know noble Lords are concerned about is the fact that domestic violence and homelessness are often linked to each other. Services are configured to meet people’s individual needs, and that is how we try to prevent repeat homelessness. Not surprisingly, the majority of those being helped are women.
Turning to domestic violence, the Government have ring-fenced £40 million of stable funding for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services until 2015. I will get back to the noble Baroness who asked about funding and commitments beyond 2015. I will not go through every one of the various services because to do so would use up my entire 10 minutes and noble Lords would rightly feel short changed. However, I will address some of the issues that were raised in the debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, specifically requested a Government response to the Rebuilding Shattered Lives report. It is a lengthy report but, basically, on recommendation 1 the Government absolutely agree that homelessness services need to be more than just about providing accommodation. All the issues that noble Lords have talked about have been acknowledged in terms of joining up services and support and a capital fund is available to improve some of the hostels. There were various contributions about joining up the Minister for Housing with the Minister for Women and Equalities. That has certainly been the case. The Minister for Housing invited the Minister for Women and Equalities to be part of the group considering the report.
A point was raised about a choice between women-only and mixed services for vulnerable women. Local authorities are very sensitive to that. Good local housing authorities should definitely provide the option for women to speak to women if that is what they feel comfortable doing. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, raised the issue of girls, the cycle of homelessness and the risk of underage pregnancy. To a huge extent, the Troubled Families programme—which deals with the problems of children not going to school, offending in the family and drug and alcohol abuse—provides a very good platform to help prevent these cycles of problems that often repeat themselves within families. That programme has turned 40,000 families round. That means that the children consistently attend school, there has been an attempt to get work and issues such as anti-social behaviour have either been dramatically reduced or eliminated altogether. That is about a third of the total. There is a huge task ahead of us and the Government are thinking about extending the Troubled Families programme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, referred to the issue of people repeatedly turning up at different agencies to deal with exactly the same problem and cycle of problems, which I have already addressed. She also asked about the Family Nurse Partnership programme. The Government have announced that they will expand this successful programme to 16,000 places by 2015. The evidence shows that the Family Nurse Partnership can make a real difference to young lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about prisons and supporting women in prison. The noble Lord is an expert in this area and I commend the work he does and has done. The transforming rehabilitation reforms mean that all female offenders—many of whom receive short custodial sentences, as the noble Lord said—are supported through the gate and into the community to help reduce their reoffending. We have set up a case supervision system for women with the most complex needs in the custodial estate with the aim of ensuring that they benefit from the most appropriate interventions and regimes available for their particular needs. We have just completed a three-month pilot of a domestic violence helpline at HMP and YOI Holloway. Women had access to the National Domestic Violence Helpline run by Women’s Aid and Refuge, which gave support, help and guidance to those experiencing domestic violence. Following an evaluation, consideration will be given to rolling out the service across the women’s estate.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of mental health, as did other noble Lords. The Government have committed £25 million to introduce a new standard specification of liaison and diversion services in England to identify and assess the health issues and vulnerabilities of all offenders when they first enter the criminal justice system, as opposed to spotting them as they go along.
I will write to the noble Lord on the Women’s Justice Board, if I may.
The noble Lord also referred to a subject that is very close to my heart—nutrition—and I declare an interest as a qualified nutritionist. It is an important issue that rarely gets an airing but nutrition and well-being are closely linked. I thought I would get that one in.
The right reverend Prelate, whom I hope I have called by his correct title today, alluded to several very important areas. One was domestic violence during the World Cup. Yes, as soon as a World Cup is on, domestic violence has the propensity to increase quite exponentially. We are running a campaign during the World Cup to remind perpetrators of the devastating effects of domestic abuse. Noble Lords may have seen some of those posters around and about. We are also supporting the Women’s Aid’s Football United Against Domestic Abuse campaign, which is working with grass-roots football clubs to highlight abuse and the services available to support victims.
The right reverend Prelate also asked whether the cuts mean that voluntary and community groups are taking up the slack. That is not borne out in reality. Certainly in my experience, we worked for many years with local voluntary and community services to tackle many issues faced by the community, all with service level agreements and funding in place. Certainly, the Government fund and work with St Mungo’s Broadway in order to provide the support that it gives to some 25,000 people a year. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned key workers. It is absolutely crucial that there is an identifiable point of contact. Perhaps I could get back to him in more detail on what we are doing. He also challenged me to write to the chief constables of Cheshire and another local area. I am not far from Cheshire and I shall follow that up.
I have gone over my time. If it is okay with noble Lords, perhaps I can follow up some of the final questions with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. I thank all noble Lords again for what has been a very interesting debate.