Skip to main content

Women: Domestic and Sexual Violence Services

Volume 779: debated on Monday 13 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the need for women’s domestic violence and sexual violence services in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government’s violence against women and girls strategy sets out our assessment of the need for women’s domestic and sexual violence services. It pledges increased funding of £80 million over this spending review period to support refuges, rape support centres and FGM and forced marriage units, helping local areas to ensure that no woman is turned away from the support that she needs.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. She will know that on a typical day 155 women and 103 children are turned away from refuges because of a lack of suitable space. How will the Government guarantee the special status and address the desperate need for refuges and for sustainable funding in the light of the proposed new funding model for supported housing?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a valid point about the demand for services. That is why the Government have taken a whole-picture look at the services for domestic violence—in other words, freeing up spaces within refuges by moving on accommodation, preventive services and of course some of the services within the woman’s own home, such as the domestic violence prevention orders, to try to keep the perpetrators of violence away from the home.

My Lords, I recently met a young lawyer who told me she was aware of 36 cases in Pakistan where women had been abandoned by men who were UK residents. What is being done to eradicate this appalling state of affairs?

My noble friend highlights a truly terrible state of affairs—in fact one step worse than for some of those women who actually make it to this country, because women in other countries who have no leave to remain and have no rights in that country really are the most vulnerable women in the world. Of course the women who come here and experience domestic violence may also have no leave to remain here and may have their passports taken away from them. This is something that the Government are not just mindful of but doing something about.

My Lords, Women’s Aid’s most recent annual survey found that more than a third of women’s abuse organisations were running a service with no dedicated funding. Will some of the £20 million announced in the Budget last week to tackle domestic abuse be used to support those organisations and, if so, how will it be allocated? If the Minister is unable to give precise details in her answer today, please will she write to me?

The noble Baroness will know that the funding of £20 million she refers to has only just been announced and it is for victims of domestic violence. The tampon tax fund for 2017-18 of £15 million will most definitely focus on improving the lives of disadvantaged women and girls, including the organisations supporting women and girls affected by violence and abuse.

Although I very much welcome the Government’s announcement of the money that the Minister just mentioned, which I assume is in addition to the £20 million in the Budget to which she also referred, how will their commitment transpire in local government politics and priorities? Many local authorities are not choosing to prioritise domestic violence in the same way as the Government. For example, Tower Hamlets Council has just closed some of the longest-serving women’s organisations, which supported vulnerable women, just as she described. What will she do to ensure that local authorities make that as much of a priority as the Government seem to?

The noble Baroness will know that the Government set out a national statement of expectations, which placed an expectation on all local authorities to provide the services that those women—they are mostly women—need. Local authorities can bid into the VAWG transformation fund. The whole point of doing things the way we are now is that one concern previously was that women were dealt with only in the local authority from which they came. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are not usually going to stay in that local authority, so the whole strategy of expectations and the whole new model of providing services recognises that.

I am sure the Minister will agree that violence is always dreadful but particularly when it happens in the home and when there are children in the home. Will she use her good offices to ensure that when the police are called to incidents of domestic violence, they do not simply treat the needs of the adults but do whatever they can to protect the well-being of the children caught up in these dreadful situations?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. He will know all too well the effects that domestic violence has on children. He talks about how the police deal with these situations. They have had an awful lot more training in what to do when they encounter such situations. A child involved in even one domestic violence incident will carry that episode with them and it may affect them in future. As I explained to the noble Baroness earlier, domestic violence prevention orders keep the perpetrator from the home for 28 days. Also, perpetrator services are now being developed to give men some insight to change their behaviour.

My Lords, can my noble friend update the House on her assessment of UK services which educate and support women and girls who have suffered abuse such as FGM and breast ironing, or other gender-based violent crimes carried out in the name of religion or cultural tradition, but which are nothing short of the abuse of young British women and girls?

I thank my noble friend for that question. We now have FGM prevention orders. FGM has always been a crime, but we are dealing with it. Any of those things is a crime against women and girls. Last week, we talked about how multiagency work can help to tackle some of these problems. If a doctor notices symptoms of violence or abuse—breast ironing or FGM, as my noble friend mentioned—the whole model of multiagency working is now set up to allow information sharing so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.