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Domestic Violence: Victims

Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 12 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to safe and secure accommodation in both the short and long term.

My Lords, we have secured £100 million in the spending review for tackling violence against women and girls, to support victims of domestic abuse; £20 million was our 2016 to 2018 funding for accommodation-based support and service reform. We funded 76 projects, creating more bed spaces in safe accommodation. We fund routes to support to help victims access refuges, and we published priorities for domestic abuse services in November 2016 to set out what effective local service commissioning looks like.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but the Government are relying on cash-strapped local authorities to commission refuge services. Commissioning practices have led to 17% of specialist refuges in England being closed, and one in four referrals being turned away. That is probably the tip of the iceberg. Women’s Aid says that the local housing allowance cap on housing benefit would force 67% of refuges to close. Does the Minister accept that the Government are failing in their duty to adopt a strategic approach to domestic violence?

No, my Lords. The noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that I do not accept that. I am meeting Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, this afternoon, and I look forward to that meeting. We very much value working with our partners. As I have indicated, we are putting in more money—but it is not just about money. As the noble Baroness will know, we will shortly bring forward domestic abuse legislation, which will look at some of the deep-seated issues.

Is the Minister aware of the sort of situation in which people are suffering? For example, I am dealing at the moment with the case of someone who has been threatened by her landlord—an illegal landlord—that if she is not out by Friday he will take action. This is all because she called in the police when some of her stuff was stolen; that had been going on for years while she lived there. But when someone phones the police, they say, “This is a civil matter and nothing to do with the police”. Is it not time there was some particular central thing, rather than just the local authority list, which this woman was on for four years and was then told that anyone who had not been on the list for five years would be taken off it? This happened in Camden, which I think has good policies otherwise. What is the answer about the police, and the fact that they will not get involved when these dangerous situations arise?

My Lords, I am not aware of the particular situation the noble Baroness is referring to, but I know that we work closely with the police. They are a much-valued partner in relation to this. As I said, legislation will be forthcoming. We shall consult in the autumn on the principles of that legislation, and I think that it will be ground-breaking.

Does the Minister agree that when young children are in families in which there is domestic violence, it has a marked impact on their well-being? Will he ensure that when the police are called to a household where there is domestic violence and where children are involved, the children will be properly protected and reference will be made to the children’s services?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point about the particular situation where children witness domestic abuse. This is something that will be very much referenced in the consultation, and we will be looking at, for example, possibly having more stringent penalties when children are subjected to the sort of situation referred to by the noble Lord. I will take the specific situation he referred to back because it is a very valuable point.

My Lords, the domestic violence disclosure scheme was rolled out in 2014, and the first bit of evidence suggests that different police forces have been implementing it in very different ways. What are the Government doing to ensure that there is more consistency across all police forces in using that scheme?

The noble Baroness raises an interesting point about consistency, and she is absolutely right: we need to see consistency, although perhaps not uniformity. There will be certain situations that demand a different response. Again, that is something that we will be looking at in the consultation being carried out this autumn on the principles of the legislation.

My Lords, if what the noble Lord said in response to my noble friend Lady Donaghy is right, why did women’s refuges, when surveyed, say that their biggest problem was the uncertainty around future funding cuts and present funding cuts? Can the Minister explain?

My Lords, I have spoken to many refuges and many providers of services in relation to domestic abuse. Any government department is always under pressure to spend more money, but this is far from being the only issue. I have seen some excellent refuges—very recently in Derbyshire and Hampshire. I have seen some excellent services and have discussed this issue, for example, recently in Liverpool. Of course it is an issue; government departments are always under pressure to spend more money. But this is far from being the only issue—or even the primary one.

My Lords, most of the comments so far have been about women’s refuges. I wonder whether my noble friend can comment on some of the work being done where the perpetrator is removed and the home of the victim is made safe so that the children and the victim can continue with a more normal life than being removed to a refuge.

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Far from being the only response to domestic abuse in the shape of refuges, there are many other ways of tackling the issue of domestic abuse, and it is what is appropriate in a particular situation. We look at sanctuary schemes, for example, and outreach support for people who are still at home. There are diverse responses according to the different situations that we face.

My Lords, I hope that the Minister is aware that refuges are needed for men as well as women. A minority of men are at risk, and it is extremely difficult for them to find anywhere to go if they have to leave home. There is also a need for victims of forced marriage, many of whom are underage. They also are not really looked after at the moment.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Baroness for that point. She is right, of course; a significant minority of men are subjected to domestic violence and organisations support them, too. It is important that that message gets across—and that is something I shall mention to Katie Ghose this afternoon. The noble and learned Baroness also mentioned forced marriages. There are particular issues in the BME community and, again, we try to confront that. We have support from particular organisations that deal with BME domestic abuse: for example, Imkaan, and on my recent Liverpool visit I met Tracey Gore of the Steve Biko domestic abuse service—so we are over that as well.

My noble friend Lady Donaghy tabled this Question two weeks ago. When did the Minister’s office conveniently fix up for him to meet the chief executive of Women’s Aid this afternoon?

My Lords, I have great respect for the noble Lord, but he will be disappointed to know that it has been in the calendar for far longer than that. I am sorry to have to tell him that. An earlier meeting was postponed because I could not make it. It was put back in the diary immediately to have the meeting today. I am very grateful for the question the noble Lord has just asked.