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Domestic Abuse

Volume 807: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2020

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what long-term funding plans they have put in place to address domestic abuse.

My Lords, since 2010, this Government have provided more than £100 million to tackle violence against women and girls. This year, £35 million has been provided to combat domestic abuse. An additional £76 million was announced by the Government to support victims of hidden harms in response to Covid-19, including victims of domestic abuse. Funding beyond this financial year is a matter for the spending review but, in May this year, the Government committed to developing a victim funding strategy to place this sector on a more sustainable footing.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for her Answer. While the first round of emergency funding was welcome—the Government certainly deserve credit for acting so quickly—many specialist domestic abuse services now face a cliff edge because they have no set budgets for the forthcoming financial year due to delays in both the spending review and the Domestic Abuse Bill reaching this House. For this reason, there are many problems with commissioning on the ground. Therefore, can the Government confirm that an urgent assessment will be made to establish what further resources are needed between now and the end of March to meet the increased demand? Secondly, can the Government confirm that, through the forthcoming spending review, they will address the instability that these services face by guaranteeing longer-term funding of at least a year from March 2021-22? It feels unreasonable to expect these life-saving organisations to do so much more heavy lifting without budget certainty.

In answer to my noble friend’s first question, we continue to work closely with domestic abuse organisations to assess these ongoing trends and needs, and help to support them through the period of new measures, building on the work that we have done to date. We are proud that, since 2010, the Government have provided more than £100 million to tackle violence against women and girls. We recognise the absolutely vital role that tailored support services play in supporting victims of domestic abuse, both within safe accommodation and, of course, in the community. On the second question, the Government recognise the need for sustainable funding, which is why the core grants, such as the £1.1 million Home Office fund for seven specialist support helplines for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, run over a four-year period from April 2018 to March 2022.

Following on from the previous question, does the Minister agree that an increase in core funding, which she mentioned, for women’s refuges is needed because of the sharp increase in domestic abuse since the pandemic? There are insufficient women’s refuges: one in six have closed in the last eight years owing to a lack of funding. Will the Minister do all she can to ensure that long-term core funding is guaranteed, rather than funding special projects, to prevent further closures in this time of crisis for victims of domestic abuse?

My Lords, since 2014, MHCLG has invested £80 million in accommodation-based services, including refuges, to support victims of domestic abuse. There were 3,898 bed spaces in refuges in England in 2018. That is a 12%increase from 2010, but additional Covid funding has reopened, creating up to 1,546 additional refuge bed spaces and enabling a further 344 bed spaces that were closed due to Covid-19 to reopen. As announced in the other place during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which I hope will be in your Lordships’ House soon, we will provide £1.5 million to fund the Support for Migrant Victims scheme, which is due to be launched this autumn.

In its report, Safe and Well: Mental Health and Domestic Abuse, Safelives states:

“Despite the strong association, domestic abuse often goes undetected within mental health services and domestic abuse services are not always equipped to support mental health problems.”

According to this organisation, there has been limited progress by government agencies and

“NHS leaders to drive integration of domestic abuse into the health sector”.

This is particularly true of mental health services; it is often

“prolonging the period in which victims have no support”.

Will the Government undertake to provide more targeted resources than those already mentioned by the Minister so that more is done to ensure greater awareness of the relationship between domestic abuse and mental health within all organisations? This will help people to get the support they need faster.

You cannot decouple domestic abuse from mental health trauma. Surely the two go hand in hand, not only for the woman—it is usually a women—who is suffering abuse at the hands of an abusive partner but also, usually, for her children, who feel those effects and the trauma for a very long time, if not the rest of their lives.

I ask my noble friend the Minister when she thinks the Domestic Abuse Bill will come to this House? She said “soon”; does that mean “soon, soon” or “soon, soon, soon, soon”? When it does come, can she make sure that children, from birth to the age of 18, are seen as victims and not witnesses so that they can get the support that they need for the trauma that they have experienced?

My noble friend will know that I would introduce the Domestic Abuse Bill into this House tomorrow if I could, but a number of pieces of legislation need to get through this House. It will probably be early in the new year but I will press—the Leader of the House is sitting there—for that Bill to come to this House as soon as is practicably possible. On the question of children, my noble friend will know that children will benefit from a number of measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill, including—I note what I said in the last answer—the fact that it ensures that they are now recognised as victims in their own right. The Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner has been appointed to encourage good practice in, among other things, the provision of protection and support for children affected by domestic abuse.

My Lords, I chair the National Commission on Forced Marriage. When the Government look at funding, will they take into account the special needs of victims of forced marriage, some of whom suffer domestic abuse from their families rather than their partners?

My Lords, the Minister will know that, when women leave women’s refuges, they are often at greater risk of harm. What additional protection have the Government put in place to prevent those who have left abusive partners from continued coercive control and financial abuse?

The noble Baroness asks a very pertinent question in this field. The Government have put in place several forms of protection for victims to prevent continued coercive control, which so often goes on after the event, and economic abuse, including accommodation, community-based services and counselling. The Domestic Abuse Bill and wider action plan will help to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the justice system and other agencies will do everything they can to protect and support them and their children and pursue their abuser.

My Lords, recent shocking evidence showed a 20% rise in babies being killed or harmed at home during the first lockdown. In normal times, 50% of children in need of support from local authorities come from homes with domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill promises additional support for victims and children in safe accommodation, but this will not help those who do not or cannot flee their own homes. Will the Minister tell us how the Bill will improve support for victims and their children while they live in an abusive family home?

My Lords, I hope that I have outlined some of the measures that we intend to put in place. The noble Baroness will recall, some time ago when we discussed this, I explained how we will support people through local authorities in their own homes who need to be kept safe for a short period of time through safe rooms, et cetera. However, the whole point of the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill is to deal with all the things that she outlines, including supporting women who have suffered abuse and their children, and establishing perpetrator programmes, which are so often overlooked but are at the heart of us tackling this awful crime.