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Female Domestic Homicides: Black, Asian and Ethnic-minority Overrepresentation

Volume 835: debated on Monday 22 January 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether Black, Asian and minority ethnic women are overrepresented in female domestic homicides; and what steps they are taking to safeguard them.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my interests in the register.

My Lords, domestic homicide is a horrific crime that disproportionately impacts women. The Home Office homicide index shows that 22% of the 249 female victims recorded between March 2020 and March 2022 were from minority-ethnic groups. These groups were overrepresented in domestic homicide data when compared to the 2021 census. Preventing domestic homicide is a key government priority, and we have set out commitments to reduce it in the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan.

My Lords, the Home Office funded a project in 2020 based in the vulnerability, knowledge and practice programme which confirmed that there is an overrepresentation of minority-ethnic women in domestic homicides rates—the rates may be higher because the police do not always record ethnicity data accurately. What follow-up has there been on that project? Will the Minister agree to holding a public consultation or an inquiry to uncover fully the contributing factors to safeguard black, Asian and minority-ethnic women and girls? Will he meet me to discuss that?

My Lords, I am short on the detail of that specific programme, but in March 2022, we published the cross-government Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan, which invested more than £230 million in tackling this crime between 2022 and 2025. This includes more than £140 million for supporting victims and £81 million for tackling perpetrators. As regards the domestic homicide review, work is under way to review, improve and update the statutory guidance on that review. The consultation on that is about to open, so if any Peers are interested and would like to get involved, please let me know and I will be happy to supply the details.

My Lords, studies have shown that ethnic-minority survivors of domestic abuse are much less likely to have previously been known to the police than white victims, often because of a wish to protect their partner from police—rather than health interventions—because of institutional racism. What are the Government doing to ensure that all police are properly trained not to move to police intervention and to be able to signpost mental health support for all victims of domestic abuse?

My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a good question. We understand the importance of specialist services in providing the tailored support that victims and survivors of domestic abuse need. The Home Office is providing funding of more than £2 million to the London Community Foundation, Peterborough Women’s Aid, Diversity Matters North West and Sahara in Preston for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 financial years through the VAWG support and specialist services fund. This forms part of a programme called By and For, which is the Government’s commitment to provide specialist services that are led, designed and delivered by and for users and communities they aim to serve.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that part of the issue for women from minority communities, particularly the south Asian community, is language, and that, before it gets to the stage that we hope it will not get to—homicide—those women should be able to report? Due to language barriers, they cannot. Will my noble friend look at ways of working with other departments to ensure that we can get English into communities? It may be through funding community groups, but the insistence should be that English is part of the programme. Secondly, will he look at how we do training within the Home Office—rolling it out to recognise the start of the need for intervention rather than waiting for it to become a big problem?

My noble friend raises some very good points. It links into part of the question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, which I did not answer: about the police response to tackling domestic abuse. We have provided funding to support the rollout of the Domestic Abuse Matters training to police forces which have yet to deliver it, or which do not have their own specific domestic abuse training, to improve and ensure consistency in the police response to domestic abuse. I would imagine—I will check—that that includes the language barriers that my noble friend identifies. That programme has been completed by 34 police forces to date. Considerable work is also going on in building up the evidence base and, indeed, starting a library, which will help police forces to investigate these crimes.

My Lords, the opening words of the briefing from Home Office-funded project referred to by the noble Baroness say:

“The onus is too often placed on survivors from minoritised ethnic groups to navigate a system that has not been designed to take account of their needs, rather than addressing structural barriers that prevent their access to support”.

I suspect that not much has changed since that briefing was written and published in 2022. By the time a woman becomes a victim of domestic homicide, the truth is that she may have been repeatedly failed by the system. How is the Casey report into the Met Police feeding into the Government’s programme, and what targets do the Government have to reduce domestic abuse and violence against women and girls? Of course, the Labour Party does have a target for if and when we are in government.

My Lords, I have already gone through a number of the programmes that have been put in place, many of which started only in 2022. I do not think it is fair to characterise the Government as not treating this as a priority. As the noble Baroness will be aware, we made it a strategic policing priority alongside terrorism and other priorities only last year. It is worth mentioning at this point someone I have referenced many times from the Dispatch Box. Maggie Blyth, who is the VAWG lead at the NPCC, has recently been appointed as the new deputy CEO at the College of Policing. I think that is a very positive step forward from an enforcement perspective. I would also like to commend Louisa Rolfe, who is the domestic abuse lead at the NPCC. We are doing a great deal. A consultation is under way on the domestic homicide statutory guidance; I suggest that the noble Baroness participates.

My Lords, after contacting the police to report domestic violence crimes, migrant women in the UK have often been reported to Immigration Enforcement. For this reason, those women often stay silent for longer. What are the Government doing to ensure that black, Asian and minority-ethnic women who are victims of domestic violence can report abuse without fear of detention or deportation?

The right reverend Prelate will be aware that, if they do, they are not subject to immigration action—a subject that has been talked about a number of times from the Dispatch Box.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Minister will know that, in the Istanbul convention, which is the foundation of much of our statutory work in this area, Article 12.5 refers specifically to honour-based killings and violence. The Minister has indicated that a consultation is about to open in this area. Will the Article 12.5 requirement, which calls for the Government to have improved statutory definitions of honour-based violence, be part of that consultation?

I cannot answer the last part of the noble Baroness’s question, but I can say that last week we hosted at the Home Office GREVIO, the organisation looking at our compliance with Istanbul, and I think we had a very positive meeting. It was a privilege to be able to host them in the office and to go through much of the work that we have already done. I will try to come back in writing on the specific question that she asked.

My Lords, the report by the Centre for Women’s Justice, which the Minister has probably seen, highlights a number of barriers faced by women, particularly from black and minority-ethnic communities, in reporting domestic violence and abuse. One of them—and there have been a number of high-profile cases of this—is that victims face criminalisation by counter-allegations. As they lack the ability to navigate the service and the relevant support, that often leads to devastating consequences. Another issue is a fear of losing their children when social services get involved. The Minister mentioned police training, but specialist services and access to them are also important. The report says that cuts to those services have cost lives. I ask the Minister to comment on those issues and how best women can be supported to make sure that we bring down the level of fatalities in this cohort of women.

The noble Baroness makes a good point. Obviously, I cannot comment on individual cases or indeed on the operational aspects of this. The criminal justice system will have to look at all those individual matters and judge them appropriately. What I can do is repeat what I have said about police training, which has now been rolled out to 34 forces. Obviously, there is more to do. The police force is being very well led in this area, as I have just highlighted. I will also say that the By and For programme to which I referred earlier supports services by and for those specifically affected. That makes perfect sense, and it should be as local as possible.