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Domestic Violence Refuges: Charities and Local Government

Volume 836: debated on Monday 4 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what support they give to charities and local government to provide places of safety for women subject to domestic violence.

The Government are committed to ensuring that all victims receive the support they need when they when they need it. Councils in England have a duty to provide support within safe accommodation to victims and their children under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Since April 2021, the Government have provided more than £507 million to councils across the country, including £129.7 million for the years 2024-25. This will enable long-term commissioning decisions and give certainty to local providers such as specialist domestic abuse refuges.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. Noble Lords may have read an article in the weekend’s press about Kate Kniveton MP, formerly a wife of a former Minister. She has experienced domestic violence, and her words cut across a lot of the debate:

“After years of manipulation and denigration, you lose your self-worth and don’t think anyone will ever believe you”.

I mention that because this issue is without class: a lot of people do not have a choice about staying at home and within the danger area. Local government is financially on its knees, and the majority of charities turn away references. What will the Government do to improve this dire situation?

My Lords, the Government are supporting local authorities on this issue and they have given the money required, as I said. Yes, it is not good enough, so we have set up a national expert steering group, which is co-chaired by my colleague, Felicity Buchan, and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. They will closely monitor this and have agreed a protocol to support further local authorities in meeting their duty of requirement. So, we are on the case.

Can the Minister make sure that that steering group gives particular attention to the children who accompany these unfortunate women? For a child to be brought up in a home where there is domestic violence is a dreadful start to life. Can special thought be given to their needs?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. I remember that, many years ago when I was in local government, children used to sit in the corner and nobody took any notice of them. Those things have changed. Of course, some victims of domestic abuse are children, in addition to the females—or males, depending on who is being abused.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. Does my noble friend agree that local government needs not so much a duty as praise for what it does? Most councillors across the country take this issue very seriously: it is not something they need to be compelled to do, but something they choose to do. If we are really going to tackle this scourge, we need other parts of government to treat it as seriously as local government does. Such offenders should be dealt with much more heavily, not by the local government team but by people in 2 Marsham Street.

My noble friend is absolutely right, and I thank all local authorities for everything they do. Interestingly, nearly 75% of local authorities say that they are spending more and doing much more than they did a few years ago in this regard. That is great, and I thank them for what they are doing. Yes, we should be supporting them and not always knocking them.

My Lords, four out of 10 local authorities are facing bankruptcy within the next five years and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, said, even statutory services, including the provision of refuges, are already being cut to the bone, despite increasing demand. Women’s Aid research found that 61% of applicants for accommodation-based refuge are being turned away. Does the Minister agree that this failure to meet increasing demand now will not only put women’s lives at risk but leave public services with even more problems to deal with down the line?

My Lords, in the last couple of months we have given £600 million extra to local authorities because we understand the pressures they are under. We are keeping an eye on those pressures, and we encourage all local authorities which have difficulties with their budgets to talk to us early on, so that we can work with them. Local authority budgets have been increased by 7.5% this year, and as my noble friend said, local authorities prioritise domestic abuse victims in their budgeting.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a founder and patron of Survivors Against Domestic Abuse. Last Thursday, my honourable friend Jess Phillips read out in the other place—as she does every year—the names of 98 women killed as a result of violence over the last year: a heartbreaking tribute to lives broken and lost to violence. After every case of domestic homicide, we are told that lessons will be learned. Does the Minister agree that providing safe spaces to live for women who flee violence—a project we started in Stevenage, and which now provides 35 homes across Hertfordshire—is vital? However, it is in serious danger of being stopped because such local authority spending is discretionary. Will she meet with me to hear more about this work?

I would be more than happy to meet the noble Baroness to learn about that, and I thank her for everything she is doing in her county. As recently as this weekend, we heard so much about violence against women. The Home Office is taking this issue extremely seriously and a large amount of money is going into extra police training, particularly on tackling domestic abuse. Some £3.3 million has been committed over the next three years to support delivery of Domestic Abuse Matters training to police officers. Let us hope that this changes things.

My Lords, as the Minister says, there is currently no sign of domestic abuse being overcome and things changing, and recent reviews of serious cases are really quite scary. This is not just about local authorities, which are doing a good job but are cash strapped, but charities. A number of seriously good and important charities in this arena have nearly or actually gone bust. Action against Violence and Abuse, a major charity that worked with women who had experienced violence and abuse, and which supported them in a range of ways, went out of business last month for no other reason than it could not raise sufficient funds. Will the Minster discuss this issue with other Ministers? The situation is now very serious: such charities cannot be funded to continue their work, and that will have serious consequences for the women involved.

The charitable sector is a really important partner in this. That has been noted in the amount of money given to police and crime commissioners to tackle this issue, part of which is spent with charities, other stakeholders and community groups. This Government have supported charities through this very difficult crisis, in particular with energy costs. We are totally committed to supporting the charitable sector on not only this issue but others, and we will do everything we can to do so because it is an important part of delivery.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Commission on Forced Marriage. Will the Minister please remember that forced marriage is also domestic violence in many cases?

My Lords, one of the places where abusers encounter their victims is the online world. Does my noble friend agree that it is important that her department considers funding for charities offering online support to victims, including the excellent Revenge Porn Helpline?

My Lords, we always need to consider the way in which the world is moving forward. Abuse moves with it, so we must keep considering the online world as technology and people’s lives change.