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Covid-19: Domestic Abuse

Volume 686: debated on Monday 14 December 2020

What steps the Government plan to take to protect domestic abuse victims in response to the increase in domestic abuse incidents during the covid-19 outbreak. (910170)

What steps the Government plan to take to protect domestic abuse victims in response to the increase in domestic abuse incidents during the covid-19 outbreak. (910177)

Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, we have provided unprecedented additional funding to domestic abuse service providers to bolster their capacity to meet the demand for support. We announced further funding last month and relaunched the #YouAreNotAlone campaign to ensure that victims of abuse and those worried about them know how to access help and advice. In addition, the police continue to target perpetrators of abuse proactively because there is no excuse for abuse.

We know that domestic abuse helplines have seen a significant increase in calls for help this year, especially during lockdowns, but we also know that there are many people who have struggled to access domestic abuse support, even before the pandemic. Hearing from local campaigners such as Dr Nazia Khanum in Luton, it seems that people just are not getting the support needed because of additional barriers such as finances, language, culture and having no recourse to public funds. What are the Government doing to ensure that domestic abuse support gets to those who are hardest to reach?

The hon. Lady will of course be aware of the groundbreaking Domestic Abuse Bill, which has passed its scrutiny in the House of Commons and awaits its scrutiny in the House of Lords. As part of that Bill, we have an extensive programme of work—not just in the Bill itself, but outside the Bill—to help support victims. She will know, I hope, that not only have we commissioned the designate domestic abuse commissioner to map the services that are available in the community, but that we are in the process of launching our support for migrant victims scheme, which is a pilot scheme to support victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds.

The Minister was wise to make extra funding available in the light of the impact of covid on domestic abuse and sexual violence. However, that money has to be spent, through police and crime commissioners’ offices, by support services by March. The support services that I have talked to have said that that is simply not enough time to spend it efficiently and effectively. Will the Minister commit herself today to giving them another year to spend that same money?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising a constructive point. I hope that he knows that we were very keen through the pandemic to help at a local, regional and national level. Indeed, I was very careful to ensure that police and crime commissioners, who are responsible for distributing the local level of funding, do so not just to the services that are commissioned, but also to non-commissioned services, because there is a wealth of expertise across the country. On the point about funding, I will of course take that away. It is something that I have been discussing with charities and I know their concerns; we are dealing with that issue during the spending review allocation process.

Reducing the Risk supports victims of domestic abuse in my constituency and across Oxfordshire, and it was grateful to receive some of the funding that my hon. Friend refers to and which has helped it to support 50% more people. One of the things it focuses on is prevention. Does my hon. Friend agree that although we have to deal with the cases that we have seen spike during this year, we must not lose sight of the importance of prevention so that they do not get to that stage in the first place?

I very much recognise that. Indeed, part of the programme of work that sits within the Bill and outside the Bill is about tackling those who perpetrate domestic abuse. We need to stop these cycles of abuse; sadly, in some cases, perpetrators go from relationship to relationship, abusing and hurting people in their wake. One of the things that I am very interested in—I know that this is also an interest of my hon. Friend—is looking at what more we can do to understand the work of academics, particularly in interesting areas such as the use of artificial intelligence, to see whether we can do better by way of risk assessing domestic abuse perpetrators and the terrible impacts that they can have on their victims.

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker.

The Office for National Statistics and Women’s Aid data last week revealed that 4,823 victims of domestic abuse were not given refuge in 2018-19 because of a lack of space. That is an increase of 1,200 victims left without a safe place compared with the previous year. The Government may cite the temporary increase in beds hard won by campaigners over the covid-19 crisis, but both the Minister and I know that support services should be for life, not just for covid. I have tried and failed to get refuge beds for victims over the last few weeks. I simply ask the Minister if she is proud of a record of a rising number of victims turned away from life-saving support? Can she guarantee that this figure will fall next year, or will it rise to 5,000 or maybe 6,000 victims turned away?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support on the Bill, because, as she knows, the introduction of part 4 of the Bill puts particular duties on tier 1 local authorities to provide support services as part of their package of care towards people who are having to live in safe accommodation and refuge spaces. However, we also need to focus not just on refuge spaces. Although those are absolutely critical, as part of our work in the future I very much want us to focus on trying, where safe, to keep victims and children in their homes, with perpetrators being required to leave their home addresses. It is simply unacceptable that someone who has suffered trauma for years and years feels, in moments of crisis, that they must be the ones to leave their home, their family, their friends, their GPs and their schools while the perpetrator gets to stay in the home address. That is wrong. Wherever it is safe and possible to do so, we want to change that culture.