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Domestic Violence

Volume 803: debated on Tuesday 5 May 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to address incidents of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

My Lords, the Government are monitoring and responding to domestic abuse issues arising during this period, and £28 million of the £750 million announced by the Treasury for charities will go to domestic abuse charities to help victims to continue to access their services. The Home Office has separately provided £2 million to support helpline and website provision, and the recently launched #YouAreNotAlone campaign is helping to raise awareness of this crime while directing victims to support services.

We all look forward to the Domestic Abuse Bill becoming law, but that will not be for several months. Victims of domestic abuse need additional support and help immediately. Will the Minister agree to go back, speak to the Home Secretary and explore the possibility of a series of public information films on TV channels in the UK setting out that domestic abuse is a crime, that victims are not alone, that help and support is at the end of the phone and that by texting or clicking on a website we will come to their aid?

The noble Lord will know the web facilities that are available, and the Home Office has separately provided £2 million to support helpline and website provision. On his broader question about a mainstream public broadcasting campaign, I most certainly will go back to the Home Secretary, but at this time I would like to avoid—I know the noble Lord will agree with me—having perpetrators and their victims sitting side by side while such information comes on the television. It might create additional tensions within the home. However, I will take the idea back and discuss the matter with the Home Secretary.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s funding for domestic abuse charities. Any funding, especially in lockdown, is very welcome. Every Monday I join meetings with domestic abuse front-liners and survivors. While I appreciate that we are giving £28 million to domestic abuse charities, my concern is that the information I have received from Paladin is that it has seen a huge explosion—an up to 50% rise—in stalking. Can the Minister ensure that some funding goes to stalking charities, such as Paladin and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which also help coercive control and domestic abuse victims?

I take my noble friend’s point about stalking. Whenever money is given out to charities, it is within a competitive process, as it were—a fair process—but I will certainly take that back. I am very surprised to hear what my noble friend said about stalking, but I do not deny what she is saying. Right at the beginning of this process, I spoke with Nicole Jacobs—I presume that is who my noble friend is engaging with every Monday—and my noble friend can be sure that I will take that back.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the innovations that the Government are undertaking, but I have particular concerns about victims of abuse who may have mental health problems or long-term dementia who are unable to seek help quickly. What are the Government’s plans, as we begin to lift isolation and quarantine, to ensure that these members of the population are properly assessed fairly rapidly?

The noble Baroness hits on a point that will be at the heart of what happens not only during the coronavirus pandemic period but as we come out of it. We have put in £5 million of additional funding for mental health charities to support adults and children who are struggling with their mental well-being at this time. NHS England and NHS Improvement have instructed all NHS mental health trusts to establish mental health crisis lines that are clearly accessible from the trusts’ websites.

My Lords, I commend the Minister for the work she is undertaking during this difficult time. What government funding is now getting to the front line for abused children, following a recent safeguarding live survey of front-line services showing that 42% of these services felt they were not able to effectively support child victims of abuse during this time of lockdown?

It is a crucial point. We have made £1.6 million available immediately to the NSPCC to expand and promote its helpline for adults. Expanding the helpline will mean that many more adults know how and where to raise concerns or seek advice and support regarding the safety and well-being of any children they are worried about. We also have the NCA’s online safety at home campaign, which provides vital support and advice to children.

Do the Government not recognise that migrant women, because they have no recourse to public funds, are in great danger of being turned away from refuges? Will the Government please consider suspending the no recourse to public funds rule for all migrants during the crisis, and abolishing it altogether for these most vulnerable women and their children?

One of the things the Government have done is to announce £3.2 billion of funding for local authorities to support the most vulnerable victims in our society. Of course, the noble Baroness is referring to people who have not yet got a legal right to be here, and I totally see the point that she is making.

My Lords, we know that domestic abuse affects every community, including religious communities. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government are partnering with faith groups to raise awareness of available support during the pandemic?

We are reaching out to everybody. I cannot say for certain about faith groups, but I can certainly get him some information about that. One of the things that was first and foremost on my mind and that of other Ministers was the danger to women, mostly, and children who are locked up with their perpetrator for what has now been nearly seven weeks.

My Lords, as most cases of domestic violence are known to the neighbours, should we not encourage them to inform the police about repeated episodes in order to reduce this terrible crime?

I totally understand that point. This has been on our radar, and we have engaged with police and communities. Neighbours can set up silent codewords with potential victims, which is one way that people can communicate with each other in these very stifling times during lockdown. That will certainly help the police, who are engaging with high-risk victims and perpetrators during this time.

My Lords, my question has already been asked by my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark—it is the subject of a piece I wrote in the Times a couple of weeks ago. May I dispute the Minister’s answer? She said that she does not think it would be very helpful if people were to sit side by side. I think that is exactly what we want. We want victims and abusers to be sitting side by side when the message comes over that what is happening is wrong, and when giving information and advice.

My Lords, I did not denounce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy; I pointed out some of the unintended consequences of stirring up tensions when a household might already be in a very tense situation. I by no means dismiss the noble Lord’s point.