Domestic Abuse Bill

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Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (27 Jan 2021)
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the important contributions made by noble Lords on this difficult subject. It is important to recognise that domestic abuse does not happen in a neat silo; as so many noble Lords have commented, it is inherently bound up with wider issues of mental health and substance abuse.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who so strongly highlighted the impact of devastating cuts to our public services through a decade of austerity. I restate his comments about the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ call for the Government to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to invest £374 million into adult services to cope with the increased need. Report after report now highlights the poor preparedness of our public realm to cope with this dreadful pandemic, as a consequence of the austerity decade, when council funding was cut to the bone.

Mental health services have been particularly impacted by this austerity, leading to a lack of services and long waiting times. Victims and survivors with mental health problems also face barriers accessing many other vital services due to strict eligibility criteria or not being able to engage in the way that services require. Too often, such barriers are leading to people being bounced around different services, having to constantly re-tell their story.

There is, however, an awareness of the complex and interrelated needs of those with mental ill health, but many services are unequipped to support them, and few services exist that can care for people with both mental health and substance misuse issues. This is despite research showing that substances are often used as a form of self-medication for unmet mental health needs and as a way of coping with abuse.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke so knowledgably about, there is a close link between domestic abuse and alcohol, with the perpetrator drinking heavily. There are also instances of the victim drinking, leading to uninhibited behaviours, and this can trigger the abuse. Similarly, the victim may use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. During the pandemic, there has been an increased level of alcohol consumption, exacerbating a known problem.

There is, therefore, a great need to ensure that the commissioner’s remit includes alcohol and other substances. She needs to be able to receive evidence on alcohol abuse to inform where support services must be improved, and to contribute directly to the national alcohol strategy.

In conclusion, the importance of multiagency and holistic working in this area cannot be overemphasised. It is important to recognise that mental health and addiction problems can create additional vulnerabilities that people perpetrating abuse may seek to exploit.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate on the complexities of alcohol and substance misuse and mental health and the correlation with domestic abuse, from the point of view of both the victim and—as my noble friend Lady Stroud said—the perpetrator. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for tabling these amendments and her work in chairing the Commission on Alcohol Harm.

I will start with the final comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport. She and I are cut from the same cloth in knowing the effectiveness with which multiagency work can help in all sorts of ways. The way that agencies communicate with each other can get to the heart of some of the problems in society.

I also acknowledge the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Hayter, Lady Jenkin and Lady Jolly, and thank the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Ribeiro, for their expertise and their input into the Alcohol Health Alliance’s report for the Commission on Alcohol Harm, which was published last year. It highlights these complex relationships between alcohol, mental health and domestic abuse. I welcome the report; it makes for important reading.

As the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, has illustrated, there is a frequent coexistence of domestic abuse, mental health problems and the misuse of drugs and alcohol, with complex interrelationships between them. The relationships are nuanced, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is right to identify this. It is also clear that there is no excuse for domestic abuse, and it is vital that people affected by domestic abuse get the healthcare they need.

I reassure noble Lords that we intend to reflect the importance of joining up domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse services in the statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 73. We have a number of other, parallel measures to ensure that the join-up should be reflected in local health commissioning and the support that people receive. Noble Lords will know that local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and other partners produce an assessment of the local population needs, called the joint strategic needs assessment. This should include consideration of the needs of victims and survivors. The assessment informs a local area’s health and well-being strategy and the commissioning of services, including mental health and substance misuse services.

I will say something about local authority spending because noble Lords have referred to it. Local authority spending through the public health grant will be maintained in the next financial year. Local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential front-line services. This includes drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services. We are working on increasing access to substance misuse services, and we have appointed Professor Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs to inform the Government’s work on what more can be done to tackle the harms that drugs cause.

I also draw noble Lords’ attention to ongoing work in the health system to create new integrated care systems where NHS organisations, in partnership with local councils, voluntary service partners and others, take collective responsibility for managing resources, delivering NHS care and improving the health of the population they serve. The development of a new integrated care system is a real opportunity to improve the join-up between different services and provide truly integrated care.

I turn to the specifics of the amendments. On Amendments 21 and 29, which relate to the role of the domestic abuse commissioner, the Bill already confers on the commissioner a wide remit in tackling domestic abuse. She has already started to provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues by raising awareness of key matters and monitoring and overseeing the delivery of services to ensure that they are as effective, evidence-based and safe as they can be.

The description of the role states that the commissioner must adopt a specific focus on the needs of victims from groups with particular needs, which could include mental ill-health or substance misuse. However, as an independent office holder, it will be for the commissioner to determine her priorities, which will be set out in a strategic plan developed following consultation with her advisory board, the Home Secretary and others.

As for Amendment 42, which relates to the composition of the advisory board, Clause 12 already provides that at least one member of the board must be a representative of the health care sector, and there is sufficient latitude for the commissioner to appoint other specialists as she sees fit.

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Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, the Committee has every reason to be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, because these are all very important announcements; I thank everyone involved, and it is very good to be speaking to this group. This subject is not just close to my heart but has been part of my life. I was very pleased to hear in the Minister’s response how many things are going to be in place to deal with alcoholism, in particular. I very much look forward to Dame Carol Black’s review—I know how brilliant she is—and I also welcome the news about sobriety tags. I just want to make a few points, some of them personal.

The link between alcohol and domestic abuse is well known, and yet, strangely, it is often not at the forefront of the debate. Some 55% of domestic abuse cases involve alcohol or some kind of substance, and women who drink themselves are 15 times more likely to be abused than women who do not. I am not going to repeat the stats; one only has to read the excellent contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on Monday night to get a good picture of how solid the evidence is. Drunk people, both men and women, are more likely to abuse or be abused than those who are not. Alcohol itself is not the culprit, and it should never be an excuse for behaviour. However, I believe that it is so tightly woven into the problem that it must be treated as part of the recovery process.

I am very glad that, as a result of the Bill, the crime of domestic abuse will be better dealt with and we will have more refuges. I also welcome the commissioner. But if we do not study, understand and treat alcoholism, then we are not doing our job.

Alcoholics, when they are drinking and when they are addicted to alcohol, are really difficult to deal with. Alcohol, as people say, is both cunning, baffling and powerful. I know that, in my life, I have drunk to excess. I do not drink now and I have not done for many years, but alcoholism will be with me for the rest of my life. It is very hard to break that cycle without help, and there are far too few treatment centres in this country. I know—again, from my own experience and that of people I know—that doctors and general hospitals do not like disruptive alcoholics, who are really hard to treat and who take up beds. They sober up and are then sent back into the world, where they start drinking again. People, especially women, keep alcoholism a secret. It is seen still as an issue of shame in this country, which is one reason I have always spoken publicly about it, throughout my life.

If we do not stop the cycle, the same thing happens again. Abuse is a spiral, in much the same way as addiction, and a drunk abuser will seek a victim. A woman who drinks herself and who has, probably as a consequence, the lower self-esteem that goes along with it, will almost inevitably partner up with the kind of bloke who will, ultimately, abuse her. That is what you do when you think you are not worth anything, because you are the person in our society who cannot handle alcohol like everybody else does.

Personally, I cannot think of a more difficult thing—it is almost impossible—than to be a woman with kids who is the victim of domestic abuse and a drinker herself. Yes, the council may find you a refuge, but, when that is over and you have to go back to the world, if you do not have some solid help to get through that addiction, you are going to end up back where you were, and the saga goes on and on.

The need to break this cycle must be a fundamental, core part of the commissioner’s remit. She needs all the expertise to support her and she needs money to enable her to make the right decisions. No one in their wildest miseries or nightmares would want to be addicted to any substance, from a bottle, a needle or a pill—it is a misery you would not wish on anyone. But once there, it takes some time and patience. I have been lucky; I have been able to afford the help I needed, but this should not be an issue of money.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said earlier in this debate, deep cuts have been made to addiction services in this country since 2013-14. It means that the 8.4 million potentially high-risk drinkers—that is an awful lot—and the hundreds with opiate addictions, are not getting the right help. It is an insane situation, because for every addict or alcoholic, it is reckoned that at least five people are swept into the madness and distress. It costs money: to the NHS, to the criminal justice system and to society.

WHO figures suggest that 50% of men who kill their wives are drunk or addicted. Helping people who drink or abuse substances through to the other side—through to a chance, literally, to rejoin the world as a useful member of society—would bring so many great benefits. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke so wonderfully about on Monday night, so many children would have their lives transformed. As she said, the Commission on Alcohol Harm heard from children who were terrified to go home for fear of what their parent or parents might do. The Children’s Commissioner estimates that there are more than half a million children living in households where domestic abuse, along with drink and substance abuse, is prevalent.

The alcohol lobby is big and powerful. It has successfully fought demands for minimum pricing in England—though it lost in Scotland—a measure that is known to reduce harmful consumption. This stuff is everywhere. Adverts are well targeted, promising thrills and excitement, and they all too often use sexualised images of women to encourage purchase. This ought to stop. I am the last person who wants to see alcohol sales restricted in any way, but I am convinced that we cannot keep shoving this big problem to one side. Domestic abuse and alcohol are linked, and unless we break the addiction cycle, we will not break the other. We can no longer condemn both the victims and the abusers—who are, in my mind, sometimes also victims—to the shadows.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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There is very little of what the noble Baroness said with which I would disagree. The cycle of abuse—whether that cycle is generational or whether it goes from spouse to partner and then reaches down to the children—is ever present and it needs to be broken. I agree that the links between alcohol abuse—not alcohol use but alcohol abuse—and domestic abuse are very well known. On people getting the help they need, it is absolutely clear that support for alcohol or substance misuse should mean that people can access the right services, which are commissioned by local authorities.

The noble Baroness made a point about the domestic abuse commissioner. It has been interesting in these debates that, on the one hand, the independence of the commissioner has been very much promoted, and I totally agree with that. On the other, we are by increment, through the debates in this House, trying to add additional remits and stymie her independence. She is an expert in her field. I know that she will make those links. I talk about troubled families quite a lot in the things that I say. That is because I have seen the way in which multi-agency interventions can be so effective at spotting things such as domestic abuse. The advent of that programme spotted an awful lot of domestic abuse previously unknown—and not only previously unknown but at the heart of the problems that these families were facing. We all know that when a big football match is on, women are quite often hyper-vigilant, knowing that, whatever way the game goes, they will bear the brunt of it—mainly as a result of the use of alcohol.

The noble Baroness also asked me about minimum pricing, which Scotland has introduced. We are keeping it under review as it is implemented in Scotland.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for what I consider to be a really quite overwhelming response to this set of amendments. We have had a very important debate. I would love to summarise what each person has said, but I am aware that the Committee has other amendments to get on to. I would like to highlight the fact that the toxic trio was launched into our debate on Monday by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley, and picked up again by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and it has been the focus around which many people have spoken. I am delighted to hear about the sobriety scheme and sobriety tags being brought in for alcohol-fuelled crime. I was part of that original amendment, some years ago, that allowed the pilot scheme to happen, and have seen the evidence from the US in particular of the efficacy in domestic situations as well. I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for that, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for putting local authority services so strongly on the table, with the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Uddin and Lady Wilcox.

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I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that previous records do not necessarily inform future behaviour and that people can change and be rehabilitated, but I do not think it is unreasonable at least to be aware of them when it comes to certain offences. Having all the facts in front of you means that you can look at the situation in the round when making a judgment. I can also see a situation where, if someone had assaulted or hurt a previous partner and no one knew about it, and that person had not been given a notice and then someone got injured or killed, there would be uproar, with people saying, “What’s going on here? Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t the police officer know that this person had recently committed serious offences and they weren’t taken into account?” Therefore, this is about applying some common sense and acting reasonably, and in that way I think we can find a way forward. I am sure that the noble Baroness will do that, and I look forward to her response.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his very comprehensive introduction, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for setting out the case for her amendments.

We can all agree with the premise behind Amendments 23 and 28—namely, that we should promote the use of data and technology, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, said, in a cautious rather than cavalier way, to aid in the prevention, reporting and detection of domestic abuse.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who speaks on this Bill from a unique position, as both a former police officer and a survivor of domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Bill introduces a range of new measures, including the use of data and technology to protect and support victims of domestic abuse and monitor perpetrators. For example, as we discussed earlier, the domestic abuse protection order can impose both prohibitions and positive requirements on perpetrators, including an electronic monitoring requirement, or tagging. I am happy that today I have made the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, so happy, because we have now come a long way since our disagreement on liqueur chocolates. That is an in-joke that only some noble Lords might get.

Victims of domestic abuse will be eligible for one or more special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts. Such special measures could include the use of a live televised link in a courtroom to enable a witness to give evidence during a trial or proceedings from outside the courtroom, and the use of pre-recorded video interviews before the trial or other proceedings.

The Bill provides for a pilot of mandatory polygraph examinations for domestic abuse offenders released on licence. I will not dwell on that now, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has indicated that he wants a debate on Clause 69 when we get there in a few days’ time. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, outlined the real benefits of machine-learning predictions for police. Of course, technology is already a key component of the police response to domestic abuse.

At this juncture, I will refer to the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Paddick, on the HMICFRS inspection of Greater Manchester Police and the victims of crime. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that what was unearthed should set alarm bells ringing, and I agree. He also said that if this is the first assessment, what will future assessments show to other police authorities? However, that is not a reason not to do it, and it will give cause for concern to other police authorities about how they might make improvements if necessary. We are not washing our hands of it. I brought the devolution Bill through your Lordships’ House some years ago. Devolution is an opportunity for local people to have a better determination of their own future through their elected representatives, in this case the mayor and the deputy mayor for policing.

We welcome HMICFRS’s decision to escalate the force to its police performance oversight group, which includes senior leaders from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Home Office. It met on Monday 26 January to scrutinise GMP’s plans for improvement and to consider whether additional support from within the sector may be necessary to support the force in quickly delivering the necessary step change in performance. We welcome HMICFRS’s decision to reinspect the force in six months’ time to assess progress; that is likely to be in May. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, outlined, we expect the mayoral response to the report to be published no later than 4 February.

Police forces use technological solutions to provide emergency protection to victims, such as TecSOS devices that provide victims with immediate connection to the police at the touch of a button, or the Hollie Guard app, which allows the victim to send an alert to chosen contacts if they are in danger, notifying them of the victim’s location and capturing audio and video evidence. There is also the Bright Sky app, which professionals and victims can use to access information and support on domestic abuse. It also enables the recording of evidence of abusive behaviour. Clare’s law also comes to mind, allowing data on partners’ previous abuse history, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also reminded me of the silent calling facility, which is such a benefit to people who cannot ask for help but who are in danger. As part of a police investigation of a domestic violence incident and any subsequent prosecution, the footage from body-worn video can also play a key part in building up an irrefutable case for the prosecution. As for the use of data, I agree that it is equally important to properly understand the needs of victims and to put in place the policies and services to meet those needs. That is why, for example, the first duty on tier 1 local authorities under Part 4 of the Bill is to assess the need for domestic abuse support in their areas. Robust and reliable data is the key to this in the context of Part 4 and elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, outlined the benefits of machine learning in the assessment of risk. We have worked with the College of Policing to develop the domestic abuse risk assessment, which is an improvement on the established DASH risk assessment process. Evidence-based research helped us develop that, and with a number of charities, we have also developed the Domestic Abuse Matters training programme, which has been academically proven to increase officers’ empathy with victims, and their understanding of abuse. Things are improving. We have come a long way from the days when police officers saw domestic abuse as “just a domestic”.

While I support the underlying premise of Amendments 23 and 28, I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will agree that the amendments themselves are not needed, since Clause 7 already sets out broad functions for the domestic abuse commissioner in encouraging good practice for the prevention and detection of domestic abuse. This will include good practice in relation to the use of data and technology.

On Amendment 50, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the duty to co-operate with the commissioner, as provided for in Clause 15, extends to the provision of information. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill make this clear. This is one of those occasions when we believe it is preferable to keep the duty at a high level. There is always the risk, when a general proposition is followed by particular examples, of leaving the impression that the list of examples is exhaustive—or, indeed, that something is left out. We do not want inadvertently to leave the impression that the provision of information is the only form of co-operation.

Amendment 62 jumps ahead to Part 3 of the Bill. The amendment seeks to ensure that police take into account an individual’s previous criminality and convictions when considering issuing them with a domestic abuse protection notice. The matters to be considered listed in Clause 22 are designed to ensure that police take into account the impact of the notice on those directly or indirectly affected by it. The power to issue a notice enables the police to require an individual to leave their home for a period of up to 24 hours, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick said, when dealing with the immediate crisis. These provisions therefore provide an important safeguard by ensuring that the police give careful consideration to the impact of the notice on those affected when they are exercising this quite significant power. Again, the spirit of the amendment is certainly one that we can support.

When deciding whether a notice is necessary to protect a victim from domestic abuse, the police will consider a range of factors, including the history and the context of abuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, outlined. The College of Policing’s guidance on domestic abuse makes it clear that police should carry out comprehensive checks when responding to a domestic abuse incident, including: the alleged perpetrator’s history of abuse in relation to the victim, or previous victims; previous risk assessments; court orders or injunctions; convictions; and child protection information. Importantly, these checks ensure that intelligence on incidents and behaviours that have not resulted in a criminal conviction is considered. Furthermore, the draft statutory guidance for police on the domestic abuse protection notices and orders, which we published ahead of Committee, makes it clear that when deciding whether to issue a notice, the police should also consider other relevant information and evidence, such as incident reports from previous callouts, including those against other victims, and any intelligence from other agencies or organisations.

Having highlighted these important issues, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be content to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in fact the Minister answered my question in almost her final sentence. It was about the status of callouts when considering this data. Police callouts are available to family courts and to sentencing criminal courts in domestic abuse cases. My question was going to be about the availability of that information to DAPOs, but I think that the Minister answered it in the affirmative.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I think the Minister’s answer will again be yes, as she clarified this issue in her last remarks. Clause 22, on these other matters, says

“a senior police officer must, among other things, consider”,

and then lists four issues that they must consider. Among those “other things” is of course someone’s previous record. I ask her to clarify that further.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think it is yes to everything. The whole context has to be taken into account when issuing both a DAPN and a DAPO.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and to the Minister for her sympathetic response.

I think we are all seeking the same thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia said, one cannot underestimate the importance of data in measuring crime, monitoring police actions and focusing on outcomes. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, to whom I am very grateful, emphasised the importance of the use of data and new methods of technology in helping to address what I think we all agree—this is part of the reason for the Bill today—has been the very patchy response to domestic abuse that we have seen in previous years. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, spoke very wisely about the better management and oversight of IT solutions and the contribution that they can make.

I listened with great care to the reservations of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. As she said, what sometimes sounds like common sense could be fatalistic and could undermine liberties. One would be unwise to dismiss that out of hand. As with many things, there are balances here: a balance of risks and a balance of opportunities. The issue for me is that the current methods of prediction are falling short and, from the LSE research, it looks as though we could find a way to get the predictive rate up. In view of the failures in relation to domestic abuse, this is a very important consideration indeed.

I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Brooke talk about tagging. He is a real expert on the impact of alcohol on domestic abuse and more generally. I was grateful for his support, as I am to my noble friend Lord McConnell. He made some important remarks about being cautious over the use of data but acknowledged that my amendments themselves are not cavalier and, in a sense, are an encouragement to enable better practice in this area.

I was very touched by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who spoke very sensitively about his own experience and how we might learn from it. He was of course right to reflect on funding issues and the impact they have had on the police in using technology to support victims and tackle domestic abuse as a whole. My noble friend Lord Kennedy thought this was being proposed as a common-sense solution, and I very much agree with him.

The Minister was sympathetic, and I am grateful to her for that. She talked about the work that her department is doing with the College of Policing on risk assessment. It might be that she could encourage the college to talk to the LSE about its work to see whether that could inform further developments in future.

On Amendment 62, she has made it clear that the use of the phrase “other relevant information” essentially covers the point that I have raised, and interventions by my noble friends Lord Ponsonby and Lord Kennedy have confirmed that.

This has been a very good debate, and I hope it has been a constructive contribution to encouraging police forces to use data more effectively. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I am happy to give my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I have great respect for the noble Baroness, but, again, have no expertise in this area. Of course, prevention is absolutely the key, and the point the noble Baroness made about the importance of ensuring that we take effective action to prevent children becoming abusers in the future is very important. You have to break this cycle, and I very much agree with the noble Baroness on that point.

I also think we have to be careful here that we are offering the right interventions at the right time. Professionals who are going to engage with partners and couples also need to be able to spot whether something is an area of conflict, but is not domestic abuse, or, equally, whether a situation is domestic abuse and actually needs a different intervention—they need to have the skills to understand that, and understand the difference. We would never want a situation where somebody remains in a relationship because they have had the wrong intervention. This is a very complicated area. We need professionals to provide the proper advice at the right time to ensure that if you can work to do that, fine, but equally there are times when people need to get out of a dangerous relationship. We need to ensure that professionals are able to spot that, and that you are building that knowledge and expertise into all the interventions that people can engage with.

On that basis, I am happy to support the amendments and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for tabling these amendments. I am pleased to see her looking so very much better. I hope that she is indeed feeling better, although she still has a bit of a cough. Her experience has been praised across the House, and I know how much she contributes to the debates in which she takes part. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned, she brought into focus the real danger of the cycle of abuse and the importance of breaking it. As the noble Lord said, what we need here is the right interventions at the right time. There is strong evidence that conflict between parents, whether together or separated, can have significant impacts on children’s mental health and on long-term life chances. We can all agree on that.

We also highly value marriage, but must acknowledge that, for many reasons, such an arrangement will not suit everyone. Marriages have their difficulties; some couples do experience conflict and may decide that it is best for those involved to end their marriage. I recognise too the particular impact that this has on children and young people. That is not, of course, to negate the importance of couples’ counselling and access to psychological therapy services. They should not be underestimated and, in many cases, they lead to reconciliation of relationships, with steps to rebuild and repair. As the noble Baroness outlined, their value is immeasurable whatever the outcome of the relationship.

On mental health services, we are absolutely committed to our ambitions in the NHS long-term plan to expand and transform mental health services in England and to invest an additional £2.3 billion a year in them by 2023-24. Under the NHS long-term plan there will be a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, ensuring that an additional 380,000 adults can access psychological therapies by 2023-24. It also commits to providing access to such therapies for specific groups, including expanding access to evidence-based psychological therapies within special perinatal mental health services, and parent, infant, couple, co-parenting and family interventions.

I turn to the specifics of the amendments. Amendments 27 and 41 relate to the role of the domestic abuse commissioner. The noble Baroness will know that Nicole Jacobs has undertaken significant action already as designate commissioner, including raising awareness of domestic abuse. She will also be responsible for monitoring and overseeing delivery of services to ensure that they are as effective, evidence-based and safe as they can be, as well as publishing information about the range of provision that currently exists for victims and survivors.

The commissioner’s general functions include the provision of support for people affected by domestic abuse. Within that, Clause 7 already provides that the commissioner may assess, monitor and publish information about the provision of services to people affected by domestic abuse. That might include the provision of relationship counselling and psychological therapy. I assure the noble Baroness that the substance of Amendment 27 is already captured by the remit of the commission as set out in Clause 7.

The Committee has heard a combination of views about ensuring the commissioner’s independence and a number of views on what she should be tasked with. The commissioner has a challenging role and will undoubtedly face many demands on her—many of them from your Lordships’ House. Respecting the independence of her office, we should leave it her to determine her priorities, as set out in her strategic plan, informed by the views of her advisory board. If we start writing into the Bill particular issues that the commissioner should address, we risk creating an unhelpful hierarchy of priorities which will constrain her freedom of action. Specifying in the legislation what should and should not feature in her strategic plan would restrict and hinder the very independence that the role requires.

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As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said, our social security system should make it possible for survivors to flee abuse and rebuild their lives. However, I am afraid that, as my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord McKenzie, the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Bennett, and others have said, the system currently fails in that task and it urgently needs reform. I hope that the Minister agrees and I look forward to her reply.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for explaining her amendments, which relate to the operation of the welfare system, including universal credit, and its impact on victims of domestic abuse. The Department for Work and Pensions is committed to providing a compassionate welfare system which provides the best possible support for all customers, including the most vulnerable in society, such as victims of domestic abuse. In answer to her question, we have regular discussions with the DWP and other government departments on domestic abuse because we see it as a whole-of-government issue and response.

Amendment 34 would place a legal duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to investigate one particular issue—the payment of universal credit separately to members of a couple—and lay a report to Parliament. I will come on to the substance of the concern about universal credit, but it is worth first making an observation about the approach taken in the amendment. My noble friend Lady Chisholm of Owlpen said that, as an independent office holder, it should be for the domestic abuse commissioner to set her own priorities as set out in her strategy plan, as provided for in Clause 13. I submit that we should not be mandating her to produce a report on universal credit or on any other matter, as is consistent with her title of being independent.

Aside from this question of the commissioner’s independence, I share absolutely the noble Baroness’s determination to support and protect victims of domestic abuse through the welfare system. However, on the underlying substance of the amendment, the Government do not believe that introducing split payments of universal credit between couples by default is appropriate. For many legacy benefits, a payment is already made to one member of the household, so the way that universal credit is paid is not a new concept. Additionally, evidence shows that the great majority of couples keep and manage their finances together. Consequently, most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly without state intervention.

We recognise that there are circumstances in which split payments are appropriate. Where a customer discloses that they are a victim of domestic abuse in an ongoing relationship, then, where suitable, the Department for Work and Pensions can make split payments available to provide them with access to independent funds. It is important that we allow the individual experiencing domestic abuse to decide whether split payments will help their individual circumstances. The department will also signpost individuals affected by abuse to specialist support, and work with them to ensure that they are aware of the other support and easements available under universal credit. These include special provisions for temporary accommodation, easements to work conditionality, same day advances and additional support for children conceived during an abusive relationship.

In July 2019, messaging was introduced to the universal credit digital claim system to encourage claimants in joint claims to nominate the bank account of the main carer for payment. We continue our support of payment of universal credit to the main carer through this messaging. This strikes the right balance between encouraging positive behaviour and allowing claimants to choose how to best manage their finances. A move to split payments with all couples would represent a fundamental change to the principles of universal credit. Operational challenges aside, the proposed change in policy would be inappropriate for some vulnerable people, for example where one partner is a carer for the other, or one partner has addiction issues.

There would also be practical challenges. For example, there are 1.3 million unbanked adults in the UK, and most are on a low income or are unemployed. The Government are working to improve financial inclusion, but it remains that a move to split payments by default could result in unnecessary payment delays for unbanked claimants. A split payment by default model might also reduce financial independence for women in some cases. Analysis suggests that about 60% of joint universal credit payments are made to women.

As I said, the Department for Work and Pensions is committed to providing a safety net welfare system that provides the best possible support for all customers, including the most vulnerable. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that is why the department has completed a significant training programme and implemented domestic abuse single points of contact for every jobcentre. These actions will help ensure that jobcentre customer services managers and work coaches have the right capabilities, tools and local relationships to support customers who are experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse. We are proud of the positive cultural change we have been able to achieve in jobcentre sites; and that departmental awareness of, and support for, those who have suffered or are suffering domestic abuse is better than ever.

I understand the intention of Amendment 150 is to ensure that victims of domestic abuse can receive universal credit advances in the form of grants. I note that the amendment affects the conditions only for the payment of budgeting advances. Budgeting advances provide one-off emergency payments for claimants or are related to obtaining or retaining employment, whereas new claim and change of circumstances advances provide claimants with an advance of their UC award. As currently drafted, the amendment will waive only the recoverability and eligibility criteria of budgeting advances for domestic abuse victims.

The Department for Work and Pensions offers new claim advances that allow claimants to access 100% of their estimated universal credit payment up front. We can help claimants, including victims of domestic abuse, to apply for an advance with payment being made within 72 hours or even on the same day, in some circumstances. With a universal credit advance, a claimant’s universal credit award will be phased across 13 payments in a year, rather than 12, and the maximum level of monthly deduction they will face is 30% of their standard allowance. Deferrals are also available for the phasing of new claim advances, meaning that claimants can extend the phasing of their 13 UC payments for up to an additional three months, in exceptional circumstances.

In addition, change of circumstances advances are available to claimants where a change of circumstances, such as the birth of a child, means that their universal credit award will significantly increase in the next payment. The additional payment of a change of circumstances advance would be used to cover the additional costs incurred by claimants until they receive their increased UC award at the end of their assessment period. These advances are phased across six months.

This amendment also seeks to make budgeting advances non-recoverable for victims of domestic abuse, alongside removing eligibility criteria. Budgeting advances are available to purchase one-off emergency items or for obtaining or retaining employment. To be eligible, claimants must have been in receipt of benefits for six months, have repaid any existing budgeting advance amount and earned less than £2,600 in the previous six months, if a single claimant. For claimants who receive a budgeting advance to obtain or retain employment, the six-month benefit criteria are waived and the required earnings threshold recalculated. This one-off payment of a budgeting advance is recovered over 12 months, although this can be extended to 18 months in exceptional circumstances.

If the Government were to issue universal credit advances as grant payments for victims of domestic abuse, as suggested by the noble Baroness’s amendment, this would raise equality concerns and inevitably lead to calls for the measure’s extension to other groups. Moreover, to mitigate the potential of increased fraud that universal credit grants could cause, we would have to introduce an additional manual assessment to verify the claimant’s circumstances ahead of payment. This could delay payment to claimants, when our first priority should be to urgently give individuals support.

Moving on to the other feature of the amendment, the Government do not feel that we should waive the eligibility criteria for budgeting advances. These eligibility criteria include a low-income threshold because we believe that, in the majority of situations, a claimant’s universal credit award will be able to cover the costs of emergency items. However, to support those in particular hardship, budgeting advances provide one-off payments for claimants who may not be able to afford these emergency items without additional support.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, revolving around the role of the advisory board and whether we are looking for people with experience and expertise, or those who represent specific interests.

Clause 12(4) indicates that of the six specific types of people who must be on the board, five are described as representing specific interests and only one is not. It would be helpful if the Government could explain the basis for determining which persons as representatives, with one exception, the advisory board must include. If the Government can answer why they have listed the types of people who have to be on the board, it might help us to form a better view of exactly what the Government see as the role of the advisory board. I appreciate that Clause 12(1) states that the advisory board is

“for the purposes of providing advice to the Commissioner about the exercise of the Commissioner’s functions.”

However, that is pretty vague, and it would help if the Government said what kind of advice they are expecting this advisory board to provide about the exercise of the commissioner’s functions.

I would rather take the view that there must be a case for leaving the commissioner with greater scope than he or she will have for deciding who they want on the advisory board. It can currently have a maximum of 10 members, as laid down in the Bill, but the Government have already determined who six of those members will be. One finds this a bit of a contrast to the discussion on the previous group of amendments on a totally different issue. When it came to an investigation into universal credit and domestic abuse, it was suggested that we should not be tying the commissioner’s hands or telling them what to do. Yet when it comes to the advisory board, which can only have a maximum of 10, the commissioner is told in very specific terms who 60% of the membership of that board have got to be and who they are to represent—with one exception being a person with academic expertise.

Can the Government explain why they have come to the conclusion they have about the six people who must be on the board and who they should represent? Can they give some examples of the kinds of advice they think the advisory board might be able to give? Can they clarify the point that has been raised about whether they see people on the board as being representatives of particular groups, or whether they are looking for people whose primary assets are experience and expertise in this field? If we can get some answers to those questions, as well as the other questions asked in this debate, we might be able to better understand the Government’s thinking behind Clause 12.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. As noble Lords have outlined, these amendments all relate to the composition of the advisory board that will provide the commissioner with advice on the exercise of her functions. The advice could span a range of issues but is expected to contribute towards the development of the commissioner’s strategic plans, at the very least.

It is important that the advisory board contains a broad range of interests and represents a number of key statutory agencies and domestic abuse experts. I could start listing them, but then noble Lords might hold me to my words. But I can give examples. For example, they might have experience in housing or refuges or have medical experience, and so on and so forth. To maximise the effectiveness of the board, it is required to have no fewer than six members and no more than 10. That is to ensure that the board remains focused and provides clear advice to the commissioner.

Amendment 37 seeks to lift the upper limit on the membership of the board. We think that a maximum membership of 10 is appropriate to ensure that the board can operate effectively and efficiently. It does not preclude the commissioner from also seeking advice from other sources, but we need to avoid creating an unwieldy board which cannot then provide effective support to the commissioner.

In relation to Amendment 38, I do not believe there is any real practical difference here. To be able to represent, for example, the providers of health care services, I would expect the relevant member to have experience and expertise in this field. I suggest that we can leave it to the good judgement of the commissioner to appoint suitably qualified individuals.

Amendments 39, 40 and 43 all seek to add to the categories of persons who must be presented on the board. As I have indicated, we risk creating a board that is too unwieldy and therefore cannot effectively discharge its functions and support the commissioner in her role. An advisory board member could represent the interests of more than one group. For example, they could represent the interests of victims of domestic abuse, while also representing the interests of specialist charities. The structure provided for in Clause 12 confers sufficient latitude on the commissioner to include other key areas of expertise, such as in relation to children.

In addition to this board, through her terms and conditions of employment the commissioner will be required to establish a victims and survivors advisory group to ensure that it engages directly with victims and survivors in its work. The commissioner may also establish any other groups as she sees fit. While the appointments are a matter for the commissioner, I expect the membership of the victims and survivors advisory group to be representative of all victims of domestic abuse—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

The advisory board must be able to operate efficiently and effectively. It is important that it has a balanced membership, with expertise in critical areas relating to supporting and protecting all victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. Clause 12 strikes the right balance, setting out minimum and maximum representation but otherwise giving the commissioner the space to appoint the right individuals to the board. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness is content to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to conclude the debate on her amendment.

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I would have thought it could be specified, at the least, that the Chief Coroner could report to the Secretary of State and the commissioner on matters the Chief Coroner wishes to bring to their attention.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate with such constructive comments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has explained, Amendments 51 and 54 seek to address what may be a gap in the domestic abuse commissioner’s powers in relation to ensuring that lessons are learned from domestic homicide reviews. These are abhorrent crimes; of course, every death is a tragedy, as is the suicide of a domestic abuse victim. Domestic homicide reviews are a valuable mechanism to understand what lessons can be learned from these deaths to prevent further tragedies. We recognise that there is room for improvement in the way these reviews are conducted and the lessons applied.

Section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 provides for domestic homicide reviews to be undertaken by police forces in England and Wales, local authorities, providers of probation services and relevant NHS bodies. The accompanying guidance states that reviews must be published on community safety partnership websites following approval from the Home Office, unless there are exceptional circumstances not to do so. To that extent, the review findings will be available to the commissioner, but I recognise that there is a case for going further.

In relation to England, most of the bodies I have listed—probation service providers being the exception—are already subject to the duty to co-operate with the commissioner under Clause 15. It would thus be open to the commissioner to use her powers under that clause to achieve the outcome sought by Amendment 54. In addition, we are ready to review the current guidance, in consultation with those who undertake domestic homicide reviews, with a view to including a standing expectation that the findings of these reviews are shared with the commissioner.

With regard to the other reviews referred to in Amendment 54, the guidance on domestic homicide reviews is clear that such reviews must be considered when the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from domestic abuse. As a result, it is possible that homicide may be subject to more than one review, albeit each with a different focus and purpose. As a consequence, without further consideration of the interplay between the various reviews referred to in Amendment 54, we are not yet persuaded that it is necessary to place a requirement on the relevant public authorities to copy the findings of the reviews listed in subsection (2) of the proposed new clause where the review relates to a domestic homicide. However, as I have indicated, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, made his point about data being the key, if on further analysis there is a good case for such a requirement, the commissioner can use her Clause 15 powers to this end.

As to whether the list of specified public authorities in Clause 15 should be extended in the manner proposed in Amendment 51, this is again something we can consider further. Noble Lords will understand that we should fully consult the bodies in question before reaching a conclusion on this. We may not have sufficient time to complete such consultations ahead of Report but, in any event, Clause 15 contains a power to amend the list of specified public authorities by regulations.

On the broader point, I accept the concerns related to the collection of data on domestic homicides. That is why the Home Office has undertaken to create a central repository to hold all domestic homicide reviews. Once introduced, all historical reports will be collected to ensure that there is a central database on domestic homicides. It is also clear that the domestic homicides review process would benefit from the closer involvement of the domestic abuse commissioner. We intend to work with her to consider which parts of the review process would benefit from her involvement.

Finally, Amendment 189 would require regulations to remove a specified authority under Clause 15 to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In our delegated powers memorandum we argued that the negative procedure affords an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny, given the constraints on the regulation-making power, notably the fact that it cannot be used to remove a body that is listed in the clause on enactment. Regulations can remove a body from the list of specified public authorities only if that body had previously been added to the list by regulations. In its report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee raised no objection to the negative power.

In conclusion, I am sympathetic to Amendments 51 and 54, but they require more analysis and consultation before we reach a firm conclusion. Moreover, the powers of the commissioner in Clause 15(1), the duty for a specified public authority to co-operate in subsection (2) and the regulation-making power in subsection (4) offer a way forward without the need to amend the Bill. That said, I would be happy to update noble Lords ahead of Report on progress regarding our consideration of these issues. With that undertaking, I hope that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has participated in this short debate. Some of the statistics cited are absolutely fascinating, as are the insights that noble Lords are able to bring to a subject like this. I was interested to note that the Minister said that the commissioner already has the powers to require co-operation from all but one of the groups we are seeking to add, and yet the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee both alluded to the fact that the commissioner has requested these particular powers to be added. We will see whether we can get to the bottom of this.

I am heartened by the words of the Minister. She has said that she will update the House again before Report. That will be extremely helpful to the whole House and it will determine how we need to take things forward. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Amendment 53, proposed by my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, seeks to add a new clause to the Bill. Every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate has fully supported my noble friend’s amendment. The new clause would place a duty on all public authorities to provide training for their staff so that, when they engage with members of the public, they can spot the signs of abuse and can then ask the proper questions and offer appropriate help. As my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said, this is probably the most important amendment we have discussed today and one of the most important we have debated during consideration on this important and very good Bill.

People engage with public authorities through a range of services, such as local councils, the DWP and GPs. In some parts of the public sector, particularly the health service, people do ask such questions when they have somebody in front of them. As some noble Lords have said, although there may be training, it is very patchy and inconsistent. We are failing many victims. We want to be sure that we will have dealt with this problem by the time the Bill becomes law. When someone engages with the state, there must be people who can see the signs, understand the signals, ask the right questions and take appropriate action. Everyone must play their part in protecting the victims.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made reference to the police. There are some very good examples of excellent work that the police have done. I remember my visit to the domestic abuse unit at Greenwich, where really good work was taking place, in collaboration with the local authority, Greenwich Council. There was one case where officers had attended an incident and were suspicious about what was going on. They kept going back because they knew. Finally, they engaged with the person, got what they needed, got the person out and protected her. That understanding of the problem and engagement does not happen everywhere. We want every police force, across the whole of the United Kingdom, to follow that good example. As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, the officers who get called to a disturbance in the early hours of the morning are often the first people knocking on the door, so it is important that the police service in particular can deal with this.

My noble friend Lady Crawley made the point that having trained inquirers who know what to ask and what to do is so important in making sure that we make the difference. I also took on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, about the importance of training to recognise the special needs of the BAME community when dealing with issues of domestic abuse.

So I fully support the amendment and am hopeful of a positive response from the noble Baroness. I look forward to getting a resolution of this issue.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for tabling this amendment. The Government are in full agreement with its aims; we too want professionals to have the skills and confidence to ask the right questions about domestic abuse and take the appropriate action. I will not be making arguments about overburdening them, but rather suggesting how we think it might be achieved.

We absolutely want to embed understanding of domestic abuse in all agencies. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, what is the point if agencies do not know how to respond and cannot spot the signs? We want to ensure that there is strong recognition, from senior leadership through to front-line staff, of the importance of tackling domestic abuse. We want staff to ask about domestic abuse, because it is integral to their role and driven by professional curiosity. One of our concerns about introducing a statutory duty, to which noble Lords have alluded, is that it risks undermining professional judgment, and we do not want these sensitive and complex conversations to turn into some sort of tick-box exercise.

The Government are committed to taking wide-ranging action to improve understanding of domestic abuse across statutory agencies through guidance, targeted resources and training for responding agencies such as the police, social workers, healthcare professionals and universal credit work coaches. Work is already under way to strengthen the response from key agencies. In the health sector, front-line staff must undertake mandatory safeguarding training, which includes a focus on domestic abuse. The intercollegiate documents for child and adult safeguarding set out the core skills, competencies and knowledge expected for healthcare staff to be covered in the safeguarding training, and the level of training expected depending on their roles.

NHS England and NHS Improvement are strengthening safeguarding practice in local health systems through the updated NHS safeguarding accountability and assurance framework, and a new safeguarding commissioning assurance toolkit. Schedule 32 to the NHS standard contract sets out the service conditions for safeguarding, which include that the provider must implement comprehensive programmes of safeguarding training for all relevant staff and must have regard to the intercollegiate guidance on safeguarding training.