Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Bishop of Derby Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2021)
Amendments 176 and 177 are not only supported across this House; they are supported by the designate domestic abuse commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, the Children’s Commissioner, a range of police and crime commissioners, the British Association of Social Workers, and many organisations supporting victims and working with perpetrators. I reiterate that we have waited for this vital piece of legislation and I appeal to my noble friend the Minister: let us be bold and help as many people who need support as we can.
Lord Bishop of Derby Portrait The Lord Bishop of Derby [V]
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My Lords, I add my voice to those who have already welcomed this Bill and thank the Minister for the Government’s responses so far. I support all the amendments in this group but address my comments to Amendment 176, to which I was pleased to add my name. I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and commend his clear and passionate introduction to this amendment.

Although this Bill is welcome and long overdue, its success as legislation must ultimately be measured in how far it improves on current outcomes in supporting survivors of abuse. To that end, Amendment 176 seeks to strengthen the Bill to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse can equally access the protection and support measures they require.

I too support the Government’s good intentions in including a statutory duty to provide accommodation-based support and appreciated the earlier debate on that provision. However, I fear an unintended consequence: in placing the focus on that support, we risk undermining the funding and provision of specialist community-based services, notably including for many children who are victims of domestic abuse.

Community-based specialist services allow people to remain in their homes and retain the local, family and faith support networks that are often essential to recovery and resilience. Where we can provide essential support without survivors being forced to leave their homes unnecessarily, surely it is highly desirable to do so. There are already too few of these community-based services, often poorly and precariously funded, and it would be a bitter irony if this Bill were to further undermine this situation, to the detriment of a great many of the most vulnerable survivors. I highlight in particular those issues around children and migrant families as examples.

I restrict my comments to English provision, as I have received no request to speak on this amendment from my colleagues in the Church in Wales. It is a great privilege for me to serve as vice-chair of the Church of England Children’s Society and to know of the crucial work done by specialist children’s services, which has been referred to already in the debate.

Keeping children in their homes and schools is so important, so I echo the appreciation of work done already in this Bill, recognising that children can be victims of domestic violence in their own right. We cannot allow that work to be undermined by the services on which those children rely becoming in any way deprioritised by local authorities redistributing limited funding to meet a statutory duty on accommodation-based services.

This situation becomes particularly acute when it comes to migrant women and their families. Migrant women are unable to stay in much refuge accommodation due to its no recourse to public funds restriction. Only 5% of refuge spaces listed last year were available to migrant women, in specialised black and minority-ethnic refuges. Moreover, such specialist refuge provision for black and minority-ethnic women is very limited across England. It is mainly concentrated in England and is oversubscribed and precariously funded.

Of course, there are other amendments that focus on safe reporting, NRPF and leave to remain for migrant women—I appreciate listening to those debates—but this amendment is separate from those issues, for it focuses on a duty on local authorities, police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to take reasonable steps to ensure sufficient provision for all survivors through community and specialist services, as well as accommodation-based ones.

I started by saying that the success of this legislation must ultimately be measured by how far it improves current outcomes in supporting survivors of abuse. It would be a tragedy if we were to pass this legislation, only for community-based services thereafter to be further restricted in their provision of this necessary support. I therefore hope that the Minister can provide us with assurances that these services can be supported as this amendment proposes. If the Minister is unable to give such assurances now, I hope that ahead of Report there will be engagement and conversation with us on these important details concerning community- based provision.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 176, to which my name is attached, inserts a new clause that requires local authorities, police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to take reasonable steps to ensure sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services in their local areas in both the community and refuges. This must include sufficient provision of services for children and young people, survivors with protected characteristics and migrant survivors as well as perpetrator programmes. The duty on local authorities under this amendment would improve service provision with immediate effect. Relevant public bodies would take relevant circumstances into account in deciding what constituted reasonable steps and sufficiency. As and when the outcome of any consultation, mapping exercise or guidance from the Secretary of State becomes available, the nature of what constitutes reasonable steps and sufficiency can change accordingly. As has been said, the domestic abuse commissioner-designate is undertaking a mapping exercise, but as the noble Lord, Lord Polak, has pointed out, she supports the new clause. She has said that she does not think that the mapping exercise needs to take place before the duty in the new clause, if added to the Bill, comes into force.

In speaking to Amendment 176, I want to talk in particular about adult victims and perpetrators in the context of the provision of community-based services. As we know, the majority of survivors of domestic abuse—some 70%—access support in community settings. The duty on local authorities in the Bill in respect of accommodation-based services will be of little statutory benefit to them, hence this amendment. In the last year, 65,000 adult victims, and I think about 85,000 child victims, at the highest risk of serious harm or murder received support through such community-based services. Community-based services are crucial because no one, if they can avoid it, wants to leave their home and their possessions and uproot their children from school—to effectively go into hiding—as a result of domestic abuse. Many would think it should be the perpetrator who should be uprooted. There is a danger that without the emphasis in this Bill being on the provision of community-based services as well as accommodation-based services, the latter will become the default option for adult and child victims, because the statutory provision—the duty on local authorities in respect of accommodation-based services—risks encouraging local authorities with limited resources to divert vital funds away from services provided in the community, such as advocacy, independent domestic violence advisers, outreach services and dedicated children’s services, to those services for which there is a statutory duty.

Currently, community service provision for even those victims at the highest level of risk of serious harm or murder is lacking, with 300 more domestic violence advisers still required as a minimum to help current victims to be safe. The availability of outreach workers for victims at lower risk levels is patchy across the country.

Support in accommodation is also much more expensive per service user than community-based support. Estimates suggest that each use of an accommodation-based service costs around £3,500, whereas community-based services cost an estimated maximum of just under £800 per user.

Estimates by the organisation SafeLives highlight the significant gap between what the Government have committed to combatting violence against women—a spend of some £100 million over four years—and their own calculation that £1 billion in total is required to fund the necessary provision just for adult victims of abuse.