Baroness Donaghy (Lab) [V]
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, mentioned that, nearly 50 years ago, the first women’s refuge was opened in Chiswick. I lived there, and I remember it well: it hit the headlines, and not all that many were positive. I had hoped that things would improve—at least it is not called “wife battering” any more—but if you took the sum total of human misery caused by domestic violence and turned it into an energy source, it would hold back oceans.
In my brief time I will focus on domestic violence as a workplace issue, local authority funding and the need for a co-ordinated, community-based response. As a former president of the TUC, I recognise that domestic violence can spill over into the workplace, and my former union, UNISON, is asking the Government to extend the remit of domestic abuse protection orders to include workplaces on the face of the Bill. Under the current wording, emphasis is placed on restrictions to the victim’s accommodation, and the Government have said that they would expect a DAPO to include such restrictions if the court considered it necessary. This is not strong enough.
UNISON welcomes the government review into support in the workplace for survivors of domestic abuse. It is calling for guidance to employers, including on paid leave, so that victims will have the time and space to sort out their lives, whether it is to receive medical treatment, find safe accommodation, or attend court or police dates. What progress have the Government made with their review? Will they extend domestic abuse protection orders explicitly to include the workplace on the face of the Bill?
While the Local Government Association has welcomed the Bill, it is concerned about co-ordination, adequate funding and sustainability. The spending review has already been mentioned. It announced £125 million of funding to help local authorities to deliver the proposed new duty to support domestic abuse victims and their children in safe accommodation. Some experts have estimated that the cost would be nearer £400 million. How has this figure been calculated and will it meet the full costs of the new proposed duties? In addition, transitional funding is needed to provide for existing support services due to close at the end of the financial year.
We need a cross-government response, including health, housing and education, and an equal focus on funding for prevention and wider community-based support. The LGA is not the only organisation which is concerned that the emphasis on local authorities finding accommodation will distort the overall strategy. The list of all the organisations is too long to mention, but it includes the domestic abuse commissioner herself, and they are all calling for an amendment to the Bill which would widen the new statutory duty for accommodation-based services to cover community-based services as well. I hope that the Government will consider sympathetically that addition and accept an amendment to the Bill.