Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
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)
Moved by
89: Clause 55, page 35, line 15, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert—
“(a) assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for domestic abuse support in its area by all persons affected by domestic abuse regardless of status, duly taking into account the special situation of women and children, with reference to a national needs assessment,(b) prepare and publish a strategy for the commissioning and provision of sufficient support to meet the needs identified in its area by the assessment referred to in paragraph (a), including sufficient specialist support for all persons affected by domestic abuse regardless of status, and(c) monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy and publish such evaluation in accordance with regulations issued under subsection (8).(1A) In preparing and adopting any strategy under subsection (1)(b), each relevant local authority must take account of any strategy to end violence against women and girls adopted by a Minister or Ministers.(1B) The assessment and strategy referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) must include, but is not limited to, the following—(a) the prevalence of and trends in domestic abuse and other forms of violence including that against women and girls, and the demographic of all persons in the area affected by domestic abuse and other forms of violence including violence against women and girls;(b) the needs for support, protection and safety of those who are affected by domestic abuse in the local population;(c) the nature and extent of the need for and provision of specialist support in respect of those persons affected by domestic abuse with presenting characteristics including sex, gender, race, colour, language, religion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, or such other relevant status;(d) the nature and extent of the need for and provision of specialist support to women who are affected by domestic abuse and their children;(e) the need for and provision of refuge services in sufficient numbers to provide safe accommodation for victims, especially women and their children, regardless of status;(f) how refuge services work in collaboration with a whole housing approach in the area that responds to the specific housing needs of victims of domestic abuse and provides a range of housing options for people experiencing domestic abuse that enables them or, where preferred by the victim, the person causing the abuse, to relocate.(1C) The relevant local authority shall allocate appropriate financial and human resources for the implementation of the strategy under subsection (1)(b), including the arrangement of such specialist support as is set out in the strategy.”Member’s explanatory statement
Part of a group of amendments aiming to strengthen the Government’s existing statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in accommodation-based services. These would clarify what factors authorities must consider when assessing need and preparing a strategy, define refuge services and ensure wide consultation.
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) (V)
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We strongly welcome the duty placed on local authorities in the Bill to support victims of domestic abuse and their children through providing support in accommodation-based services. This group of 12 amendments aims to strengthen and add necessary detail to this duty. The amendments would clarify what factors authorities must consider when assessing need and preparing a strategy, define refuge services, ensure wide consultation and put a national oversight mechanism on the face of the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Woolley of Woodford, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, whose names also appear on all or one or two of the amendments in the group. I would also like to thank Women’s Aid and Imkaan for the briefings they have provided.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I am happy to provide my noble friend with that information.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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First, I thank the Minister for her very full reply. I also thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate.

I suppose that, in summary, the issues we have been talking about have related to definitions—for example, of “relevant accommodation” and “specialist domestic abuse support”—and to non-discrimination against, for example, specialist refuge services and the need to support all victims, not least those with protected characteristics. There is then the issue of refuges being a national network of services and not just being about local needs and what local authorities are doing. There is also the issue of resource, including funding. The point was made very powerfully by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath that we will not achieve very much with the Bill if the necessary money is not provided to make sure that the Bill’s intentions can be delivered properly and in full.

I rather got the impression from the Government’s reply that, basically, none of the amendments have any merit with regard to being put into the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister said that the Government agree with the thrust of a number of them, but what slightly concerned me was that one or two of the points made in the debate, and I think that I was among those who made them, indicated that there is a feeling that the guidance that has been issued so far—for example, on definitions—does not exactly deliver. The reasons why we felt that were set out in some detail, but I do not think that we have had a response to that point this evening.

If I did not misunderstand the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, I think she said that there would be consultation on the statutory guidance once the Bill got Royal Assent. Many people would like to see some discussion on the guidance at a point when some changes can be made, before the Bill gets Royal Assent. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to have some discussions about this group of amendments before Report, perhaps indicating what the Government’s intentions are in respect of the statutory guidance that has been issued—whether they see any areas for further change and amplification of what is in there, in line with some of the comments made in this evening’s debate.

I will obviously leave things at that. I have a feeling that we will return to these amendments on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 89 withdrawn.
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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.