Rachel Maclean (Redditch) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, and I give my strong support to my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye, who has done a fantastic job of progressing this really important piece of legislation. I will not detain the Committee long, but I want to reference the work she is doing, which sits in the wider context of all the work the Government are doing to tackle the horrendous, insidious, dangerous and life-threatening issue of domestic abuse.
What we are doing here is really important, because it shines a light on the economic abuse and coercive control aspects of domestic abuse, which we now understand, thanks to this Government passing the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and implementing all the measures that flow from that, including the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. We understand that domestic abuse can be about manipulating finances and manipulating access to children. Children are often at the frontline of the awful tension and dynamic between the partners, and are often used as a weapon by an abusive or manipulative man against a woman. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley rightly said, it can often become a threatening and escalating pattern of violence and abuse, which unfortunately all too often ends in a woman being killed.
The Bill is a really important piece of the jigsaw. We must keep pushing across the whole of Government to implement the series of measures highlighted in the domestic abuse plan. My hon. Friend the Minister and I have worked closely together, because of the vital links between the DWP, the Home Office and other Government Departments; this is not an issue that any Government Department can tackle on its own. I commend the Minister and her Department for all the work that they have done, including the vital responses in Jobcentre Plus, the training that the Minister has brought in, and initiatives such as the black dot. All that work adds to the frontline support for victims of abuse, alongside things such as the Ask for ANI—Action Needed Immediately—service, and the other vital helplines that the Government have provided.
I thank the organisation Surviving Economic Abuse, which has done some fantastic work, supported by the Government, and has provided vital advice. It has really raised the game in highlighting what economic abuse looks like and where people can go to get help. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills rightly highlighted the issue of deductions from payments. These people really need those payments, especially in a cost of living crisis. Surviving Economic Abuse, in its report “The Cost of Covid-19”, highlighted that 84% of women were worried about access to child maintenance payments
“as a result of the perpetrator’s actions”.
Often the fear of being unable to support their children if they leave can be a reason why women choose to stay in an abusive relationship. Sorting that out will be tremendously helpful. We found that during covid sometimes people stopped making payments, adding to the already unbearable pressure.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister how she will continue all the work she is already doing to ensure that frontline staff understand the issues. We talk about domestic abuse needing to be evidenced by the victim. We must remember that these are traumatised women, who are already facing an incredibly difficult situation. We need to make the process as light-touch, trauma-informed and compassionate as possible, so that when they come and explain their situation, they will be received sympathetically and measures can be put in place swiftly. I would be keen to hear what the evidence gathering process will look like, to ensure that the DWP is working with the specialist organisations that are doing so much on this front.
I wish the Bill well. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.