Charities, commissioners and campaigners have welcomed news that Ministers are committed to looking at measures which will stop most domestic abuse victims slipping through the cracks in support.
The Government confirmed in a letter to Lord Stuart Polak that it will be consulting about community-based domestic abuse support services this summer as part of its Victims’ Law consultation.
It comes after he led an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, drafted with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and supported by more than 30 cross-party peers and 20 organisations.
This amendment would have seen community-based domestic abuse support services placed on the same statutory footing as those in refuges and supported accommodation. It would have done this by introducing a duty on relevant public authorities to commission specialist domestic abuse support for all victims, including children, and ensure high-quality perpetrator programmes.
As it stands the Bill, which is being debated in the House of Lords this afternoon (March 8), risks creating a two-tier system for victims.
The Bill includes a statutory duty to support victims in refuges and supported accommodation. While this support is necessary, most victims who remain in the family home would not qualify for this protection.
But writing to Lord Polak, Baroness Williams of Trafford - the Minister of State for Countering Extremism – said: “Your amendment is admirable in its desire to take a holistic approach to ensuring that adult and child victims of this terrible crime receive the support they need, no matter where they reside, and that perpetrators can access programmes to address their behaviour. The Government shares these ambitions and recognises the vital role that community-based services play in supporting victims.
“I can confirm that the Government will consult on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming Victims’ Law consultation. The Victims’ Law consultation will take place this summer and represents a seminal opportunity to examine these issues thoroughly.”
Lord Polak said: “I’d like to thank the Government, especially the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and Baroness Williams, for listening to my concerns and those of the organisations I have been working with, which have been championing the need for community-based domestic abuse services in this legislation.
“Domestic Abuse is a horrific crime that impacts millions of people. Not only have the Government listened, they have also acted and shown their support for community-based domestic abuse support services. I look forward to working further with the Government on this consultation.”
The news about the consultation has been welcomed by a coalition of leading domestic abuse, violence against women and girls, and children’s charities and other organisations, which have been calling for improvements in the Domestic Abuse Bill.
They include Barnardo’s, which has led the work with Lord Polak on this amendment.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan, said: “We welcome the announcement that Ministers will consult on community-based domestic abuse services. These services play a critical role in helping children recover from trauma.
“The Domestic Abuse Bill rightly recognises that children are victims of domestic abuse. But as currently drafted it risks creating a two-tier system, where victims including children can only rely on support if they flee their homes for a refuge.
“This means that the majority of victims, who remain in their homes, risk missing out on statutory support – especially in today’s challenging financial climate.
“We are grateful to Ministers for engaging on this issue, and we welcome the commitment to consult on community-based domestic abuse services as part of the Victims’ Law consultation over the summer. It is vital that this consultation considers the introduction of a statutory duty that covers all victims.
“We look forward to working closely with Government and Parliament to help keep children safe from domestic abuse, improve their access to timely support, and improve their chance of a positive future.”
Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said: “I strongly welcome the commitment set out by the Government to Lord Polak confirming that Ministers share the ambition to provide a holistic approach so that domestic abuse victims are supported via both community-based and refuge services.
“The Government’s commitment to consult on the proposals outlined by Lord Polak in the upcoming Victims’ Law marks a great step forward. This would mark a transformational change in the way in which domestic abuse services are delivered by ensuring early intervention.
“Around 70 per cent of domestic abuse victims get lifesaving support through community-based services and creating a standalone statutory duty would help many thousands of victims and survivors.”
Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “I am really pleased to see the Government recognise the vital role that community-based services play in supporting victims and I welcome the government’s commitment to consult on the provision of these services as part of the upcoming Victims Law consultation.
"I am also delighted to see the government set out a timeline for the long-awaited Victims Law consultation. I look forward to hearing more detail on this in due course.
"We know that refuge accommodation is hugely important, but the majority of victims stay in the home and access community-based services. We need to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse – including children living in abusive households – have access to local protection and support in their own communities. I look forward to working with the government on this consultation to ensure just that."
Domestic abuse campaigner and survivor Charlie Webster said: "As a child survivor of domestic abuse I can tell you the devastating long term impact this has, from the trauma that lives both in your mind and body, to the learnt behaviours you are modelled, never mind the way you are taught to feel about yourself.
"We must keep this in mind at all times as we shape the Domestic Abuse Bill. This is why I welcome the consultation on community-based services that I and many others have campaigned for but strongly urge the Government to do this as an immediate priority, even more so with the further isolation of victims in the pandemic.
"The majority of victims of domestic abuse access support through community based services, for the Bill to have a profound impact we need a robust system on the ground that means all victims get the help they need and not just those in supported accommodation."
Action for Children’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Imran Hussain, said: “Our ‘Patchy, Piecemeal and Precarious’ report just over a year ago revealed that children living in the terrifying shadow of domestic abuse are being denied access to the specialist help they need to recover. We know from our own services that the pandemic has almost certainly made things a lot worse, with some of our most vulnerable children trapped behind closed doors during lockdown.
“Our staff have seen the emotional scars of domestic abuse on children, who can show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, having nightmares, flashbacks, headaches and becoming jumpy.
“We are very pleased that ministers have listened and committed to a consultation on community-based services, including for child victims. This is a rare opportunity to change how society responds to domestic abuse.”
End Violence Against Women Coalition Director, Andrea Simon, said: " A new commitment to examine the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the Victim's Law consultation is a step towards ensuring survivors of domestic abuse can access the full range of help and support they need. It is vital that the Government takes every opportunity to leave no survivor behind.
“Having recognised the crucial role played by community-based domestic abuse services in the recovery of domestic abuse survivors, we urge the Government to do more to address the gaps in provision of specialist support led "by and for" the most marginalised communities, including for BME and migrant women and children."
NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Anna Edmundson, said: “The consultation is a welcome step towards ensuring all children who experience domestic abuse have access to specialist, therapeutic services in the community so that they can recover wherever they live.
“But it must happen sooner rather than later. Our Helpline has received an unprecedented number of contacts about children living with domestic abuse behind closed doors during the pandemic.
“We know it can decimate a child’s confidence and sense of security day to day. It can have a devastating impact on their emotional wellbeing and mental health but this doesn’t have to be the case with the right support.”
SafeLives Chief Executive, Suzanne Jacob, said: “We are delighted that the Government has agreed to consult on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services which we hope will lead to a new duty on public authorities.
“Community-based organisations support 70% of domestic abuse survivors who use a service, and alongside evidence-based perpetrator interventions, are a crucial part of a ‘whole family’ response to domestic abuse.
“We look forward to working with the Government to ensure any extension of provision works to keep adult, teen and child victims of domestic abuse safe in their own homes, while holding perpetrators to account for the harm they cause.”