Members of the House of Lords have written an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to ensure community-based support services are included in the Domestic Abuse Bill.
The cross-party letter comes in the week Peers in the House of Lords are set to debate an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill which, if included, would mean public authorities would have a statutory duty to commission support in the community for all victims of domestic abuse - including children.
This amendment is backed by a coalition of charities which support victims of domestic abuse - including Barnardo’s, as well as the Victims’ Commissioner, Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Children’s Commissioner, Royal Colleges and Faculties.
As it stands the Bill includes a statutory duty to support victims only if they are in refuges or supported accommodation.
But, while this support is welcome, there is a risk, especially with limited funding, that this will create a two tier system, with the majority of victims who remain in the family home not qualifying for this protection, and potentially not receiving the support they desperately need as a result.
The letter from peers to Boris Johnson explains: “Our aim should not be to uproot the lives of adult and child victims, making them move miles away from their support networks, abandon their possessions and sometimes their livelihoods, take children out of school all whilst the perpetrator stays at home.
“Instead we should ensure victims can stay at home or in independent accommodation through well-funded community-based services.
“These services not only protect and support victims but provide programmes for perpetrators to prevent offending and reoffending, as we know that a quarter of high-harm perpetrators are repeat offenders and some have at least six different victims.
“By excluding community-based services in the Bill we risk creating a two-tier system which may: lead to funding being diverted away from community-based services to ensure the new duty on local authorities is fulfilled; create a perverse incentive resulting in victims only having one option left if they need support and that is to place themselves at great risk by fleeing their homes; and exclude tackling the cause of domestic abuse, its perpetration.”
The amendment to include a statutory duty to commission community-based services is backed by a coalition of leading domestic abuse and children’s charities and other organisations including: Barnardo’s, Agenda, Action for Children, AVA (Against Violence and Abuse), British Association of Social Workers, Beck Fitzgerald, Centre for Women’s Justice, Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Galop, Hestia, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC, SafeLives, The Children’s Society, UK Says No More, Victim Support; as well as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner and the Children’s Commissioner, and domestic abuse campaigner and survivor Charlie Webster.
It is also supported by the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and The Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:
“The trauma of domestic abuse can have a devastating effect on children’s lives and their futures, if they do not get the right support.
“The Domestic Abuse Bill, which is being debated by Peers this week, is a unique opportunity to tackle this horrific crime and to make sure that all victims, including children, can access the support they need. However, to achieve this the Bill must be strengthened before it becomes law.
“As it stands the Bill will not secure support for all victims - adults and children living in refuges will be covered, but the majority of victims who remain in the family home will fall through the cracks. I hope the Government will listen carefully to peers, the Victims’ Commissioner, Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Children’s Commissioner, the Royal Colleges, and charities supporting victims of domestic abuse - including children – and agree to placing a clear duty on public authorities to commission support for all victims, regardless of their age or where they live.
"We know from our experience across the UK that with the right support, children who experience domestic abuse can recover and go on to have a positive future, and that’s why it is so important to get this Bill right.”
In a joint statement the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said: “It is vital that the Government takes this once in a generation opportunity to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse – including the children who are living in these abusive households – have access to local protection and support by including community-based services in the Domestic Abuse Bill’s statutory duty.
“We know that the majority of victims stay in the home and access community-based services rather than domestic abuse refuges. It is therefore clear that without a duty to commission community-based support, including specialist services, the Bill risks creating a two-tier system, which would leave most victims - including children and migrant victims - without appropriate support.
“A statutory duty that includes community-based services will mean this Bill provides support which is inclusive and accessible to all. It is also vital that these community services are provided to children who experience abuse, or display abusive behaviours, in their own relationships. If the Domestic Abuse Bill is to be the truly transformational, landmark piece of legislation that the government proclaimed it to be, then we need to see this change.”
In a joint statement the Royal Colleges and Faculties said: “As Royal Colleges and Faculties representing healthcare professionals, we would support an extension of the current proposed statutory duty in the Domestic Abuse Bill on accommodation-based services to include community-based specialist domestic abuse services.
“The links between domestic abuse and poor health outcomes for victims and perpetrators are clear in the research and seen daily in the patients we see every day. According to Government figures, domestic abuse costs the NHS £2.3bn and other areas of Government spending £66bn.
“We must protect and grow community-based domestic abuse services which support those victims of domestic violence and save lives. The pandemic has made things worse for a lot of these people in our members and their team’s communities and continuing to support community services will be crucial as local services recover from the pandemic.
We urge the Government to recognise the important role health has to play in understanding how to change public behaviours, identify victims and perpetrators, and ensure they have the specialist support they need to get safe and recover.
“The community-based domestic abuse services amendment is an important step to securing that buy-in from health commissioners, alongside local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners, as part of a whole health multi-agency approach.”
Notes to Editors
The open letter to Boris Johnson has been signed by:
The Lord Polak CBE
The Baroness Bertin
The Lord Alton of Liverpool
The Rt.Hon the Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top
The Baroness Benjamin DBE OBE
The Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle
The Lord Bird MBE
The Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
The Baroness Crawley
The Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of Derby
The Baroness Fall
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Featherstone
The Baroness Goudie
The Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill
The Baroness Hussein-Ece OBE
The Rt Hon. the Lord Hunt of Kings Heath OBE
The Lord Hylton
The Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
The Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE
The Baroness Masham of Ilton DL
The Baroness Massey of Darwen
The Lord Morrow
The Baroness Newlove
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Primarolo
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
The Lord Russell of Liverpool
The Baroness Scott of Needham Market
The Rt Hon. the Lord Smith of Finsbury
The Lord Storey CBE
The Baroness Uddin
The Baroness Watkins of Tavistock