This piece of legislation is one of the most important in living memory. It is an historic opportunity to erase this stain on our society. There is a lot of good policy in this Bill and I welcome it, and I appreciate that it has changed and improved during the stages of debate and the Bill committee because of unusual levels of collaboration. And rightly so.
However it risks falling way short. The amendments tabled in the Lords are vital to make sure this Bill achieves what we all want it to achieve.
Colleagues have been describing in tragic detail the horrific scale of domestic violence up and down the country, and how the pandemic has made life even harder for victims and survivors.
The problem is getting worse, not better.
In my own community in Wandsworth, there was a 15% increase in domestic abuse related incidents recorded by the Police between July 2017 and July 2020, and in London there was a 20% increase in the same time period.
Domestic abuse cases reported to the Met Police between 23 March – 10 May 2020 were 14% higher than the same period last year. This is an increase from 18,707 in 2019 to 21,324 in 2020.
So it was on the rise even before the pandemic hit and hundreds of thousands of women were locked down with abusive partners.
I want to briefly focus on four key areas where this Bill needs to go further.
The first is migrant victims. This Bill must go further to remove some of the acute barriers to safety and support that migrant women face.
The ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition means that migrant victims – including care-workers, NHS staff and other key workers – face an increased risk of abuse, with limited support services to turn to. In 2019, 4 in 5 migrant women were turned away from refuges due to NRPF conditions, and COVID has seen numbers of victims seeking help sky-rocket. This Bill must provide equal protection for all victims of domestic abuse.
Safe reporting must be made possible, and to stop the fear of police reporting people to the Home Office. Since the policy of data sharing started, the number of women deported after reporting Domestic Abuse has risen from 12% to 30% so it is not an unfounded fear. This fear is used as a weapon by perpetrators of violence and women who want to stay with their children are trapped.
For this reason I will be voting for amendments 40 and 41. It is so important migrant victims have access to safe reporting mechanisms and access to funds while they flee abuse.
The second is ensuring support for all victims.
We must ensure all victims of domestic abuse are seen, supported and protected. The availability of specialist support for certain groups (both in the form of refuge accommodation and other support services) is vital – these include ‘by and for’ services, that support black and minority ethnic victims, migrant victims, LGBTQ+ victims and disabled victim.
Every year for instance, disabled people are victims of abuse by paid and unpaid carers with whom they have a close intimate relationship, but who are not family members or partners. These relationships are analogous to other relationships which fall within the definitions of this Bill.
This is why Lords Amendments 1 to 3, and amendment 43, have my wholehearted support. It is crucial we recognise abuse of disabled people by paid or unpaid carers and ensure victim support is free from discrimination.
Thirdly, we must improve support infrastructure for victims and survivors.
To be truly transformative this legislation must deliver the changes survivors urgently need in housing, healthcare, the immigration system, welfare reform, the family courts and in support for children.
Covid has exposed the inadequate protection and support for survivors of VAWG and domestic abuse, specifically for some of the most marginalised of society. This Bill must go further to protect all.
So I will be voting for Lords amendments 9 and 33. Bringing Child Contact Centres up to standard and providing our courts with proper training is a vital first step.
Fourth and finally, this Bill has to shift the focus onto the perpetrator.
For too long the focus has been on how women should ‘keep themselves safe’. We must change that conversation, provide quality assured perpetrator programmes and properly monitor and manage repeat offenders.
1 woman is killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member every 3 days and many perpetrators of such violence have a history of abuse. That is an appalling statistic.
The Bill needs to fully comprehend the effects and impact of abuse and provide legal protection for victims who are driven to offend, or use force against a perpetrator, because of the abuse they have suffered.
This is why I will be supporting amendments 37, 38 and 83. These amendments will give victims the legal protection they desperately need.
Equally as important is to manage, monitor and supervise perpetrators and serial offenders of domestic abuse and stalking through a register. It is therefore hugely disappointing to see the Government row back on their support for this.
This is a big mistake and means losing the chance to monitor and manage some of the most dangerous convicted perpetrators who pose the greatest risk to women.
I will therefore be supporting Amendment 42, and I hope the Government changes their mind and joins me and my Labour colleagues.
This Bill is an historic opportunity to turn the tide on domestic violence and abuse, so my message to the Government today is simple: please, please do not squander it.