The report identifies persistent problems with lack of refuge and advice support for victims, weaknesses in the police and court response, and inadequate action to prevent abuse of all kinds. It calls for stronger action on what is one of the most common and the most dangerous crimes we face.
The report says:
- There is a desperate lack of refuge spaces for victims of domestic abuse – refuge provision should be a statutory obligation, backed by national ring fenced funding.
- Some of the Government’s welfare reform policies are making it harder for victims to leave or to avoid economic abuse and control. Single household payments under Universal Credit are a "retrograde and backward step". Split payments for couples should be the standard instead.
- A national register of serial stalkers and serial domestic violence perpetrators should be introduced.
- The proposed new Commissioner should cover both Domestic Abuse and Violence against Women and Girls; the strategy should cover all victims of domestic abuse but must reflect the gender inequality underlying domestic abuse.
- The Government should consult on introducing paid domestic violence leave for victims of abuse.
Chair of the Committee, Rt. Hon. Yvette Cooper MP, commented:
"Domestic abuse is one of the most dangerous and the most common crimes there is. Millions of people are affected each year, and two women a week die at the hands of a partner or ex. The Government is rightly proposing new legislation and a new strategy, but our inquiry found much stronger action is needed across the board.
Shockingly many refuges are turning away 60% of their referrals due to lack of space. We urgently need more refuge places – provision should be a requirement on local authorities, backed by national ring fenced funding.
Rightly the Government has recognised the serious problem of economic abuse. But Universal Credit is making it much harder for women to maintain financial independence or to leave abusive relationships and the Government’s insistence on a single household payment is a serious retrograde step. Separate family payments to ensure some independent income for the parent at home caring for children have been a feature of the welfare system ever since the introduction of Family Allowance for very good reason, and they are still part of the Scottish system today. If the Government is serious about tackling economic abuse, it needs to urgently rethink."
Ensuring victims have a place to go
Unpredictable and short-term funding streams have led to a serious lack of bed-space in safe accommodation for victims of domestic abuse. According to Women’s Aid, 60% of referrals to their refuges are refused due to lack of bed spaces.
It is not acceptable for women fleeing violence and other forms of abuse to be turned away from safety.
In the short term, funding must be provided to fill the gap that allows 90 women and 94 children to be turned away from refuges every day. The Government needs to review current funding levels, and develop a sustainable model that ensures the level of provision meets demand. This should be backed up by legislation that places a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide emergency refuge places.
Universal Credit payments making victims more vulnerable
The Committee welcomes the Government’s plans to include economic abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse. Economic abuse is associated with an increased risk of homicide as it removes the financial means for a victim to leave an abusive partner.
The Committee concluded that some of the Government’s welfare reforms were making it even more difficult for women to leave their abusers or to establish financial independence and avoid economic abuse. The default single household payment for Universal Credit should instead be split for all couples in England and Wales, in line with the approach taken in Scotland.
Recognising the gendered nature of domestic abuse
The Government has committed to developing a domestic abuse strategy and preparing a draft bill on domestic abuse and has said this will be framed within its strategy on violence against women.
The Committee recommends that the Government’s forthcoming bill should be a Violence Against Women and Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure that it can both support all victims of domestic abuse and also reflect the gender inequality underlying domestic abuse and its links to wider aspects of violence against women and girls. This joined-up strategy should guide education programmes, funding, service provision and criminal justice.
Introduction of a stalking register
Stalking can have a devastating impact on the lives of victims and existing criminal justice responses are often ineffective in stopping perpetrators. The Committee recommends that a national register of serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators is introduced.
Individuals placed on the register should, like registered sex offenders, be managed through multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA).
Domestic abuse leave
The Government should investigate the potential impact of domestic abuse leave, recently introduced in New Zealand, and consult on options for introducing domestic abuse leave within the UK.
Paid leave for victims of domestic abuse would help victims to keep their jobs and maintain economic independence whilst escaping abuse. This has the potential to save lives.
Focus on children
Children who experience domestic abuse are vulnerable to a range of long-term negative consequences as a result of their experiences. Children in refuge and other temporary accommodation, or who move home repeatedly to flee domestic violence, have particular difficulties regarding access to the education, health and social care services they need.
This must be recognised explicitly in legislation and a strategy must be developed to ensure adequate protection and support. The Committee recommends measures including protected status on waiting lists for NHS services, including mental health services, and legal obligations on local authorities to provide a new school place when requested by a family housed in a refuge.
Evidence indicates that, while it is improving, there are still instances where victims’ reports of abuse are not taken seriously. These failings have a catastrophic impact on those who suffer abuse and must end. The Committee is concerned by reports that police forces have provided the Home Office with details of victims for the purposes of immigration control. Immigration status must not bar victims from seeking justice, or make them fear reporting cases of abuse to the police.
The Committee was told that navigating the justice system can be as distressing for some victims as the abusive behaviour which they are seeking to escape, and that children may be placed in danger because of a lack of coherence between different parts of the justice system.
The Committee is recommending that the new Commissioner should as a priority review the impact upon children of the interaction between the family courts, children’s services, CAFCASS and the police, with particular reference to contact arrangements in domestic violence cases. The Government must also, without further delay, make provision in the draft bill to prohibit the cross-examination of a victim by a perpetrator of domestic abuse in the family court.