Richard Rosser on ensuring new legislation on domestic abuse gives proper support to all victims
Today’s the day that we finally get to welcome the Domestic Abuse Bill to the Lords for its Second Reading. We have been waiting for this vital bill for a long time – due to a combination of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, general elections and the Covid pandemic. But we should not lose sight of the fact that victims of such abuse have been waiting for much longer.
It has been repeatedly said that this is a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation – a claim that we will ensure it lives up to. There is a huge amount to welcome in the bill but, as usual, there is also much to question and challenge. With expertise right across the House on the related issues, Labour looks forward to working cross-party to make the most of this opportunity.
A key concern is that the bill must work for all victims, and leave no one behind. As drafted, the Bill is missing vital protections for migrant women. A lack of protection and access to services means these victims are particularly vulnerable, with abusers able to exploit their immigration status to prevent them from reporting or escaping abuse. It is not right that the current system views them as an immigration case first, and a survivor second. So we will pursue amendments on recourse to public funds and safe reporting to build such protections into the bill.
We strongly welcome the inclusion of children in the definition of abuse but action is needed to make sure this is reflected in policy throughout the bill. And we’ll be raising issues on the experiences of disabled survivors – including safeguards in carer relationships.
The statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services was hard fought for, and is a cause for optimism. But it is only one piece of the puzzle. The majority of victims (almost 70%) access support locally, and Labour Peers will build on the work of our Commons colleagues to seek a duty to provide specialist services in the community. It is crucial that victims get support where and when they need it most.
On refuges, we all know that these are more than just a roof over people’s heads. We need to ensure victims have access to appropriate accommodation and specialist services. That involves taking a proper look at what support local authorities require to take on the statutory duty, and how local services can reflect national need.
This Bill is a moment to face-up-to and tackle the realities of domestic abuse. But we need also to look at the economic impact of policies and the reality that some women are unable to flee abuse because they simply can’t afford to. And we must add to achievements on issues like coercive control, by recognising that abuse doesn’t neatly end when a relationship does.
While the heart of this bill is correctly about protection for victims, we must not lose sight of those who commit the abuse. Our deliberations, therefore, must include questions about prevention, and a strategy for dealing with perpetrators.
So, a rare and privileged opportunity to make meaningful, widespread change in law to protect victims and change lives – and one that comes with a real responsibility to get right.
Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords
Published 5th January 2021