Councils allocated £125 million to support domestic abuse victims
The Government says the funding will ensure that local authorities provide domestic abuse victims and their children with safe accommodation, as campaigners see some additional amendments to the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill resisted.
The UK Government have confirmed that £125 million has been allocated to councils to help provide support for domestic abuse victims and their children.
The likely introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill into law later this year will require local authorities to ensure that victims have access to safe accommodation for both themselves and their children.
The funding will help ensure victims and their children are able to access life-saving support such as therapy, advocacy and counselling in safe accommodation, the Government says.
First introduced in 2019, the Domestic Abuse Bill aims to improve protection and support for victims, as well as implement changes to attempt to bring more perpetrators to justice.
The bill includes measures to create a statutory definition of domestic abuse and to ensure that local authorities in England provide support to survivors of domestic abuse and their children, through placements in refuges and other safe accommodations.
But campaigners argue that the statutory definition of domestic abuse included within the current bill does not go far enough.
Lucy Hadley, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Women’s Aid, said changes to the Bill were necessary to ensure marginalised groups were adequately protected, reassurances were needed that the new safe accommodations councils will now have to provide had sufficient support services in place.
“[We] fear that without changes to the duty itself there is a risk that survivors will be housed in unsafe and unsuitable forms of housing,” said Hadley.
“Currently, the domestic abuse bill does not mention refuge services – which deliver the lifesaving, expert support needed by women and children escaping abuse – at all.
“There remains a 30% shortfall in the number of refuge spaces in England and in 2019-20 over half of the referrals to refuges were turned away. Black and minoritised women, women with insecure immigration status, disabled women and those experiencing other forms of discrimination continue to face the biggest barriers to accessing a refuge space.
"We need much stronger oversight to safeguard the future of this national network of services – including specialist refuges led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women who have been disproportionately impacted by local cuts and poor commissioning decisions,” Hadley concluded.
Hadley’s comments follow recent amendments brought to the House of Lords, where the Bill continues to be debated.
In January, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Baroness Jane Campbell secured cross-party support for their amendment to include more protection for disabled victims of abuse, through a widening of scope to support those abused by both paid and unpaid care workers carers, such as friends or neighbours.
Despite support for the initiative, the Tory whip, Lord Parkinson, suggested that such amendments would “broaden the definition of domestic abuse unhelpfully”.
“This is a domestic abuse bill, not an abuse bill, which is why we do not believe that it would be appropriate for these sorts of relationships to be included within that definition,” said Lord Parkinson, further suggesting that protections were already in place through other legislation, as well as statutory bodies such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
In addition, the Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, recently co-sponsored a move to introduce an amendment to incorporate non-fatal strangulation into the statutory definition.
However, speaking for the Government, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar said that although ministers “unequivocally support the intention”, and had made a commitment to bringing in a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, it would not accept the amendment due to concerns over consent and the implantation of the law itself.
One amendment that is likely to be incorporated into the bill, however, is the inclusion of new laws against the threat of sharing naked, sexual or explicit images and videos of another person without consent, also known as revenge porn.
Currently, whilst revenge porn is a crime, there is no protection for victims who are threatened with the online release of private content.
It follows a campaign by the charity Refuge, as well as support from the new Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs.
"There is a significant gap in the law that allows abusers to threaten to share intimate images as a way of controlling and frightening survivors both during relationships and following separation,” said Jacobs.
"I urge the government to seize the opportunity presented by the Domestic Abuse Bill to make the threats to share intimate images a criminal offence."
The House of Lords completed the committee stage – the first chance for line-by-line inspection and debate – of the Domestic Abuse Bill on Wednesday 10 February.
The report stage – an opportunity to closely scrutinise elements of the bill and make changes – is yet to be scheduled.