36th Annual Women's Aid National Conference 2010
Read Theresa May MP's full speech below
Thank you first of all to Women’s Aid for inviting me to speak to your national conference. You have been supporting women for over 35 years and I am pleased to see that support is still strong. I am delighted also to be sharing a platform with Natalie Samarasinghe from the United Nations Association of the UK and with Ceri Goddard from the Fawcett Society. They – and all of you here - have dedicated your lives to helping women. It is my privilege to be able to talk to you today.
VAW is a priority for me
As both Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality, I believe I have a unique opportunity to bring about real change to the lives and to the status of women in this country.
My two roles are both important. Not just because I’m a woman. Not just because I can continue the work I started in opposition. But because, for me, politics is about ideals; about fighting for progress – and there is no greater ideal, no greater symbol of progress than equality.
As women and as a society we have made great strides. But there is much still to do.
Alongside the challenges of ending discrimination in the workplace, tackling the gender pay gap and genuinely empowering women, I am grateful that my brief means that I will be able to effect real change on an issue on which I have campaigned for many years.
Violence Against Women is not an aside for me; it is not an after-thought or a secondary consideration.
It was a priority for me in opposition and it is a priority for me now I am in government.
So have no fear - have no doubt - that your cause is my cause.
Why VAW is a problem
No one in this room will need reminding why I take violence against women so seriously.
The cold hard statistics make that abundantly clear: over 1 million victims of domestic abuse each year, over 300,000 women sexually assaulted each year and 60,000 women raped. Overall, one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, often with years of psychological abuse.
But behind those numbers on a page are the stories of the real women who experience these horrific crimes.
Women like Rana Faruqui, the daughter of my constituent Carol Faruqui, who was brutally stabbed to death by her abusive ex-partner after being subjected to repeated stalking.
I am in no doubt that there would be many more women in danger were it not for the work you do in providing over 500 emergency refuges, help-lines, outreach services and advice centres.
You help so many women – with up to 250,000 victims of abuse accessing your member services each year, so on behalf of them all, thank you.
But unfortunately not everyone takes violence against women as seriously as you or I.
Shockingly, Home Office surveys suggest that a quarter of people think that a woman is in some way responsible for being raped if she wears sexy or revealing clothing.
Around one in five people think it would sometimes be acceptable for a man to hit or slap his partner if she wore sexy or revealing clothing.
Let me make clear: my ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls.
We won’t get there this year, we may not even get there in our lifetimes, but just as we won the vote, just as we won equal rights, together we can win this fight.
But we must also recognise, I’m afraid, the seriousness of the financial crisis our country faces.
This year, Britain had the highest annual borrowing of any country in the G20. Higher than Argentina and South Africa; Indonesia, Italy and India.
We must all do our bit to help reduce the deficit and that obviously includes all government departments.
I hope many of you will have read the numerous articles I have written on violence against women or heard me talk before about why I am passionate about supporting and empowering women.
You know that this is a priority for me.
And I hear from you loud and clear that people around the country see this as a vitally important issue as well.
But the spending review in the autumn will inevitably involve some tough decisions.
In the past, the solution to a problem seemed to be to throw money at it, regardless of whether this was the best way to fix things or not. And the measure of success seemed to be how much spending had increased.
The approach of the past is no longer an option – Labour’s reckless borrowing and spending has seen to that.
But their approach was not only irresponsible, it was also ineffective.
We will take a more considered, more targeted and, frankly, more sensible approach, that involves the experts – people like you – more than ever before.
And success for us will not mean we’ve spent more of the money we don’t have. It will mean more women have been helped, more abusers have been brought to justice and more attitudes have been changed.
Of course, even in these difficult financial times, government will still have a strong role to play in tackling violence against women. And I am not going to pretend that the last government did nothing at all. I called for some time for Labour to produce a cross-government strategy for tackling violence against women and, finally, they did publish one but only months after the Conservative Party has published our own strategy.
Having called for a strategy while in Opposition, I’m not just going to discard that approach now we are in Government. I was convinced of the necessity for a coherent approach then, I argued for it until we got one and I firmly believe we need it now.
But having taken too long to publish their strategy, Labour did not even get it completely right. We need a new approach – not to start from scratch, but to build on the existing work. Not to disregard the work already done but to improve on it and to fix its problems. And as a coalition government we are looking at proposals from both parties in tackling violence against women.
For too long Labour only focussed on the Criminal Justice System in response to violence against women – and there is still important work to be done there in improving prosecution rates for domestic violence and for rape, improving rehabilitation for victims and in protection from repeat offenders.
We must give the police and the courts the tools they need to tackle violence against women – be it domestic violence, rape and sexual violence, honour based violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, trafficking or stalking – each is a serious offence that should be treated as such.
But as well as dealing with the consequences of this violence – we also need to deal with its causes. I hope many of you have read Ending Violence Against Women, the strategy paper that David Cameron and I published in 2008. That document recognised the central role that gender inequality plays – both as a cause and a consequence of violence against women and committed us to an approach with prevention, rightly, at its heart.
This is not a Home Office issue alone. This is about schools, the NHS, Job Centres, prisons. That is why I have convened a meeting next week with all my relevant Ministerial colleagues – including Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities Minister - to discuss a new approach. We will talk to you and we will talk to others and we will publish the results of that work by the spring.
But I’m sure we all agree that, fundamentally, it is not words that matter, it is action. And the last government did not do nearly enough to follow through on its words.
I will not just talk about violence against women as a priority, I will back up my words with real, concrete action:
• Working with schools to teach young people about sexual consent and respect in relationships; and I recognise the good work done by Women’s Aid in developing the Expect Respect Campaign and the work they do in schools with this and other campaigns;
• Working with teachers, the police, health care professionals and the voluntary sector to improve early identification; and
• Working within government to agree standards. I agree with the UN’s definition of violence against women and I will ensure it informs our work across government.
Now let me tell you about some of the real action that this government will take.
No Recourse to Public Funds
I am fully aware of the importance so many of you rightly attach to the Home Office pilot scheme to provide support to those victims of domestic violence who have no recourse to public funds.
Every year 1,500 victims of domestic violence apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain in this country; 500 of them are destitute.
The last government was right to change the rules to allow abused women to apply to stay in this country. But it was wrong to provide no means by which they could be supported in safety while their claims are dealt with.
Belatedly the last Government introduced a short-term pilot to fund women’s refuges who take in these vulnerable women whilst they apply for Indefinate Leave to Remain.
But this pilot was due to come to an end this summer, with no prospect of a long term solution to the difficult issue in sight.
You have campaigned and we have listened.
Both Coalition parties recognised the importance of this issue in opposition. And now we are in government we will take action.
We have already agreed to extend this groundbreaking pilot into September. Today, I can announce that we will commit to funding the scheme until the end of this financial year and to finding a long-term solution to ensure women are protected after that.
Even in these financially constrained times there are some things that are too important not to do.
Rape crisis centres / GEO Funding Consultation / Stern Report
In opposition, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats committed to reverse the decline in rape crisis centres. You can hold us to that commitment.
The previous government’s short-termist system of funding didn’t work. We need a longer-term, more measured and more sustainable approach.
We will consider how to use the proceeds from the Victim Surcharge to deliver up to 15 new rape crisis centres, and give existing rape crisis centres stable, long-term funding.
The Government Equalities Office is also consulting more widely on the issue of sustainability for the entire violence against women voluntary sector. I would encourage you all to get your responses in to that consultation by the 23rd of July. This will inform our plans to make sure that specialist domestic and sexual violence services are sustained. And we recognise that all of you here play a crucial role in protecting and preventing abuse.
We will ask for your ideas. But we will also provide leadership. At a national level we will publish a full government response to Baroness Stern’s insightful and far-ranging review into the handling of rape complaints.
But we also need to provide leadership on a local level. Local Authorities must not see this sector as an “easy cut” when making difficult decisions.
We recognise that they, and others, will not always get things right - just as central government does not always get it right. Mistakes will be made, but where they are we will advise them and we will set them on the right path. Some Local Authorities, for example, misunderstood the gender equality duty and so failed to fund badly needed women-only services for victims of violence, or have transferred funding away to other generic and non-specialist services. We will work with them, and with the sector, to address this issue together. and ensure that we influence the future delivery of appropriate services
These are just some of the areas where the Government will take clear decisive action. But as I have already said, we will not be able to do it all. Not just because of the financial wreck Labour left behind, but because even if we did have the money, government could not do it all – government could not end violence against women alone.
We need your help.
People ask what the Government means by the Big Society – well as far as I’m concerned you are the Big Society.
You are the ones who run the refuges; who empower the frightened and the abused; who protect the vulnerable.
In many ways, the women’s sector is a model of the Big Society we wish to build. That is a societry in which we all work together to address problems, conscious that government has a role to play but that it does not have all the answers, and recognising the role played by charities, voluntary groups and others alongside central and local government. You’re way ahead of us with this. The support services you provide and have been providing for over 35 years are invaluable to so many – thank you for all that you do.
But we need to go further. We need to empower even more organisations, communities and individuals to work together to tackle violence against women. And it is not just about delivering services. It is about giving people a voice, bringing people together to take ownership of a problem and working together to find a solution. It is about challenging assumptions and changing attitudes on every level of society. Change is often most powerful when it comes from the bottom up.
But let me be clear – the Big Society does not mean Government withdrawing, leaving the voluntary sector to pick up the pieces. The vision of this government is to build a society where we all come to together to solve problems; where we don’t just ask what government can do, but what people can do; where we all pull together and work together, because we are all in this together.
That means where the voluntary sector does such excellent work – like in the provision of refuges and rape crisis centres – the Government ensures the funding it provides is on a stable, long-term basis, ending the culture of charities having to survive hand-to-mouth, facing the threat of imminent closure.
But it also means Government taking action where no one else can – that is why I am committed to extending the no recourse to public funds pilot while we find a long term solution to this issue.
And it means everyone working together to achieve the cultural change we need to tackle this problem. Think about it: it’s only when businesses appreciate their responsibility to end the sexualisation of women that some people will stop treating women like objects. It’s only when police officers, teachers and health workers realise they need to look out for the early warning signs that domestic violence will be spotted early. And it’s only when our communities stand up and say violence against women is unacceptable – through initiatives like Women’s Aid’s “Real Man” campaign – that attitudes will really begin to change.
So have confidence that together we can tackle violence against women.
And rest assured that there will be government action where necessary, but that we will harness society’s action where possible.
Not just because money is tight but because, actually, you know best, not Whitehall, and we will ensure that those who know about providing specialist services, like Women’s Aid, are key partners in our plans.
In the Big Society, we will need your hard work, your dedication and your effort. Not because government will give up or step back, but because we all need to work together to achieve our aim.
I will support you and I will fight for you. I will provide you with a voice and a platform.
My ambition is to end violence against women. By working together we can.