Domestic abuse bill: once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the response to domestic abuse

The new chair Apsana Begum MP and new vice-chair Baroness Bertin of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on domestic violence and abuse said:

“All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) may sound like another phrase from the Westminster bubble.

But these cross-party groups cover everything from tackling poverty to promoting golf or snooker – bringing MPs and peers together to debate and drive progress on specific issues. We know that the APPG on domestic violence and abuse is truly a vital platform is for survivors and the life-saving specialist services that they need.

Under the chairship of Jess Phillips MP and Maria Miller MP, the APPG has gone from strength to strength in getting a once hidden issue to the top of the political agenda. We are delighted to be taking over the reins and know that there are many issues that still need addressing, particularly after a perfect storm of problems during the Covid pandemic.

Whilst Covid-19, of course, does not cause domestic abuse – only abusers are responsible for their actions – the pandemic has affected survivors’ access to support and impacted specialist organisations that are a vital lifeline to these survivors.

We know that 61% of survivors reported that the abuse they experienced got worse and that a third said they’d seen an increase in abusive behaviour towards their children. Despite this, we saw a 42% drop in the number of refuge vacancies in the first full ‘lockdown’ period, and community-based support services challenged by finding alternatives to face-to-face working.

As we all continue to make sacrifices and the necessary steps to controlling this virus, the current lockdown is terrifying for survivors of domestic abuse. Specialist services predict that demand for their help will rise further when restrictions finally begin to lift – as women are able to finally reach out for support and escape to safety.

That is why the passage of the domestic abuse bill in the House of Lords is a crucial opportunity for the government to take further action to ensure all survivors have access to the protection and support they need.

The bill is finally nearing the end of its legislative journey, and whilst it may not have been as bumpy as other current political issues which shall not be named, it has been almost four years in the making.

There are a number of welcome provisions such as the creation of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner – a role already being expertly undertaken by Nicole Jacobs.

Other parts of the bill are also welcome but require reform to ensure they truly deliver the transformation set out by the government. For example, the statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based support must explicitly refer to the national network of refuges to ensure quality, specialist provision.

And more concerningly, there are key gaps in the bill in protecting and supporting the most marginalised survivors: Black and minoritised survivors, migrant women, LGBT+ survivors and Deaf and disabled survivors.

As the new chair and vice chair of the APPG, we are calling on the government, the House of Lords and experts on domestic abuse to work together to ensure we utilise this once in a generation opportunity to transform the response to domestic abuse.”

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