CROSS-PARTY MEMBERS of the House of Lords in the UK Parliament have written to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure community-based support services are included in the Domestic Abuse Bill.

This week Peers will debate an amendment which, if included in the Bill, would mean public authorities would have a statutory duty to commission support in the community for all victims of domestic abuse, including children.

As it stands, the Bill includes a statutory duty to support victims only if they are in refuges or supported accommodation. Peers say this risks creating a two tier system, with the majority of victims who remain in the family home not receiving the support they desperately need.

The letter from peers to Boris Johnson explains: “Our aim should not be to uproot the lives of adult and child victims, making them move miles away from their support networks, abandon their possessions and sometimes their livelihoods, take children out of school all whilst the perpetrator stays at home. Instead we should ensure victims can stay at home or in independent accommodation through well-funded community-based services.

“By excluding community-based services in the Bill we risk creating a two-tier system which may: lead to funding being diverted away from community-based services to ensure the new duty on local authorities is fulfilled; create a perverse incentive resulting in victims only having one option left if they need support and that is to place themselves at great risk by fleeing their homes; and exclude tackling the cause of domestic abuse, its perpetration.”

The amendment to include a statutory duty to commission community-based services is backed by a coalition of leading domestic abuse and children’s charities and other organisations, including the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine.

In their joint statement, the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner, and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner said: “It is vital that the Government takes this once in a generation opportunity to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse – including the children who are living in these abusive households – have access to local protection and support by including community-based services in the Domestic Abuse Bill’s statutory duty.

“We know that the majority of victims stay in the home and access community-based services rather than domestic abuse refuges. It is therefore clear that without a duty to commission community-based support, including specialist services, the Bill risks creating a two-tier system, which would leave most victims – including children and migrant victims – without appropriate support.

“A statutory duty that includes community-based services will mean this Bill provides support which is inclusive and accessible to all. It is also vital that these community services are provided to children who experience abuse, or display abusive behaviours, in their own relationships. If the Domestic Abuse Bill is to be the truly transformational, landmark piece of legislation that the government proclaimed it to be, then we need to see this change.”

The Royal Colleges and Faculties said: “As Royal Colleges and Faculties representing healthcare professionals, we would support an extension of the current proposed statutory duty in the Domestic Abuse Bill on accommodation-based services to include community-based specialist domestic abuse services. The links between domestic abuse and poor health outcomes for victims and perpetrators are clear in the research and seen daily in the patients we see every day. According to Government figures, domestic abuse costs the NHS £2.3 billion and other areas of Government spending £66 billion.

“We must protect and grow community-based domestic abuse services which support those victims of domestic violence and save lives. The pandemic has made things worse for a lot of these people in our members and their team’s communities and continuing to support community services will be crucial as local services recover from the pandemic.

“We urge the Government to recognise the important role health has to play in understanding how to change public behaviours, identify victims and perpetrators, and ensure they have the specialist support they need to get safe and recover.

“The community-based domestic abuse services amendment is an important step to securing that buy-in from health commissioners, alongside local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners, as part of a whole health multi-agency approach.”

* See the signatories to the Lords’ letter here.

* Source: Barnardo’s