I was really pleased that Scottish Conference passed a motion I proposed which aims to ensure that victims of domestic abuse don’t have to suffer the added nightmare of going through the homeless procedure when they finally seek help. It should be much easier for them to be able to stay in their home and for the perpetrator to leave.
Across the UK, two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week.
Scottish Lib Dem member, Vita Zaporozcenko told the conference of her personal experience of being raised in a house with domestic abuse.
She said: “I have always wondered why my mum did not leave and I have come to the conclusion that she had simply no where else to go.”
Zaporozcenko added: “I want you to support this motion because I don’t think anyone who has gone through this at whatever age can understand the emotional strain that this puts on the person or the people who have been abused and the fear of leaving. We should not be making it harder and by removing the perpetrator is the right way to do it.”
Specifically, the conference backed calls for the Matrimonial Homes Act – where abusers can be swiftly moved out of the family home – to be updated, claiming that it is not fit for purpose.
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP told the conference how the rollout of Universal Credit has impacted on those who are victims of domestic abuse, saying the ending of split payments within the household was “a tool of coercive control” for men.
Below is the speech that I made proposing the motion.
“Why should we have to move everywhere and everything because of him?”
That question is on the front of Change, Justice, Fairness, a Scottish Women’s Aid community research project into homelessness caused by domestic abuse in Fife.
Too often, the trauma suffered by victims of domestic abuse is exacerbated when they are forced to leave their homes, often with their children. It is not acceptable that they should be forced into this situation.
It is unlikely that the event that led to them seeking help was the first incident. Safe Lives suggest that someone will endure 50 incidents of abuse or violence before getting effective help.
So you have very vulnerable, traumatised individuals, the vast majority of whom are women, having to declare themselves as homeless. That means that they are put in temporary accommodation, perhaps for short periods into bed and breakfast accommodation with no cooking facilities, where they don’t have the comfort of having their own things around them, the children don’t have their toys. They are perhaps in an unfamiliar area away from their support networks. They could get moved at any time to different temporary accommodation. That instability and insecurity piling even more distress on to them.
Those who aren’t married and aren’t named on the tenancy face a lengthy and complicated battle to gain occupancy rights if they wish to stay in their home.
The process of transferring a tenancy can also take time, during which the victim can be homeless. This needs to be sorted with greater speed. The Scottish Government needs to produce guidance that strengthens the rights of the victim to prevent them going down the stressful homeless route.
Conference, this motion demands better for victims of abuse.
We call on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that they have the right to stay in their own home if they wish to do so.
If they are to be moved, that should be done in a planned way. We recognise that the statutory homeless route is not appropriate for families who are suffering the effects of abuse.
We call on housing associations to do more to support people in this situation. I was surprised to learn that not al social housing providers have stand alone domestic abuse policies.
The Women’s Aid research identified serious flaws in the way victims were treated. Women described how they had to talk about what had happened to them in an open plan office.
“having to repeat my circumstances over and over again was humiliating and distressing to me. I was also worried about a negative reaction of not being believed every time I had to explain to a new person.”
A third of the staff who dealt with disclosures of abuse said that they had not had any training.
Particularly troubling was the fact that the majority of service providers didn’t have any idea that the moment of leaving an abusive partner was the most dangerous for the victim.
Last year the Chartered Institute of Housing, working with Women’s Aid and the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance launched the Make a Stand campaign to encourage the housing sector to do more to support victims of domestic abuse. They have asked housing providers to sign up to four goals, to be completed by September this year.
It’s not just about writing a policy, it’s about embedding it and making sure that one person in the organisation is responsible for making sure it works.
It’s about making sure people have easy access to domestic abuse services.
And it’s about putting in place HR policies aimed at supporting their own staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse. It’s changing the culture of the whole organisation and its understanding and awareness of this issue.
Our motion recognises the need for the Scottish Government to provide a destitution fund for those who can’t access benefits. If you are leaving an abusive relationship and you are here as an under some other form of immigration control, you may have no recourse to public funds. That means you can’t get child benefit, universal credit, and disability benefits. You can’t even access the Scottish Welfare Fund.
So if you leave, you have no way of feeding or clothing yourself. Shakti Women’s Aid in Edinburgh’s evidence to the committee was horrendous. Women described how they were having to resort to using pillowcases as nappies. That is no way to treat people who are in an incredibly vulnerable position, who were already terrified about their future being in the hands of the Home Office.
And EEA nationals, even now face difficulties – from the Equalities and Human Rights Committee report:
“We heard changes to UK benefit entitlements for European Economic Area nationals had created additional barriers and risks for women from these countries experiencing domestic abuse. These rule changes failed to take account of gendered patterns of care and employment. Victims of domestic abuse were “doubly disadvantaged” from being able to meet these requirements, due to the coercive and financially controlling behaviour of the abuser.”
We should also be aware now that one of the effects of Brexit will be that EEA nationals who come to live here after the end of next year will be subject to the same brutal immigration system as the rest of the world and could find themselves without access to public funds if they leave home because of domestic abuse.
Conference, this motion gives real choice to women who are leaving an abusive situation. It gives them the chance to stay within their own homes if they wish so that their whole lives and those of their children are not thrown into even more turmoil.
It makes sure that the services they access give them the financial and practical support they need.
Conference, show victims of domestic abuse that we stand with them by passing this motion.