Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Arminka Helic: Three easy ways for the Government to hugely improve the Domestic Abuse Bill

17 Sep

Last year I visited a London shelter where migrant women – survivors of domestic violence – sought refuge from partners turned abusers.

Their stories of abuse, coercion, and gaslighting were all too similar to the stories of countless other women in Britain and around the world, with one distinction: their immigration status was used as a weapon against them.

Migrant women are often told by their abusers that they will not be believed by the police and that if they report abuse, they will be deported. They are reminded that their abuser holds their money, passports, official documents – everything they might need to forge their own life. Many abusers ensure that their partners immigration status remains insecure, to limit their options to escape.

In the words of one woman: ‘He tells me… you are in this country because of me, I have the power to get you out of the country. He controls me in every way’.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill comes to the House of Lords, three measures will make a real difference: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or their status.

The first step should be to extend the Domestic Violence Rule (DVR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) other migrant women. These mechanisms provide a safe route to support and legal status for people who have come to our country and then been subjected to domestic abuse. At the moment, they only apply to migrants who arrive on a spousal or partner visa.

Yet there are many women in the UK on different grounds – such as via work or student visas, or because of family members – whose immigration status can be thrown into jeopardy by domestic abuse: for instance, if their partner holds all their official documents, or if escaping from abuse would also mean having to leave their job. Extending the DVR and DDVC would mean that they too can get help and address their legal position free from the control of their abuser.

Second, we need to guarantee safe reporting. Too many women live in fear of going to the police. A joint study by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 54 per cent of migrant women who had suffered domestic abuse thought that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status, and worried that reporting abuse would lead to deportation.

The result is that migrant women often experience multiple incidents of domestic violence before reporting it, and that almost a fifth of women included in the study did not formally report their abuse at all.

The personal data of a victim of domestic abuse, processed as the result of reporting abuse or seeking support, should not be used for immigration control purposes. This is a matter of common sense and of justice. When a crime is committed on the streets of Britain, we do not ask the victim their status. We seek to protect them and to punish a perpetrator. Crimes committed at home should not be treated any differently.

Third, the Bill should ensure that all victims of abuse are treated equally. The government have supported this principle in Parliament. During the committee stage of the Bill the minister agreed that “victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims”. But words alone are no help to women being abused: the principle should be enshrined in law.

Some people suggest that the system will be manipulated, and that claims of domestic violence could be used as a route to remain in the UK when the applicant should be returning to their country of origin. But such manipulation as there is of the current system is by abusers using immigration status as a means to control their victims, not by people falsely claiming abuse. The standards of proof are stringent, and false claims of abuse are unlikely to be encouraged by the people who would be cast as abusers.

Offering the DVR and DDVC to more visa types would not make manipulation of the system more likely, but it would provide a legal route for them to escape from their abusers’ control. Likewise, separating the police and immigration enforcement would not prevent the latter doing their job, but would increase the police’s ability to do theirs.

The Government have also said that there is not enough evidence to justify these changes to the law. But groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who work with victims of domestic violence every day, have provided copious evidence of the problems with the current system. Not listening to evidence is not the same as it not existing. Domestic violence, and the abuse of migrant women, are pressing problems, made all the more so by the coronavirus pandemic — these simple changes would go a long way to helping.

The Government’s ambition with the Domestic Abuse Bill has been admirable. In order to make that ambition match reality we must make sure that everyone is covered by the full protection of the law.

Extending the DVR and DDVC, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all victims of domestic abuse are small steps for ministers to take. Their financial impact will be negligible, their impact on immigration figures almost unnoticeable. Yet for the women whose lives will – quite literally – be saved by being able to trust the police, access help, and begin new lives free from abuse, the impact will be immeasurable.

It is the duty of government to protect the most vulnerable members of society: the Domestic Abuse Bill, and these steps, offer a clear and simple way to further that goal.

Radical: A response to Nicola Richards and Alicia Kearns’ recent piece on the Gender Recognition Act

1 Sep

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

We’ve been writing this fortnightly column about sex and gender since March. We’ve covered a range of topics relating to relevant matters of law, philosophy, and public policy, but we’ve been clear from the outset about where we’re coming from:

Of course trans people should be treated just the same as anyone else, all things being equal. But it’s also the case that biological women need societal recognition of their right to certain single-sex spaces. And the denial of the concept of biological truth leads only to an anti-vaxxing hellhole.

We’ve also been clear that we’re writing these columns because people on the centre-right have, too often, been missing from this important contemporary debate. We wanted to share what we’ve learnt and provoke discussion, and felt well placed to do this.

One of us, Victoria, is a party member and activist, and a classic conservative; the other of us, Rebecca, is a former party member and PPC, and a libertarian. Our shared values, and our differences of opinion, mean that, between us, we have a lot in common with most of the ConHome readership, which itself is varied in many ways.

So, we want to use this fortnight’s column to pave the way to search out points of commonality with some Conservative MPs – Nicola Richards, Alicia Kearns, and several other co-authors – who wrote a piece here last week.

Maybe you saw it then, or read about it in the papers. Now, the conclusions of their piece, regarding matters of sex and gender, were different from ours: not least in that they support a move to “self-ID”, and we don’t. But it seems clear that their article comes from a place of goodwill, and we’re keen to engage with its writers. 

We want to know more about their views, particularly regarding some key issues about which we feel they could’ve been clearer. We’re also keen to know your answers to the questions we’re going to pose to them now:

Q1 Are you clear about the content of the Gender Recognition Act?

You note “there are many misconceptions” about proposed reforms to the GRA. Unfortunately, you’ve adopted misconceptions, yourselves. For instance, you refer to a person changing their “gender” on their birth certificate. Yet, despite the confusing language regarding “gender recognition” in the legislation, a GRC doesn’t change the gender noted on a birth certificate (because gender isn’t recorded there). Rather, it changes someone’s sex, for legal purposes – to align it with the gender with which they identify.

Your confusion is understandable, in some ways: the wording of the relevant section of the GRA uses “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, and doesn’t define either. But it’s important that lawmakers – and particularly those agitating for profound change – are clear and specific, rather than helping to spread misinformation. Sadly, this is not the only example of misinformation we noted in your piece. 

Q2 Do you accept that the distinction between sex and gender is an important one?

We believe it’s crucial: that “sex” relates to matters of biology (whether someone is a member of the female sex set, or the male sex set), and that “gender” is a matter of social convention (how someone sees themself in relation to stereotypical societal norms regarding the two sex sets).

Moreover, we believe this distinction reflects why it’s neither illiberal nor hateful to oppose self-ID. People should be free to behave and present themselves in accordance with whichever (unharmful) norms they prefer, but there are good reasons to avoid pretending that sex-set membership is a matter of personal choice or feelings. 

There’s no law here against exercising “gender expression” – which is a private matter for individuals – and it would be profoundly illiberal to instate one. Indeed, there’s significant legal protection under the Equality Act and criminal law for anyone identifying as a member of the opposite sex.

Sex-set membership itself, however, is highly relevant to important matters of public concern, including those as basic and obvious as the data collection required to underpin medical-resource allocation.

We strongly believe, therefore, that whilst goverments should not be concerned with how people present themselves, healthcare concerns provide just one clear reason why the state must remain interested in, and objective about, matters of sex.

Accuracy and clarity is vital, here, and should be unobscured by personal impressions relating to sex-set stereotypes about matters such as as dress sense. 

Q3 Do you believe that trans people should have access to single-sex services and spaces intended for the opposite sex, including refuges and prison wings?

We were concerned by your claim that: “Trans people can already use, and have always been able to use, services matching their gender, regardless of whether they have the certificate. Services such as Domestic Violence Refuges have always been able to exclude a trans person in certain circumstances, if it is proportionate and regardless of whether they have a GRC. This is covered by the Equalities Act”.

Again, this is complicated, and the legislation is not clear, but the grounds on which trans people can be excluded from single-sex spaces under the Equality Act are actually general and wide-ranging.

Activist groups, such as Stonewall, like to pretend this isn’t the case, and public bodies, such as the EHRC, which should know better, have issued misleading guidance (currently subject to legal challenge) that tries to limit this to “exceptional” or “limited” circumstances.

But do you really believe that, in 2010, parliament intended that the very wide protected characteristic of gender reassignment – “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex” – generally entitled men in that position to use women’s changing rooms and refuges?

Rather, what is clear from the act, is that it was intended for people with this protected characteristic to be protected from discrimination (such as in the workplace), not that they were to be entitled to be treated as a member of the opposite sex. 

Moreover, you claim that “we are the party that ensures people have the freedom to live their lives as they wish”. Now, this is a contestable and partial account of Conservative Party philosophy.

But, putting that aside, aren’t you concerned by the idea of the Government violating women’s rights to organise themselves, and to consent to whom it is they share private spaces with? Or the ability of businesses and charities to provide services that respect and protect women’s interests and preferences?

Q4 Do you believe that doctors should be allowed to perform non-reversible medical interventions on under-16s, in order to help them physicalise their gender expression?

We believe that adults should be free to seek medical intervention to make their bodies resemble the opposite sex. We also believe, however, that there’s no justification for prescribing puberty blockers (which the NHS no longer states to be reversible) or hormome therapies to children.

Indeed, it’s clear that these interventions are, like FGM, a form of child abuse, and we are keen to share with you our full findings on this topic as a matter of urgency. 

Q5 Do you believe in free debate about these matters?

We hope you’ll agree that our questions are neither inherently hateful nor phobic. We certainly agree with you that improving mental health services for trans people is important, and that fighting against hateful prejudice of all kinds is both good and necessary.

We hope you agree with us, however, that people should be able to discuss their views openly about these matters, and that the serious professional consequences and personal abuse that too many – from JK Rowling, downwards – have faced for doing so, are worrying and wrong.

Fay Jones: A ban on the rough sex defence – and other benefits of this Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill

10 Jul

Fay Jones is MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.

Lockdown has provided many with the chance to spend some rare family time together – learning a new Tik Tok dance or doing a Joe Wicks workout.  But for an alarming number of people, Covid 19 has not been their biggest threat.  For those suffering from domestic abuse, enduring lockdown with an abuser will only have increased the daily fear and anguish.

Consequently, I am enormously proud that this Government made the Domestic Abuse Bill one of its biggest priorities during the pandemic.  It could have chosen to drop the legislation; it stalled during Brexit and then fell again at the general election – but such is this Government’s commitment to victims that Ministers were given license to push it through.  From my spot on the Domestic Abuse committee, I saw just how much this Government wants to champion the rights of those who have been abused, and how good a track record the Conservative Party has on this issue.

While the Labour Party has always tried to argue it sits on the side of ‘the many and not the few’ – history does not support this, particularly in the field of criminal justice.  It was a Conservative Government that brought forward The Children Act 1989.  One of the last achievements of the Major Government was the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which created the offence of harassment.  Making stalking an offence came from the Coalition Government’s Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.  Indeed, during Monday night’s debate, Theresa May rightly accepted plaudits from across the House for pushing through both the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the early stages of last night’s Domestic Abuse Bill.

The Domestic Abuse Bill will deliver meaningful change; creating a Domestic Abuse commissioner designed to map the availability of services, establishing Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders to provide victims with extra protection, prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in family courts and legally recognising children as victims of abuse for the first time.  For many the biggest achievement of the bill is banning the ‘Rough Sex Defence’.  An enormous step in itself, this is evidence that Parliament works best when it acts cross party.  The combined campaigning strength of Mark Garnier and Harriet Harman have delivered a change in the law which will forever prevent murderers from arguing ‘they were asking for it.’

From my perspective, the Bill is also a good example of the strength of the Union.  In 2015, the Welsh Government passed its Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act.  However in November last year, the Auditor General for Wales reported a ‘fragmentation’ in service availability as there was no single agency to coordinate the system.  This is something that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner can look into – demonstrating that the ‘jagged edge of devolution’ can be overcome with tenacious, pro-Union Ministers.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is landmark legislation which will go a significant way to protecting the estimated 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year and it is by no means the stand-alone example of this Government putting victims first. It is the latest in a long track record of legislative milestones.  Conservatives should never shy away from this record – it is a record of leadership and collaboration which is what the public wants to see from its Government.  Above all, it is a record of standing alongside those who truly need our help.

Maria Miller: Domestic abuse can stretch on for a lifetime. So why do we stop recording it after the age of 74?

6 Jul

Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary, and is MP for Basingstoke.

We know that domestic abuse can affect anyone, of any gender, any ethnicity, whether you are disabled or non-disabled, and whatever your socio-economic background. Though we know it impacts some more than others – women, disabled people, or the LGBTQ community – age, especially older age, is rarely a consideration for decision makers working to protect and support victims and survivors.

We can see this in the fact that data collection on domestic abuse in the Crime Survey for England and Wales stops at the age of 74. Domestic abuse doesn’t go away with age, and older people can be especially vulnerable to different kinds of abuse, including abuse by a carer or financial abuse. But without any statistics for domestic abuse later life, there is a real possibility that older victims and survivors are missing out on vital help, support and protection.

Age UK tells us that, in 2019, 280,000 people aged between 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales. Even more shockingly, this number has risen by 40 per cent in the last two years alone. Without the numbers on those over the age of 74, many more older people will be suffering in silence without the specialist support they need.

I am immensely proud of my Party for championing the Domestic Abuse Bill, a landmark piece of legislation which will benefit so many. But I do urge Ministers to make one simple change – to start recording data of victims and survivors over the age of 74. This will give us a clearer picture of domestic abuse in England and Wales. It will mean resources and support will be properly allocated, and no victim or survivor of domestic abuse will be disadvantaged purely because they are in later life.

This small change would mean that people like Hilda are able to access specialist services to help them out of the desperate situation they find themselves in. Hilda is in her 80s and has complex care needs due to Parkinson’s and diabetes. One of her daughters has recently moved in to care for her. This is admirable and something many of us wouldn’t think twice about.

However, Hilda’s family are wary of her daughter’s history of controlling behaviour, and have become concerned about her wellbeing in recent months: they fear she is being neglected and don’t know what to do. Hilda seems upset, but is unable to communicate this, since the daughter she lives with is restricting her contact with the rest of the family and insist that they are interfering when they try to help.

Hilda’s story highlights how complex domestic abuse can be, especially when there are issues around caring in later life. Her story also shows the significant barriers in the way of older people leaving abusive situations: the years of abuse they may have suffered; the long-term health conditions or disabilities they have; or their reliance on their abuser for their care or money.

Hilda’s family were able to contact the local safeguarding adults’ team at her local council, who were able to give advice. But there will be many more people out there, many more Hildas, older victims who don’t feel protected by the law and don’t have family to help. They are unrecorded and unable to access the right care and support to help them leave abusive situations.

It is a positive step for the country to be tackling domestic abuse head-on, and right for the Government to be providing more resources for victims and survivors. As the Domestic Abuse Bill passes through Parliament, I urge Ministers to make this one simple change: record victims and survivors over the age of 74. Domestic Abuse has no age limit, and neither should our understanding of it.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 999. National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Age UK Advice Line: 0800 678 1602