Isabel Hardman

There are serious gaps in the Domestic Abuse Bill

There are serious gaps in the Domestic Abuse Bill
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Is the government making the most of its landmark Domestic Abuse Bill? The legislation is currently at committee stage in the House of Lords, with peers discussing hundreds of amendments. Some have little chance of success, but others point to serious gaps in the Bill which could undermine its overall clout.

One of the most popular amendments has been tabled by Conservative peer Lord Polak and has support from across the House. It calls for public authorities to have a statutory duty to commission support in the community for victims of abuse. Currently, the bill only creates a statutory duty to provide for victims who are in a refuge or supported accommodation. This not only ignores the majority of victims, who do not go into secure accommodation but still have very significant needs, but also continues to place the onus on a victim to leave their home – often with young children –rather than on getting the perpetrator out of that property.

In the Lords last night, many peers spoke in support of this amendment, and were unimpressed by the government's response that there needs to be more 'mapping' of services at the moment. This mapping exercise is something the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, is already undertaking, and she has argued – in a letter read out to peers last night – that the government doesn't need to wait for the outcome of that exercise. Charities working in the sector such as Safe Lives have also carried out studies which they say would give ministers adequate information to proceed with community-based services now. It has also been two years since this Bill started its progress through Parliament – in which time plenty of mapping could have been carried out if necessary.

Ministers are trying to show willing by announcing a further £40 million for community-based services, though this doesn't really cut the mustard when there is no long-term sustainable funding model for refuges or community services. Former Downing Street press secretary Baroness Bertin pointed out that 'long-term strategic funding must be put in place for these services', which have seen a surge in demand during the pandemic. She urged the government to think again.

Ministers know that they must come up with some kind of compromise to prevent a defeat in the Lords and then again in the Commons when the legislation moves to ping-pong. Saying there needs to be more mapping won't work: parliamentarians have identified this as a delaying tactic, and they wonder why, when the Bill has been so long in its gestation, there hasn't been more work to address this sooner.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

Topics in this articlePoliticsdomestic abuselords