With so many of us confined to our homes during the coronavirus pandemic, domestic abuse helplines have, alarmingly, reported a significant increase in cases of domestic violence.
Prior to COVID-19, the LGA had been working with parliamentarians, the Government and the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to provide additional support to domestic abuse victims and to prevent it happening in the first place.
The Domestic Abuse Bill, which was first introduced before the lockdown, is one of the first Bills to resume its passage through Parliament. As part of the LGA’s ongoing parliamentary work, Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee, which is responsible for scrutinising the Bill.
The Bill aims to introduce important measures that will help to raise awareness of domestic abuse and its impact on victims. It is intended to: focus on prevention and early intervention measures to prevent abuse; provide additional support to victims and challenge the behaviour of perpetrators by bringing more of them to justice; further improve the effectiveness of the justice system; and strengthen the support for victims of abuse and their children.
In his evidence, Cllr Blackburn was clear that the LGA and councils have a key role to play in tackling domestic abuse and want to work with all parties involved to reduce it. He made the case that we need to offer a broad range of support to victims, as well as different interventions for dealing with perpetrators.
Domestic abuse is abhorrent in all its forms, and how councils respond to abuse will depend on the individual circumstances of each case. This is why the LGA is calling on Parliament to consider not just crisis interventions and criminal justice, but also a cross-government response, incorporating health, housing and education.
We are also calling on the Government to introduce a National Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Strategy to enable us to address the root causes of abuse.
In addition to the measures in the Bill, a long-term and sustained investment in early intervention and prevention programmes, and wider community-based support, is needed. Additional duties on councils need to be fully funded. The focus in Parliament on domestic abuse comes at a time when, regardless of the financial impact of COVID-19, local government’s services – and particularly children’s services – are already facing unprecedented demand.
Alongside the £10 million the Government has committed to domestic abuse charities, the Bill is a really important step in the right direction. It is evidence of the Government’s commitment to addressing the devastating impact that domestic abuse has on victims and their families, and local government has already been vocal on this issue.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is one of several Bills and policy papers that are now coming forward for scrutiny in Parliament. In the coming months, we will be working to highlight local government’s role in the economy’s recovery from COVID-19 through the Fire Safety Bill, the Building Safety Bill, the Devolution White Paper and the review into children’s services. Through our campaigning, we will be highlighting that, with sustainable finances and greater powers, councils can continue to deliver for their communities. You can contribute to our online conversation by using the hashtag #CouncilsCan.