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Domestic abuse is a fundamental violation of a person’s human rights, and experiencing or witnessing it in the home has the potential for long-lasting and far-reaching effects. In 2018, it was reported that 2 million adults experienced abuse at the hands of a partner, at an estimated cost of £66 billion to the state. More than the cost of alcohol and drug misuse, cigarettes, and obesity combined. Across England and Wales, two women are killed each week at the hands of their intimate partner or ex-partner and it is reported that one in four women and one in seven men will experience abuse at some point in their lives.
Portrayed as a measure that will ‘save lives’, in January 2019, the government unveiled a comprehensive new bill to tackle the prevalence of domestic abuse in the UK. The Domestic Abuse Bill has been almost three years in the making, and it is a comprehensive piece of policy that includes:
– The need to provide a clear statutory definition of domestic abuse
– The establishment of a Domestic Abuse commissioner
– A Commitment to improving the justice system, including a ban on perpetrators of abuse being able to cross-examine their victims in family courts and the right for special measures to be utilized when giving evidence, such as video links.
In her first speech since giving up her previous job, Theresa May described the bill as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”. Labour MP Rosie Duffield was met with a standing ovation when sharing her own experiences, urging women to step forward if it was safe to do so. She also highlighted how stereotypes pertaining to abuse have meant that there is a failure to recognise it across the board.
The British Association of Social Workers responded to the bill by stating that whilst such measures are ideal, ultimately cuts to local authority funding means that the potential for action is limited. Furthermore, the NSPCC stated that it represents a ‘missed chance’ to protect children, arguing that it should include those under 16 in the definition. Plus, it has also been suggested that the measure neglects to include refugees, specifically women and children who do not have a secure immigration status
There has been a criticism of the failure of the new policy to recognise and acknowledge the gendered nature of domestic violence. Previous policy measures have focused on violence against women and girls due to the fact that women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse. 70 % of victims of death due to domestic abuse are women and there are some which would argue that it is a concept that is rooted in gender inequality and patriarchy. The use of a broader definition which includes a wide range of violent and abusive scenarios is thought to prevent a clear focus. It is recognised that this shift to gender neutrality is an attempt to acknowledge that domestic abuse is ultimately an equal opportunity affliction. The idea that it is always men who perpetrate violence to women in relationships is indicative of a heteronormative perception and premised on stereotypical gender roles in itself. However, failing to focus on women and girls may result in a lack of specialised care and support for those who are affected by the issue the most.
The Current Situation
Prior to Theresa May’s department, the bill was read in parliament for the first time and in usual circumstances, the second reading of a bill tends to take place a couple of weeks later. However, due to the current political climate, this did not happen until the 2nd October. The measure is currently in the Committee stage but changes will need to be made. The PMs attempt to prorogue parliament meant that all proposed bills would have effectively been cancelled and that the years of work gone into crafting this bill would have been put to waste. Whilst the Supreme Court ruled that such prorogation was ultimately unlawful and should have no effect, the current situation of the domestic abuse bill is unclear in this tumultuous political era. Delays at every turn have meant that this reportedly transformational bill has yet to be put into place, and although the Queen stated that the bill would be reinstated as part of HM speech, the chance of a general election means that matters are only likely to be confused further in the future.
After the domestic abuse bill was dropped due to the suspension of parliament, there has been little indication as to what will be included in the new version of the bill. However, change is being made and Nicole Jacobs has been announced as the country’s first domestic abuse commissioner. She said that her missions were to “raise the voices of victims and survivors of all ages, status and background, and ensure that we shine a light on practice that fails them”. It is too early to suggest whether she will be successful in doing so, but failures across health and social care provision have left behind a pessimistic outlook.
Need for Change
The Bill once represented an opportunity for change, to address the multi-faceted and complex nature of domestic abuse and to ensure that those who have experienced it receive the care and support that they need. However, today it is not clear what will be included or what amendments will be made. It not apparent as to whether the bill will even come close to receiving royal assent or is it even obvious what the political landscape will be like this time next year. Despite this, now is the time for action. We have a responsibility to ensure that there is a robust domestic violence policy in place as well as the funds and resources required to implement it effectively. Whilst political parties may be increasingly recognising the significant cost of domestic abuse at all levels, it remains that the lack of commitment to this bill has resulted in delays, at a cost to those who have experienced or will experience domestic abuse.
Whilst our MPs have been busy discussing the finer points of Brexit and arguing amongst themselves, our health and social care services and the people that rely on them are failing to receive the attention that they need.