Local government leaders say they support Whitehall’s new measures aimed at tackling domestic abuse, but add that they must be fully funded.
The Government yesterday published their draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which is the first statutory definition of domestic abuse to include economic and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.
The Bill, which comes as it is revealed domestic abuse issues cost the country £66bn a year, will also see the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to this crime.
It will introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders.
The Bill will also prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts and will provide automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in criminal courts.
Minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, Victoria Atkins said: ‘I have heard absolutely heartbreaking accounts of victims whose lives have been ripped apart because of physical, emotional or economic abuse they have suffered by someone close to them.
‘The draft Domestic Abuse Bill recognises the complex nature of these horrific crimes and puts the needs of victims and their families at the forefront.
‘This Government is absolutely committed to shining a light on domestic abuse to ensure this hidden crime does not remain in the shadows.’
It is estimated that around two million adults — or 6% — experience domestic abuse each year. Women are twice as likely to be victims than men.
The majority of the financial cost of domestic abuse, according to calculations done by the Home Office, was a result of the physical and emotional harm (£47bn). It also includes the cost to health services (£2.3bn), police (£1.3bn) and victim services (£724m).
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: ‘Refuge welcomes the draft Bill announced by the Government today.
‘Refuge staff deal with the human misery of domestic violence every day. The cost to women and children’s lives is devastating. But now the immense cost to the taxpayer has been laid bare, too. Domestic violence is truly everybody’s business.
‘This Bill represents a once in a generation opportunity to address domestic violence; but in order to do so, we must ensure its aspirations are matched by adequate resource.
‘We will continue to work closely with the government to ensure the final bill meets the needs of the women and children we support.’
Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, welcomed the Bill and said councils take domestic abuse ‘very seriously’.
‘However, the ability of councils to fund services for victims is constrained by pressures on their budgets, with local authorities increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for those at immediate risk of harm, rather than on vital earlier support services and prevention schemes which help stop domestic abuse occurring in the first place,’ he added.
‘With local government facing a £3.1bn funding gap in 2019/20, any legislative changes in this Bill must be matched with adequate resources and funding.’