News ID: 233150
Published: 0921 GMT October 22, 2018

British MPs: Universal credit backward step in tackling domestic abuse

British MPs: Universal credit backward step in tackling domestic abuse
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee

New universal credit rules are making it harder for victims of domestic violence to leave abusive relationships and avoid economic abuse and control, according to an influential group of British MPs.

The Home Affairs Select Committee — a Committee of the House of Commons in the Parliament of the UK — has urged the government to scrap ‘retrograde and backward’ single household payments under universal credit and make split payments for couples standard as part of a new government bill on domestic abuse, reported.

In a report published on Monday, the committee also called on the government to increase funding for domestic violence refuges, set up a new register of stalkers and investigate the introduction of ‘domestic abuse leave’.

The chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper, said the bill was an opportunity to tackle one of the most common crimes — according to the crime survey for England and Wales an estimated 1.9 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the year to March 2017.

“Millions of people are affected each year, and two women a week die at the hands of” their husbands or ex-spouses,” said Cooper.

“The government is rightly proposing new legislation and a new strategy, but our inquiry found much stronger action is needed across the board.”

The committee’s report said an urgent solution had to be found for the 90 women and 94 children turned away from refuges each day, including a review of current funding levels and legislation that forced local authorities to provide emergency refuge places.

“Shockingly, many refuges are turning away 60 percent of their referrals due to lack of space. We urgently need more refuge places — provision should be a requirement on local authorities, backed by national ring-fenced funding,” said Cooper.

It praised the government for recognizing the problem of economic abuse in relationships, but argued the move to a single household payment was a dangerous step backwards.

“Separate family payments to ensure some independent income for the parent at home caring for children have been a feature of the welfare system ever since the introduction of the family allowance for very good reason, said Cooper.

“If the government is serious about tackling economic abuse, it needs to urgently rethink.”

MPs called for a new national register of serial stalkers and serial domestic violence perpetrators to be set up, and for the government to look at establishing paid leave for victims of domestic abuse — as recently introduced in New Zealand — as it could ‘save lives’.

The report also highlighted failings by police and the courts and “inadequate action to prevent abuse of all kinds”.

While responses were improving there were still instances of victims’ reports of abuse not being taken seriously, according to the report: “These failings have a catastrophic impact on those who suffer abuse and must end.”

The report also highlighted concerns about reports that police forces were providing the Home Office with details of victims who may have insecure immigration status, adding “immigration status must not bar victims from seeking justice, or make them fear reporting cases of abuse to the police”.

There remained a ‘lack of coherence’ in the court system that could lead to some children being placed in danger and distress for victims looking to escape domestic abuse, the report said.

One of the first tasks of any new domestic abuse commissioner should be to review the impact of family courts, children’s services, and the police on children. It urged the government to include a provision prohibiting the cross-examination of a victim by a perpetrator in the new bill.

The new bill should encompass violence against women “to ensure that it can both support all victims of domestic abuse and also reflect the gender inequality underlying domestic abuse”, said the report.

A government spokesman said the bill would strengthen powers to protect and support victims and survivors. Improving the management of serial domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers was ‘high on its agenda’, he added.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic abuse, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, said police response to domestic violence had improved substantially, and that the rate of successful prosecutions, particularly for coercive and controlling behavior, had increased.

“Crime is rising and so is the demand on our service but our commitment to safeguarding victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice is evident,” she said.

According to CPS figures — a monthly survey of about 60,000 US households conducted by the United States Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics — released in the annual violence against women and girls report, the number of completed domestic abuse prosecutions fell by 4.8 percent last year. They showed that the volume of convictions dropped by 3.9 percent, but the conviction rate increased from 75.7 percent to 76.4 percent — the highest ever recorded.

Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said, “The domestic abuse bill is a golden opportunity to transform the lives of survivors and tackle the root causes of domestic abuse once and for all. To achieve this, the bill must reflect the reality of survivors’ experiences.”




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