260.The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 (“the Wales Act”) was passed by the National Assembly for Wales on 10 March 2015 and received Royal Assent on 29 April 2015. The main aim of the legislation is to improve the public sector response in Wales to domestic abuse and violence against women. This Act created the role of a National Adviser to advise Ministers and improve joint working amongst public bodies. It also requires that progress made towards achieving the purpose of the Act is reported through reference to a set of national indicators, to be developed in consultation with the relevant organisations working in the sector. It is expected that those National Indicators will be published shortly.
261.The current draft Bill differs from the Wales Act in a number of respects. The Wales Act does not include any criminal justice elements. The scope of the Wales Act includes all violence against women as well as domestic abuse, whereas the Bill focuses only on domestic abuse. Witnesses said that there would be issues to be resolved in terms of the how the different pieces of legislation would interact. Tina Reece, of Welsh Women’s Aid, pointed to one example:
… The particular thing that we are looking at is on family courts and CAFCASS Cymru. CAFCASS Cymru is a devolved agency, whereas the family courts are a non-devolved area. There will be a really complicated interaction there between how these are going to work. I think it can be resolved by really close working between the Commissioner and the advisers, and by making sure that Wales is represented on advisory boards and scrutiny boards.
262.Deb Smith raised concerns about divergence in legislation or policy and practice relating to policing, noting that although there were 43 police forces, training was centralised, through the College of Policing, and that police forces needed to work cross-border.
263.We note the existence of divergence in legislation between England and Wales, and also the different agencies that operate in the two countries. We urge greater close co-operation between the UK and Welsh governments.
264.Under section 12 of the Wales Act, the Welsh Ministers must, in respect of each financial year, publish a report which addresses progress made towards achieving the objectives in the national strategy on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (2016–2021); progress made towards achieving the purpose of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 in Wales (by reference to the national indicators); and predictions of likely future trends and any other analytical data (if published during the period of 12 months beginning with the date of a general election). In terms of what had been achieved as a result of the Wales Act, Tina Reece said that whilst there had been progress it was slower than hoped for, largely because there had been insufficient resources allocated to meet the high ambitions of the legislation.
265.Tina Reece said that in her view, the most important and useful provision in the Wales Act was the duty on public authorities to include prevention as part of their strategies and planning, which had been “a real driver for change”. She said that Welsh Women’s Aid had helped the Welsh Government to draft a whole-school approach to addressing domestic abuse and violence against women, which had tried to incorporate messages about gender equality, domestic abuse and healthy relationships, as well as addressing with the wider community issues such as ideas of power and control and gender, and the reason why women and girls suffered disproportionately from these types of abuse. Nazir Afzal pointed out that prevention work in Wales was also supported through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which covered wider, long-term prevention measures.
266.Tina Reece referred to the “Ask and Act” national programme of training in Wales which aims to help professionals to identify and support victims of abuse and to respond to a disclosure of abuse. Nazir Afzal said that this training was currently being delivered to 135,000 professionals and practitioners in Wales. Tina Reece added that another important part of the approach in Wales was the duty on authorities to prepare and publish a strategy for contributing to the purpose of the Act, which had incentivised close working with the specialist sector and the sharing of information and knowledge. She said that because of this requirement to produce strategies, there were regular meetings across the country involving different public sector boards, the specialist sector, and representatives from survivor groups. DCC Louisa Rolfe pointed to the benefits of the multi-agency, integrated approach taken in Wales, commenting “I sometimes watch with envy when I see what is happening in Wales, because I can see that it is some way ahead on this”.
267.The Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales has produced toolkits for commissioners in England (Violence Against Women and Girls Commissioning Toolkit) and Wales (A Collaborative Commissioning Toolkit for VAWDASV Services in Wales) and recommended that, as has been introduced in Wales, statutory guidance should be developed in England which compels commissioners to meet the standards set out in these toolkits. It stated that any accompanying guidance to the Bill in England should place similar emphasis on specialist services and grant funding.
268.Wales has placed its response to domestic abuse firmly into the context of its violence against women strategy. Welsh legislation has also focused on promoting multi-agency work and encouraging prevention. As yet there is little evidence about the effectiveness of this approach, but those engaged in it seemed optimistic, despite their caveats about funding difficulties. We are persuaded that developments such as the training programmes for public sector workers and the emphasis on the role of schools in prevention are valuable, and lessons learned should be incorporated into the approach to domestic abuse in England. This approach forms a key element of the approach of the Istanbul Convention contained in Chapter 3, particularly Article 13 which refers to the crucial role that education plays in this area.
269.The Government has stated that prevention and early intervention remain the foundation of its approach to domestic abuse. It seeks to pursue this through non-legislative measures; there are no provisions in the Bill relating to prevention and early intervention.
270.One of our witnesses succinctly analysed the stages of prevention and intervention, and some of the obstacles in the way of early intervention:
Prevention happens at three levels: first, in wider population interventions and education; secondly, in helping those at the early stages of abuse, when they realise that something is happening, to get out; thirdly, in preventing it from reoccurring. On the second level, people’s ability to get the right help and advice when they first seek help is still very variable. We fund some work with champions in local areas to try to inform public sector workers, so that they all know how to provide the right advice and support. There are challenges with universal credit and the wider benefits and housing systems. People who may want to separate their family unit early are not able to do so.
271.One aspect of the Government’s approach is through new statutory relationship and sex education for all school age children which covers domestic abuse, to help them have healthy and respectful relationships, and leave school prepared for adult life.
272.We did not take evidence on the impact of online pornography on young people’s views of relationships, particularly intimate adult relationships. We do however note the access young people have to often extreme online pornography which can shape their view of what a normal sexual relationship might be.
273.In our informal meeting with them, young people who had suffered from domestic abuse emphasised that many children are unaware of what healthy relationships look like and consider abusive behaviour normal. They argued that the education and support they had received had given them a clearer idea of what was and what was not acceptable behaviour that their compeers lacked. However, they had not received such education themselves until they had already suffered abuse and been identified as survivors: although individual teachers had been helpful and supportive to them, their previous schools had not provided them with the understanding of abusive behaviour, or the confidence to name it, or support in seeking help.
274.We welcome the introduction by the Government of mandatory relationship education for all school-aged children in England, and we see breaking the 18-year impasse on delivering this important support for all children as of fundamental importance in delivering the domestic abuse strategy., It is as an opportunity to break the intergenerational cycle of domestic abuse. It is vital that children of all ages be taught about domestic abuse in a sensitive and age-appropriate way, giving them the tools to recognise abuse, the confidence to report it and the ability to develop respectful relationships themselves.
275.It is clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done in changing perceptions of what is normal and acceptable behaviour within relationships. We are aware of (often locally-funded) advertising campaigns to raise public awareness of the problem of domestic abuse. There have been similar, more widespread campaigns on issues such as modern day slavery, as well as the promotion of health messages on issues such as smoking. The cost of domestic abuse to the health service is high. We believe that a campaign to raise awareness and challenge behaviour should be undertaken; this could also provide pointers to where help may be sought and suspected instances reported. Such a campaign could be targetted particularly on online pornography sites.
276.More broadly, statutory agencies must be able to identify, assess and support victims of domestic abuse by signposting them to the right support. Jo Todd, CEO, Respect, pointed to the need for changes to frontline service provision, so that for example every social worker and health practitioner understood and knew how to respond to victims, perpetrators and children. Donna Covey, of Against Violence and Abuse, suggested that there should be a duty on public services to ensure that all their staff were trained to inquire and respond to disclosure around domestic abuse, which would help to identify cases of abuse more quickly. She referred to the IRIS (Identification and Referral to Improve Safety) model to assist early recognition of, and intervention in cases of domestic abuse. This model has been trialled in health practitioner settings and could be extended to other sectors.
277.Ruth Bashall, Stay Safe East pointed to the importance of including disabled people in the development of prevention materials. She said that her organisation would like to see a duty in the Bill to ensure that prevention measures were developed by statutory services in partnership with disabled survivors, and that they reflected the reality of disabled people and the different forms of abuse that happened to them because of their impairment. She added:
… One single thing that would make an enormous amount of difference to our clients would be if every single health professional, at one point or another, saw them on their own and not with their carer, so they have a space to talk. We have developed those protocols with some local health professionals, and they work.
278.Survivors of domestic abuse, in particular those facing multiple disadvantage, are likely to be in contact with a range of public services in order to get support for the challenges they face as a result of abuse. For example, this could include addiction as a result of using substances to cope with trauma from abuse. Survivors are often in contact with other support services before they access a specialist domestic abuse service and it is therefore essential that those services are able to identify and respond appropriately to domestic abuse. Evidence shows, however, that often services do not ask about domestic abuse, or survivors are asked but are let down by a culture of disbelief, resulting in frequently missed opportunities for support, and sometimes responses that can worsen the situation for survivors.
279.There have been examples of good practice within the health services, with development of the role of Independent Domestic Violence Advisers, but there were problems with sustaining funding for these posts and ensuring that they were widespread. The Health Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, said that the IRIS project was being adopted quite rapidly throughout the system by increasing numbers of GPs. However, she acknowledged that there was scope for improvement in terms of early identification of domestic abuse by health professionals, saying that “within the national health service, there is a cultural and behavioural challenge as well with regard to working with other agencies”. She added:
I think we need to do a lot more with regard to really empowering the medical community to recognise where they perhaps need to go a bit further in steering people towards help. It is difficult. They are discussions we need to have with practitioners about how to share best practice in what is actually quite a fundamental change in culture.
280.In terms of who within Government was responsible for leading on prevention work, Mrs Wheeler said that many departments and public authorities would be involved. She said that “there is prevention in health; prevention with the police; Home Office immigration prevention; and prevention that local authorities and local partnership boards will be part of”.
281.A key part of the Government’s strategy is to prevent domestic abuse and intervene early to stop abuse escalating. This part of the strategy is addressed through policies and is not covered in the draft Bill. We note that in Wales the statutory guidance on prevention, training and strategies is intended to incentivise widespread work on prevention throughout the public sector and to facilitate better multi-agency working and collaborative working with other specialist organisations. We urge the Government to consider how there might be greater consistency in approach across the UK, particularly in terms of the provision of public service early interventions and training for front-line staff in publicly funded services.
282.We are very conscious of the need to involve a wide variety of government departments and other public sector organisations in promoting the prevention of and early intervention in domestic abuse. There will be a requirement for co-ordination with the devolved administrations. Delivery will require significant cultural change in a number of organisations, and this reinforces our conviction that the strategy should be led from the centre of government. We therefore recommend that a Cabinet Office Minister should lead on implementing the Government’s strategy to combat domestic abuse and to ensure full compliance with the Istanbul Convention.
345 Eg Transform Justice ()
350 . See also
358 Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales ()
359 Home Office, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Consultation Response and Draft Bill (January 2019),
360 (Duncan Shrubsole)
361 Home Office, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Consultation Response and Draft Bill (January 2019),
Published: 14 June 2019