Domestic Abuse

July 12, 2011 4:26 PM
By Peter Black
Originally published by Peter Black and South Wales West Liberal Democrats

Peter Black: On behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, I welcome the progress that has been made with regard to the 'Right to be Safe' strategy, although we do recognise that a lot more needs to be done.

The Labour manifesto-we are all waiting to hear how that will transform into a legislative programme later today-recognises the fact that much more work needs to be done. The manifesto outlines a number of policies that the Government intends to implement. It would therefore be helpful if the Government could provide an evaluation of the progress that it has made, along with its implementation plan. That will give a clear view of how many actions have already been implemented and of how much more work needs to be done.

4.00 p.m.

The Government's implementation plan includes 90 action points, the majority of which are to be taken by the Government or the public sector. The remaining 11 action points are to be taken by the voluntary sector. So, there is a substantial amount of work that needs to be done outside the direct control of the Government, so the Government needs to work much more closely with the voluntary sector and the voluntary organisations concerned in order to achieve the greater result that is needed.

Given that Welsh Women's Aid has raised concerns about the Government's internal cross-departmental working, there will obviously be some concerns about how effectively the Government is able to work with those outside organisations, particularly if they are outside the Government's direct control in terms of grants and so on. So, I would be interested to hear how the Government intends to improve its cross-departmental working in the Minister's response.

The Minister has focused much of his attention lately on trying to improve collaboration between local authorities. So, in theory, addressing this need to work collaboratively between different departments within the Government should be fairly simple by comparison. However, I note from the briefing that we all received from the Wales violence against women action group that there is concern that the commitment of the Welsh Government to tackling violence against women and girls has not been mirrored at local authority level across Wales. It is suggested that there is a need for stronger guidance to local government, which was promised but which has not been delivered. It says that, in some instances, local authorities continue to misunderstand equalities legislation, endangering much needed specialist support services within the women's voluntary sector.

I think that there is also an element of misunderstanding of the impact of certain decisions taken by local government in relation to equality legislation. A good example of that is the fate of the Swansea Women's Aid office, which I understand is currently under threat. There seems to be a huge amount of confusion about exactly why that is. I think that it boils down to the fact that the grants that the council gives it for rent are being stopped. I know that discussions are under way as part of that. However, that is a good example of a decision that has been taken by one arm of local government having an impact on the policy imperatives of the council and of the Welsh Government. That needs to be addressed. Perhaps the Minister can say whether he has been involved in that and whether he is having discussions with the council in that regard. I have written to the council on this, and I hope that the Minister will be able to support that action.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats support all policies to tackle domestic abuse, and we are pleased that the Government is taking the issue seriously. However, there are a number of other approaches that could be taken, things that are not included in the Labour manifesto, difficult as that is to understand. For example, the Government could introduce a training strategy for professionals working in the education and health sectors and could provide additional information for schools on domestic abuse. The Wales violence against women action group identified the need to focus more on preventive work, and it seems that these policies could make some significant progress in that area. We would be interested to know whether the Government could consider adopting approaches such as these in its overall strategy.

It is important to remember that domestic abuse affects men as well as women, but the nature of that abuse can often be quite different. In the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto, we said that we believed that strategies for tackling domestic abuse against men and against women should be kept distinct and always based on evidence. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that is the approach that his Government is taking.

This is a huge agenda and one that the Government is clearly taking seriously. I have already outlined a couple of things that were in the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto that were not in the Labour manifesto, but the progress that has been made so far is good. However, more certainly needs to be done, and I am grateful that this debate is being undertaken in a constructive atmosphere. I hope that the Minister can take my remarks in that context as well.

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