Refuge statement on Committee stage of Domestic Abuse Bill
As the Domestic Abuse Bill continues through the Committee stage this week, Ellie Butt, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Refuge said:
“As the Committee stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill is set to conclude over the next few days, Refuge is hopeful that Government ministers and MPs on the Committee will take this opportunity to add crucial measures to the Bill, to ensure it makes a real difference to survivors and meets the Government’s own objective of transforming the response to domestic abuse. Not all issues that are of primary concern to Refuge will be discussed this week – funding for refuge services for example – but the Committee stage is nonetheless of crucial importance to the development of the Domestic Abuse Bill.
As the largest specialist service provider of services for survivors of domestic abuse, Refuge has worked tirelessly over the past few years to try to ensure that the Bill reflects what we know survivors and their children need. It is now vital that these recommendations are taken on board by those who are scrutinising the Bill.
Crucially, Refuge wants the Domestic Abuse Bill to include a clear gendered definition of abuse. Of course, anyone can experience domestic abuse, regardless of their gender, but as Refuge knows only too well, the overwhelming majority of victims are women and the overwhelming majority or perpetrators are men. Domestic abuse is a cause and consequence of gender inequality and it is crucial that the Bill reflects this reality. How we define a problem determines our response to it.
This week, the Committee will also have the chance to consider vital amendments that would exempt survivors of domestic abuse from repaying Universal Credit. Making sure that the benefits system works for women fleeing domestic abuse is one of the most important changes the Government can make. If women do not have confidence that they will be able to find safety and feed themselves and their children, they may not feel able to leave their perpetrator, and remain trapped in fear of abuse. In Refuge’s experience it is not uncommon for women to return to abusers after experiencing the abject poverty caused by the five-week delay in receiving Universal Credit.
For many women, leaving their abusive partner will be the first time they experience the benefits system. Many will have been denied access to money by their abusive partners, others may have been prevented from working or will have to leave their jobs because it is just too dangerous for their perpetrator to know their place of work after they have fled. Women often leave with just a bag of clothes and a few pounds – relying on foodbanks until they receive their benefits. Ensuring benefit advances are non-repayable would be a significant step towards ensuring women can really break free of their abusive partners, enabling them to rebuild their lives and homes.
Refuge also hopes that the Government will ensure that women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are protected by the Domestic Abuse Bill. Migrant survivors with no recourse are currently locked out of the benefits system, left facing destitution and street homelessness when leaving their abusive partners. Migrant survivors’ access to safety must be guaranteed by ensuring all survivors, regardless of immigration status, can access public funds and regularise their immigration status independently of their abuser.
The Domestic Abuse Bill, years in the making, and the result of an incredible amount of work across the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector, has a chance to be truly transformative. Coming at a time when Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline has experienced more demand than ever, the need for specialist domestic abuse services has never been greater. Refuge hopes the Government will use this opportunity to introduce real, lasting change. Women’s lives depend on it.
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