A little over three weeks ago, quietly and casually, it was announced that a pilot project introduced by the last Labour government to tackle domestic violence would be scrapped as part of the cost saving drive at the Home Office. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) claimed the police were not consulted in this decision, and a Home Office spokesperson stated that “in tough economic times we are now considering our options for delivering improved protection and value for money.”
The scheme was a pilot project, known as a ‘Go order’, started last April that saw perpetrators of domestic violence banned from their homes for two weeks after committing an offence, giving the victim time to decide whether to leave or proceed with court action against their partner. The scheme was a measure designed to assist the police in removing an offender from the home, even if there was not enough evidence to press charges. If the order was broken the perpetrator could be jailed.
Domestic violence is something we all know about and is yet still too rarely talked about in public life. Shockingly, two women in Britain die every week at the hands of a violent partner. One in four women in Britain will be a victim of sexual or domestic violence in their lifetime and the biggest killer of women around the world between the ages of fifteen and forty four is domestic violence. Therefore, every measure that can be pursued by government to tackle this appalling injustice should be taken.
The removal of this programme will be a bitter blow both to victims and all those working in the women’s sector, as it was only in July that Home Secretary Theresa May addressed the Women’s Aid Conference and stated that the coalition aims to “end violence against women and girls” and devise “real solutions” for preventing violence. She also said that “as both home secretary and minister for women and equalities I believe I have a unique opportunity to bring about real change to the lives and the status of women in this country, and my ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls.” The Home Secretary has evidently found that words are cheap. To play fast and loose with the lives of some of the most vulnerable women in our society is an utter outrage.
Support for domestic violence victims is patchy across Britain at best. Much of the provision for victims in terms of refuges and help lines is run by voluntary groups on miniscule budgets, with some local authorities plugging the gaps in certain areas. Labour made real, meaningful progress in an area which had always been at the bottom of the priority list under the last Tory government. The introduction of Sexual Assault Referral Centres, the establishment of thirty four specialist domestic violence court systems, the foundation of a national domestic violence help line and the injection of millions into policing all wrought an improvement in this area, whilst just last year Gordon and Sarah Brown backed Avon’s campaign to end the postcode lottery provision of domestic violence services in Britain.
There is one glimmer of hope for the Women’s sector, in that some measure of the support it receives comes from local authorities. Those authorities that are Labour controlled have a real opportunity, even at times of big budget cuts, to ensure that domestic violence projects in their areas are ringfenced and protected. On this issue, as with so many others, Labour can lead the way in standing up for women and taking on the ConDems, ensuring that their policies of abandonment and betrayal do not bite too deep where Labour still has a say. Labour is the party for women, and in standing up for the most vulnerable women in Britain we can make good that pledge.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.