I strongly welcome Yvette Cooper’s speech on domestic violence today. I am proud to represent a party that is prepared to give this issue the attention it deserves and requires.
This government is clearly not doing enough to tackle this growing problem.
Figures obtained by Labour show that reports of domestic violence in England and Wales rose by 11 per cent between 2010/11 and 2012/13, and yet the percentage of successful prosecutions has dropped by 14 per cent in same time period.
Many women still do not come forward to report abuse, but for those that do, around a shocking 90 per cent of all reports of domestic violence are dropped by police.
Yvette Cooper is right that this is a profound and deeply embedded cultural problem for Britain. Two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner each week – and it is hard to imagine in quite what other circumstances there would be such a lack of public outcry.
Making this announcement now, as part of Labour’s raft of election year policy commitments, shows just how seriously Labour takes the issue of domestic violence, and of violence against women and girls in general.
In Lambeth, where I am the cabinet member leading on this issue, I am proud that we have one of the best VAWG support services in the country, though sadly not that I represent a borough where incidence of violence and abuse remains so high.
According to the police, Lambeth is one of the highest-ranking boroughs for reported serious violence against women, and we have the highest amount of callers of any London borough contacting the National Domestic Violence Helpline.
However, our commitment to tackling this problem is robust. We were, and still are, one of the first boroughs to develop and integrated VAWG strategy, bringing support for all forms of VAWG – including physical, sexual, financial, emotional and psychological abuse, stalking, prostitution, trafficking for sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and ‘honour’-based violence – under one roof.
With the excellent Gaia Centre, which we commission from Refuge, providing the backbone to our approach, Lambeth is leading the way on supporting victims and potential victims of violence and abuse. My leader, Lib Peck, wrote in more depth about this work for International Women’s Day earlier this year.
I am proud that we are seen as an exemplar of best practice in this field, with practitioners and fellow politicians visiting us from around the United Kingdom to learn from our work. However, what we can do at a local level is always closely affected by the decisions made by those at the centre – particularly how we continue to provide these vital services in the context of a 50 per cent cut to our funding from national government.
I strongly believe that making domestic violence a specific offence, and doing away with inappropriate community resolutions for it – among Yvette Cooper’s proposals – would be a strong tool in the hands of the excellent staff at the likes of the Gaia Centre in helping more women secure convictions against violent partners.
She is right that too many violent men are getting away with what is essentially a slap on the wrist, and the cycle of violence and re-offending remains unchecked. This approach is an insult to the women who are living with domestic violence and says to the perpetrators that domestic violence is somehow less offensive than other violent crime. It is not.
This issue should be beyond politics, but it is telling that it is only Labour standing up for women in an election year. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are busy apologising to Lord Rennard and the Tories have still not suspended a member of parliament who seriously assaulted his female partner.
Jane Edbrooke is a Labour councillor in Lambeth
Photo: Ferran Jorda
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