Response to publication of the UK Government’s Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan

We welcome publication of the Government’s ‘Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan’. The document is a positive step towards recognising that domestic abuse is neither inevitable or acceptable, and that a systemic and joined-up approach is essential to preventing and stopping harm for everyone, for good.

Our work has highlighted repeated concerns that services aren’t co-ordinated, and victims of domestic abuse continually fall through gaps. Opportunities to provide support are missed, interventions are too late, risks to children aren’t linked, and perpetrators are not identified or tackled – so go on to cause more harm. The responses provided leave out far too many people. Most fundamentally, there has not been enough ambition to make the societal change which will stop domestic abuse from happening in the first place.

The Domestic Abuse Plan starts to make inroads into a number of these issues. We particularly welcome the strong focus on primary and secondary prevention of abuse; without undermining the continued need for more and better victim support.

Tackling perpetrator behaviour is essential to stopping domestic abuse. We welcome the inclusion of sustained investment in direct intervention with those who are causing harm. Fulfilling the potential of this investment will require co-ordinated policy and training across Government departments and public services. As the Plan states, perpetrator interventions must be implemented as part of wider packages of support for all members of a family affected by abuse. Those must have specialist input; universal services such as Family Hubs are welcome but far from the full solution.

The Plan sets out exploratory work to identify and address the root causes of abuse so that it can be stopped before any harm is caused. This means investment in research about why someone starts using harmful behaviour towards the people around them, and commitment to developing education and community-based programmes to foster and grow safe healthy attitudes, expectations and behaviours, particularly amongst men and boys. We look forward to working with Government to ensure these exploratory programmes are creative, robust and timely.

We welcome the commitment to better co-ordinate the response of statutory services to ensure victims are identified sooner. It is positive that the Plan recognises the importance of joining up ‘within and between’ organisations, and the vital role of Maracs in pooling information to build a picture of abuse and inform a joined-up response. We have to recognise that the 31% rise in Marac cases over the last 41 years means that local infrastructure is under significant pressure. This makes sustained, sufficient investment in voluntary and statutory agencies absolutely vital. It also requires a step change – still missing in this Plan – from agencies such as health who currently participate less in these life-saving responses to abuse.

The Plan’s call for evidence found that victims and survivors of domestic abuse overwhelmingly rated Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (Idvas) as the best of all the professional services on offer. We are really pleased the Plan recognises how crucial Idvas are to tens of thousands of victims every year, and welcome the commitment to fund additional Idva and Isva (Independent Sexual Violence Advisors) roles.

Whilst we were disappointed that the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act didn’t put community-based support on the same statutory footing as accommodation services, we are pleased this Plan allocates some secure, medium-term funding. We hope local commissioners will be thorough in considering how they can better support ‘by-and-for’ organisations that provide essential support for victims of domestic abuse who are marginalised because of their particular characteristics (this might be sexual orientation, immigration status, disability, gender, race, ethnicity or economic status). The upcoming Victim’s Bill presents an opportunity to build on this investment and we want it to place a statutory duty on public bodies to ensure community-based services are available to respond to and support all members of a family who need help, in a way that’s appropriate for them and no matter what their situation, geography and characteristics.

The 2021 Domestic Abuse Act recognises children as victims of domestic abuse in their own right. Our Safe Young Lives research and submission for last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review clearly demonstrate the importance of early and tailored intervention for children. We therefore welcome the commitment to build an evidence base of what works for them. We hope the robust evidence we can already provide will be valued, and the voice of child and adult survivors listened to at every stage. Making a real change for children will then depend upon the full range of statutory services including health, education and social care, working together in child-centred way. We believe the funding announced previously for Family Hubs and the Supporting Families programme could play a role in joining up services for children and families.

The Plan starts to balance out the over-statement, historically, of domestic abuse response as largely a criminal justice matter, and we believe this can go further. Our work, including Cry for Health, Health Pathfinder, and Whole Health London, clearly illustrates the enormous potential of the NHS to identify individuals affected by domestic abuse, and offer support. On that basis we warmly welcome the commitment to invest in bespoke work with healthcare professionals. We trust this is just the start of a process to make the identification and response to abuse within health settings more systemic and consistent. Without this, it will be impossible to achieve the change that’s needed. We also look forward to hearing more about some of the proposals outlined from the Dept of Education, who also have opportunities to make significant change.

Though only applicable to the 17% of cases which are reported to the police, we welcome the recognition in the Plan that an effective police response is essential to identify victims and safeguard them from further harm. We would like to see deep cultural change delivered within policing, in particular for communities who have had reason to lose trust and confidence in them. Earlier this week we were proud to stand alongside our colleagues from Sistah Space to call for ‘Valerie’s Law’ – mandatory training for relevant agencies in the response to Black victims of domestic abuse. This is not addressed in today’s Plan but we will continue to support Sistah Space and hope the Government will adopt their call to action very soon.

For years, victims of domestic abuse and domestic abuse practitioners have said loudly and clearly that the family court process is re-traumatising, and can actively facilitate the perpetration of further abuse. The Family Harms Panel made clear recommendations about this two years ago. There is no need to wait any longer to implement these changes and we hope that Ministry of Justice will pursue these changes energetically from this point.

This Plan begins to address some of the many challenges to end domestic abuse. Many of the actions outlined are very welcome. In particular, we are really pleased to see the unprecedented focus on primary and secondary prevention of abuse – acting before harm happens and direct work with abusers. This is a major shift in Government policy, and we are glad to have influenced that shift.

We need to be ambitious. To go much further and much faster. As well as tackling perpetrators whose behaviour has already become a pattern in multiple relationships, it’s right that we also look at the root causes of domestic abuse. Why does someone start using this behaviour in the first place?

Community-based support services are a lifeline for adult and child victims. These services should be provided on the same statutory basis as accommodation services. And, while this Plan recognises the importance of agencies coordinating their action, deep, systematic change is needed to make this happen. We need all of our public services to work together effectively to provide a compassionate, joined up response to whole families affected by abuse. This will take sustained investment, but more importantly a change in mindset so that every single one of us understands our role in ending domestic abuse.

Suzanne Jacob, OBE, Chief Executive of SafeLives

Read the report

Why we must invest in domestic abuse services in hospitals

A Cry for Health

You may also be interested in

Domestic Abuse Act

Find out more about the four-year journey to ensure this milestone legislation was a true leap forward for domestic abuse survivors and frontline services.

Whole Health London

A three-year project on a whole health approach to transform the health response to victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse across the capital.