Government consultation on domestic violence is an opportunity to make things better
Today MHCLG closed its consultation on the best way to provide accommodation-based support to people suffering domestic abuse, including children. CIH feels strongly that this is an extremely important area of policy where it is vital that the government gets it right. We have been supporting the housing sector to improve its response to domestic abuse with our Make a Stand campaign. As CIH’s policy research officer Dr Yoric Irving-Clarke explains in his latest blog, the consultation has been an opportunity to make further improvements.
The government’s proposal is for a new system to fund and regulate accommodation-based support services for people suffering abuse. Tier 1 authorities (county and unitary councils) will be given a new duty to either convene a new local partnership board (LPB) or to use a suitable existing body, like a homelessness reduction board, to assess need and supply and to commission new or remodel existing services to meet assessed need. CIH is supportive of the general approach; it has the potential to provide a more strategic response and make a real difference to the lives of people suffering abuse.
That said, there are some parts of the proposal that we think could be improved. Here are some of the main areas where we think change is needed.
The consultation attempts to define services as being either ‘accommodation-based’ or ‘support.’ ‘Accommodation-based services’ include refuges, dispersed and other move-in accommodation as well as properties with ‘sanctuary schemes’ or other enhanced security features. We have told MHCLG that these definitions are far too broad as to be effective.
We argue that their definitions risk non-specialist/generic services being commissioned to work with especially vulnerable people; people who need specialist advice and support. Instead, we are supporting calls from the domestic abuse sector for a ‘whole housing’ approach. This would ensure that there is a wide range of preventative and reactive options for survivors that includes refuge provision, but also includes specialist floating support, Housing First, independent domestic violence advocates and advice and support services. We also think that while ‘sanctuary schemes’ are an integral part of a robust response to abuse, they are not services in and of themselves. We’re also asking for more preventative work and work with perpetrators to be included.
The government is proposing that LPBs make decisions about commissioning services in partnership with tier 2 authorities (district councils), representatives from other council departments and others with relevant expertise. Again, we agree with the overall approach, but we are suggesting that tier 2 authorities be mandated to attend LPB meetings, as we think it is vital that there are fully involved in these important decisions about local services. We are also suggesting that government sets out a mediation strategy for occasions where there are one-off or ongoing disagreements between partners. It’s important that government ensures that cross-authority working is effective, as most referrals where domestic abuse is a factor come from out of area.
For similar reasons, we also agree with the proposal for a standardised needs assessment for local authorities – and that there is central scrutiny of their strategies. There is a need to ensure that LPBs take these duties seriously, carry out robust needs assessments and not merely rely on statements of current demand. We are recommending that the (proposed) ‘national steering group’ not only has a key role in auditing and assessing local strategies but also in allocating funding to areas where they identify additional cross-border demand from national oversight of local strategies. While having local strategies is welcome, failing to join these up at regional and national level would risk missing key trends and compromise an effective response.
There is much to be welcomed in the consultation, and overall it is good starting point for the discussion about policy in this most difficult of areas; we are looking forward to working with the government and housing and domestic abuse sectors to make it a reality and improve the lives of survivors of abuse.
You can read our full response HERE.