The Government is launching a “once in a generation opportunity” to protect victims of domestic abuse, but charities are concerned it may not be enough.
Prime Minister Theresa May will announce the start of the much-anticipated consultation on the Government’s domestic abuse bill.
It includes proposals for the first legal definition of domestic violence, covering the many kinds of abuse suffered by victims from psychological to physical. For the first time, economic abuse will also be recognised.
New domestic abuse protection orders will allow police and courts to act earlier when they suspect abuse is taking place, with tougher sentences for cases involving children.
And a domestic abuse commissioner will be appointed to hold the Government to account.
Mrs May said: “The consultation we are launching today includes a number of proposals which have the potential to completely transform the way we tackle domestic abuse, providing better protection to victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.
“We know that domestic abuse affects those from all walks of life.
“Victims can be young and old, male and female.”
Domestic violence support charities have widely welcomed the consultation on the bill but want more certainty on funding for support services including refuges.
Ahead of the announcement Sky News spent the morning in a refuge which is currently full.
Olwen Kelly, has been running Swindon’s Women’s Aid for five years.
She said: “Women turn up all times of the day and the evening.
“When they arrive they’ll only have the clothes that they’re wearing, the children more often will be wearing their pyjamas and that’s because they’ve been put into police cars because it’s not safe for them to stay in their own home.”
But Women’s Aid is deeply concerned about Government proposals that could impact funding for refuges.
At the moment housing benefit can be used to pay for the specialist accommodation. But the Government is considering stopping that and devolving housing costs to local authorities, meaning funding to house abuse victims could come out of the same pot of money as that for ex-offenders, the homeless and those coming off alcohol and drugs.
Talking about her fears for her own refuge, Ms Kelly said: “Locally we are going to have to vie for funding in order to make sure that this refuge continues.
“What it will ultimately mean is that more women will die, more women will lose their lives.
“In England we know already that two women a week die because of domestic violence.”
Anne (not her real name) came to the refuge with her three children after her most recent partner psychologically abused her.
She said the refuge has been a lifeline, adding: “He would look through the windows, let himself into my house, knock on the door late at night, shout nasty things about me in the street.
“He would stand in the doorway all dressed in black and um, and not very nice things to deal with.
“My children were very scared. I needed the refuge.
“I’ve had some amazing support and I’ll never forget what this place has done for me, I’ll always be grateful.”
This Government told Sky News it is still reviewing options on how refuges are paid for and it is committed to ensuring there is no postcode lottery.