Domestic violence strategy needed, MPs say

MPs are calling on the government to produce a new national strategy on preventing domestic violence in Britain.

At present the UK economy loses around £25 billion a year because of the problem. MPs say this money could be saved through more effective prevention.

The Commons’ home affairs select committee says there is a lack of education in Britain’s schools about the dangers of domestic violence. It finds a “postcode lottery” exists in terms of service provision by local authorities and that refuse space is often insufficient to meet demand.

Forced marriage and “honour” violence are thought to be a major part of the problem. There are around 12 reported “honour” killings a year but the total is likely to be far higher. The government’s forced marriage unit deals with around 300 cases each year, nearly a third of which involve those under 18.

“We recognise that the government has done a lot over the past few years, implementing new legislation on domestic violence and forced marriage, and introducing specialist courts and independent advocates,” committee chairman Keith Vaz commented.

“However, we are still failing victims in different ways: through a shortage of refuge space for those fleeing violent homes; through the ignorance or disbelief of professionals; or by allowing the continued abuse of some of those forced into marriage by granting visas to their spouses.”

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker pointed out the report’s recognition of the government’s progress on domestic violence made in the last ten years, but pledged to continue the fight against “so-called honour-based violence”.

“We are currently hosting events across the country to tackle the issue of forced marriage and to give an early signal to local communities about the forthcoming Civil Protection Act, which will give courts further powers to protect victims from this appalling practice,” he said.

Proposals contained in the report to expand education on domestic violence to the classroom has met with a hostile response from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, whose head of education policy Nansi Ellis says the proposals “need more thought”.

“Talking to children about domestic violence, honour-based crimes and forced marriages could raise some very difficult issues,” she said. “MPs should keep their hands off the curriculum.”

The RSPCC, meanwhile, has demanded more protection for children trying to escape forced marriages. It wants better training for social workers to identify when it is too dangerous to send a child back home and when children are at risk, and extra emergency accommodation for victims escaping their home.

The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson Chris Huhne said, on domestic violence as a whole, that the government’s heavy emphasis on the criminal justice system was wrongplaced.

“Ministers are tackling the effects of domestic violence and forced marriage, but not the root causes, through effective prevention and early intervention,” he said.

“The government must prioritise developing a national strategy to end all forms of violence against women.”