Brian Paddick on Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion: “We need a change of attitude in society and across the political spectrum”

brian-paddickBrian Paddick — former Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London’s Metropolitan Police Service, twice Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London and now a Lib Dem peer — spoke in this week’s House of Lords debate, ‘Women: Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion’. Here’s what he said…

Lord Paddick (LD): … As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has already said, the issues of homelessness, domestic violence and social exclusion of women are linked. In particular, it is male violence against women that lies behind many of these problems. For example, as my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield said, the homeless charity, St Mungo’s, reports that half of its female clients have experienced domestic violence compared with only 5% of its male clients. Research already referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, shows that between 50% and 80% of women in prison have experienced domestic or sexual violence. Two-thirds of domestic violence survivors say that their problematic substance misuse began following domestic violence. The evidence is compelling, not only that women are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and abuse, almost always but not exclusively perpetrated by men, but that violence and abuse lies behind much of the homelessness and social exclusion faced by women.

In July, the Government published the latest research and evidence of what works in the prevention of violence against women and girls. It talks about “discriminatory social norms” in relation to violence against women. This paper was published by the Department for International Development and was focused on countries overseas. It is time that we woke up to the fact that there are discriminatory social norms in the UK that result in violence against women. Much of male violence against women is the result of inequality between men and women, a culture of male privilege and male dominance, and a sense of entitlement, supported by sexism. The issues are compounded by underreporting of domestic and sexual violence. I was the victim of same-sex domestic violence; I was a police officer at the time and I did not report it. I was able to throw him out eventually, but imagine the position of many female survivors of domestic violence who are reliant on their abusers, not only financially, but for their accommodation. They are even less likely to report such matters.

In addition, there are issues surrounding the response of the police when domestic violence is reported. A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said that the police often fail to see domestic abuse, particularly in its non-violent form, as a serious crime. There is nothing more serious than feeling unsafe in your own home. Because of the massive underreporting of these offences, there is inadequate funding to address both the aftermath, in terms of care of survivors, and inadequate funding for prevention, in tackling the underlying discriminatory social norms.

While I welcome the Government’s expansion of the definition of domestic violence to include any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive behaviour, it is neither a statutory definition, nor is there a specific criminal offence of domestic violence. I fully support the comments of my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington in that respect.

We have seen the Government recently support new laws, for example, extending child cruelty to include behaviour that causes emotional harm, in cases where the Government had previously said that existing laws were sufficient. We heard similar arguments deployed this week against the Government in the debate on the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill. Many noble Lords argued that the legislation was unnecessary as it was covered by existing laws, but the Government defended the Bill, because, among other reasons, it sent a clear message.

We need to send a clear message to the perpetrators of domestic violence, and to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, that the essence of domestic violence is controlling behaviour and coercive control, by making such behaviour a specific criminal offence. Why does public-spirited activity deserve the protection of specific legislation while domestic abuse, mainly perpetrated by men against women, does not? We need a change of culture in this country towards women, the rules of gender and patriarchy. It may not be as much of an issue as it is in some overseas countries, but it is an issue in the UK none the less, and it is about time we admitted it.

We can start with compulsory personal, social and health education that teaches respect for women and with proper funding for women’s organisations that make-up 7% of all registered charities but receive only 1.2% of central government funding. While localism is to be welcomed, with no ring-fence and the Government not prepared to influence local commissioning, too many local authorities have gone for the cheapest option when it comes to refuges for the survivors of domestic violence, run by generic providers giving a poorer service and less support.

Local, community-based organisations are trying to deal with the underlying issues of violence against women and girls. Meanwhile many local authority refuges no longer accept children, provide no out-of-hours support, and will only accommodate survivors from within their own local authority area, when the last thing a survivor wants is to remain in the local area where there is a chance she will encounter her abuser. Much needs to be done and that requires a change of attitude in society and across the political spectrum. I do not know whether this is what a feminist looks like, but it is what a Liberal Democrat looks like.

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One Comment

  • Domestic violence in the home is a reflection of administrative sexism in the main. I don’t know how many times I have seen LA’s use the sexes for affect even to cover an outright sexist action.

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