Please note that Internet Explorer is no longer a supported browser so we cannot guarantee the integrity of our website when using it. Please use an alternate browser like Edge or Chrome.

London Assembly PCC investigation into Domestic Abuse

Reading Time: 4 minutes

London Assembly PCC investigation into Domestic Abuse

emblem

A blog from our CEO, Mark Groves

 

 

 

 

The Vicious Circle that Policy Makers Need to Escape

On the 30th October 2019 I was invited to the London Assembly by the PCC to discuss how the Mayor has performed with regards to services across London to domestic abuse victims.

It was attended by about 30 organisations. And, as each one started to tell their story, it was clear that every one, large or small, was struggling to maintain services for lack of funding.

Some hadn’t applied to government because the process is too difficult, some were unhappy that government funding went mostly to larger organisations, while others were funded by the Lottery.

Maintaining their service has been made more difficult because many more victims are seeking help and, in one example, funding had been cut by 50% whereas 100% more victims were helped.

Smaller organisations and in particular an organisation representing Black and Caribbean victims were desperate; receiving nothing from the government and surviving, it seems, only on passion.

The scale of this sector is huge, the spiral of abuse related issues unending, and every organization has their unique take on it.  At NCDV we deal with a victim for a couple of hours enabling us to help thousands of people every month but the resource needed by other support agencies is many times this. Every victim can need days of a support worker’s time and, although there are many who want to help, there is a tiny pot of money to remunerate them.

Relying on unpaid volunteers is not only not working, it is unjust

It cannot be right for this sector to rely on unpaid volunteers who have to make themselves available around the clock. The founders and CEOs of these organisations not only give up their lives to help, they also put themselves at risk because they know the personal cost of being a victim.

Many were once on the receiving end but managed to escape with the help of support workers and they in turn give back to society by helping others.

At the London Assembly meeting there was much talk of how to stop domestic abuse.

I think that is only possible by going right back to the roots of the problem, creating an awareness where domestic abuse doesn’t exist. Stopping abuse must start by educating our children. But this is a long-term plan and politicians think short term. To make domestic abuse completely unacceptable within society will take a generation at least and no government is going to commit funding for such a long period of time.

So are we destined to be plagued by domestic abuse for ever?  Yes: until someone decides that the £66 billion a year problem (ONS stats) should be tackled by putting proper money into education. Parents and teachers should be encouraged to talk to children about domestic abuse and children should understand it is wrong for parents to fight.

In the meantime, we need to support the victims we already know about.

Every support agency is reporting an increase in the number of people they help. That’s not because there are more victims it’s because these agencies and government have done a great job of creating awareness. It is irresponsible to do that without a reciprocal increase in the funding to support victim services.

There is little point in raising awareness of abuse if police and support organisations don’t have the means to help victims

Victims are becoming disillusioned; on the one hand, they are told to report domestic abuse, on the other, they learn there is no one to support them. The rise in awareness must be matched in a rise of funding.

I have learnt that there are no refuges for men in London. They leave an abusive relationship with a child and end up on a sofa. That’s ok for a night or two but they need to provide a stable home, take back control of their lives and to start over. That is a huge challenge without a place to live. Why not use some of the empty office blocks ripe for conversion to give men the chance to provide a stable home and contribute to society?

Most victims remain women and it is more difficult for a woman to leave than a man but it’s just as important to allow them to start again. Refuges across the country are at capacity: why has this happened? Has no one joined the dots that if you create more awareness then more refuges will be needed. Policy makers should consult in trying to work out the total number of refuges we need.

Our overstretched police keep having extra services piled onto them by vote-seeking politicians who will not give the police the means to meet the new demand they have just created. In my view, local politicians should be helping local organisations, not creating grand Domestic Abuse Bills that get stuck in parliament, which, when enacted, will put even more pressure on the police and domestic abuse organisations.

Did I learn much that was new at the London Assembly?  Perhaps not.  But it did convince me that some 360 degree thinking  was required if we are to get effective, fully funded policy.  Perhaps Sadiq Khan can think about that: and above all take some effective action.

 

Mark Groves

CEO

 

 

 

 

Share This Article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on whatsapp
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Reading Time: < 1 minute

By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”