It is a great honour to speak in this debate, and I fully support this important and welcome piece of legislation. As the brother of three women, the husband of one, the father of two and, of course, the son of one, gender equality has always been at the top of my agenda, although I of course recognise that domestic violence can affect both men and women. I have recently been made aware that two women are killed each week by a current or former partner—a statistic that I am sure we all find chilling—and one of those women was my constituent Jean Chapman, who was murdered by her partner last year as she slept. It was a heinous crime, and I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for bringing Jean’s case and statistics relating to domestic abuse to the House’s attention on International Women’s Day.
Given the unsettling statistics, I am pleased that tackling domestic violence and abuse remains a key priority for this Government, and that Ministers are keen to build on the measures that have been put in place since 2010 to transform the way in which we think about and tackle these terrible crimes. I welcome that progress and would argue that, as we move forward, appropriate steps should be taken to tackle domestic violence and abuse and that support mechanisms should be in place for victims. It is positive news that the Government are now consulting on their approach to dealing with domestic abuse. The wide-ranging consultation will, I hope, address every stage of the Government’s response, from prevention through to rehabilitation, and reinforce the aim of making domestic abuse everyone’s business.
I am also pleased that the Government have recently confirmed an additional £20 million to support organisations working to tackle domestic violence and abuse, meaning that the total funding available for the strategy to end violence against women and girls will be more than £100 million in this Parliament. Steps have also been taken to ring-fence funding for organisations that work in the area of domestic violence, giving them greater financial certainty.
At a local level, I welcome the work that Essex police has been undertaking to make sure that Tendring district, which covers my constituency and part of that of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), is a safe and pleasant place to live, work and visit. That includes tackling domestic abuse, and I am pleased to report that incidents of domestic abuse in Tendring have fallen recently. I thank Chief Inspector Paul Wells—Tendring’s district commander—and his officers for all their hard work, and I also thank Russ Cole, his predecessor, with whom I worked some years ago to create a video covering this subject. I must also acknowledge the work of Roger Hirst, Essex police and crime commissioner, and Nick Alston, his predecessor, for ensuring that domestic abuse is a priority for Essex police.
However, even with all that hard work, there were still 299 incidents of domestic abuse in Tendring in the past month alone. While I have no doubt that we have done good work, it is therefore clear that we must make further progress and that everything must be done to help victims of domestic abuse leave their abusive situation, while ensuring that they and their families are provided with the stability and security that they need and deserve. That is why this Bill, which I am pleased to say has cross-party support, is so important. It guarantees that victims of domestic abuse can access lifetime tenancies. Victims must never be kept in an abusive situation because they fear they will be homeless if they leave, and the Bill will ensure that that is not the case.
It will come as no surprise to the House that, according to analysis by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Bill will lead to a reduction in domestic violence. It will also bring benefits to children in need, half of whom are affected by domestic violence. Research in 2008 estimated that the overall cost of domestic abuse to both victims and society was approximately £16 billion annually, including an estimated cost to UK employers of £1.9 billion a year due to absences resulting from domestic abuse injury.
Right now, there are people living in fear in this country: fear of a partner’s return; fear of the mood that partner might be in; fear of further abuse, both mentally and physically; fear for their children; and fear for their very lives. No one should have to live under such circumstances, and we as parliamentarians can do something about it. By passing this Bill, we are going a long way to doing something about it.
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