Is the Violence against Women (Wales) Act 2015 working?

10 February 2017

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

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On 15 February, the Assembly will debate the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report on its post-legislative scrutiny of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.

The Act aims to:

  • improve the public sector response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence;
  • give public authorities (such as councils and health boards) a strategic focus on the issue, and
  • ensure the consistent provision of preventative, protective and supportive services.

The main provisions of the legislation, alongside the Committee’s findings and the Welsh Government’s response, are highlighted below.

Pace of implementation

The Committee was concerned that the pace of implementation of the Act has, in some areas, been slow. It is more than 18 months since the Act was passed, and some key parts of the Act are yet to be delivered.

The Committee was particularly concerned that the commissioning of services was taking place without statutory guidance from the Welsh Government, which could lead to inconsistencies that would be at odds with the core aims of the Act. It also highlighted concerns that the rise in demand for services as a result of the Act was not being matched with sufficient and sustainable resources.

The Committee made recommendations including:

  • The Welsh Government should set out anticipated delivery dates for the outstanding delivery plan, guidance and regulations, with the priority on commissioning guidance; and
  • The Welsh Government should have urgent discussions with the UK Government about the future funding arrangements for independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs).

The Welsh Government response states that:

  • the multi-agency guidance “will be considered in light of the local government White Paper”;
  • “the plan for rollout of Ask and Act will be developed from July 2017”;
  • statutory commissioning guidance “will be consulted on by July 2017”;
  • “guidance will be published in relation to local strategies in July 2017”, and
  • national indicators will be published “not before” October 2017.

It also notes that discussions with the UK government have taken place, and the “national rollout of a regional funding approach for the Domestic Abuse Services Grant (DASG) from 01 April 2018. [..]2017-2018 will be a transitional year and [it will be moving] to a regional funding and commissioning model [in the future].”

National and local strategies

Sections 3-4 of the Act require the Welsh Government to prepare and publish a National Strategy to ’contribute to the aims of  the Act’ no later than 6 months after the Welsh election (i.e. By 6 November 2016). Sections 5-8 of the Act require local authorities and local health boards to prepare and publish local strategies by May 2018.

The Committee was “disappointed” that while the Act was passed more than 18 months before the Welsh Government was required to publish the National Strategy, it did not begin consulting on a draft strategy until August, leaving only one month before the deadline for amendments and improvements to be made. Many witnesses told the Committee that they were not satisfied with the draft, and in particular that the views of survivors of abuse had not been taken into account.

As a result, the Cabinet Secretary made the decision to publish a high-level strategy in November 2016, which will be followed by a ‘delivery plan’ detailing how the strategy will be achieved. The Committee was concerned that the delivery plan would not be legally enforceable (unlike the National Strategy), and that no timescales for its publication had been provided.

In addition, the Committee heard that local strategies are beginning to be developed before the delivery plan is published, which could lead to inconsistencies in strategic approaches.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • clarify the legal status of the forthcoming delivery plan, which should preferably be issued as statutory guidance to ensure that it can be enforced;
  • outline when the delivery plan will be published, and how it will be consulted upon, and
  • ensure that the ten survivor recommendations contained in the report, Are you listening, am I being heard?, are fully considered during the development of the national survivor engagement framework.

The Welsh Government response states that “the legal status of the Delivery Framework will be considered with a Task & Finish Group, set up by the Advisory Group to develop the plan, with input from the Cross-Governmental officials Group. The Advisory Group will scrutinise the framework before being published” and “the timescale for the publication of the Framework will be determined by the Task & Finish group”.

Education

Section 9 of the Act places a duty on local authorities to report on how they are addressing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence within their education institutions. Section 10 gives Welsh Ministers and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) the power to issue guidance to further and higher education institutions.

Education was a contentious issue during the passage of the Act. The initial White Paper on the legislation from 2012 proposed that the Bill would ensure that education on ‘healthy relationships’ was mandatorily delivered in all schools.

This proposal was not included in the draft Bill. According to the then Minister in charge of the Bill, healthy relationships education was instead being considered as part of the curriculum review led by Professor Graham Donaldson, which would include a review of the basic curriculum including Personal and Social Education (PSE).

The duty in section 9 was introduced as a Government amendment during the passage of the Act.

Both the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children and the Cabinet Secretary for Education told the Committee that the regulations under section 9 would be developed in early 2017. It is not clear when local authorities will be required to start reporting.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • commit to including teaching about healthy relationships in the new curriculum under the ‘Health and Well-being’ Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE);
  • expedite the preparation of regulations relating to the publication of information by local authorities on how they are exercising their functions to promote the purpose of the Act. It should also commit to requiring local authorities to begin reporting by the start of the 2017/18 academic year;
  • outline how healthy relationships and consent education will be addressed by further and higher education institutions.

The Welsh Government responded to these recommendations by saying “there may be opportunities to obtain information and data on what education settings within local authorities are currently undertaking with regards to Education provision stemming from the Act from external organisations currently enhancing the delivery of Healthy Relationships in schools”. It goes on to say:

Work on the development of the Health and Wellbeing AoLE will include consideration on approaches to the delivery of Healthy relationships and therefore there is potential that this can be considered as part of the overall work being undertaken.

The Welsh Government noted that in relation to the recommendation about further and higher education bodies, “this will be considered with Higher Education colleagues whilst drawing from projects already in place within Further & Higher Education.”

The National Adviser

Section 20 of the Act requires Welsh Ministers to appoint a National Adviser to provide advice, monitor implementation of the Act and undertake research.

The Committee found that the National Adviser’s role is part-time, meaning that her influence and capacity is limited. It also noted that the Adviser’s work plan was not aligned with the National Strategy, again potentially leading to inconsistencies.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • Review of the capacity of the National Adviser role, and consider allocating additional resources to it to support the development of local strategies and undertake research;
  • Clarify what sanctions are available to Welsh Ministers if a public authority does not fulfil the requirements of the Act, and
  • Make reference to the National Adviser, her responsibilities and work plan in the forthcoming delivery plan and any future strategies.

The Welsh Government hasdiscussed and considered these recommendations with the National Adviser”, and it has agreed to keep it under review. In terms of powers, the response states that the Welsh Ministers have the power to “direct” an authority to take appropriate action, but does not detail what sanctioning powers are available.

The Violence Against Women Act – one year on

30 June 2015

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

It’s been 12 months since the Welsh Government first introduced a Bill to reduce gender-based violence in Wales. On Tuesday 30 June, the Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews AM, will make a statement in plenary on its progress.

So what has happened in the last year?

VAWIn March 2015, the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 was passed, after a difficult passage through the Assembly, which included a name change and various concessions on education.

This post details the initial problems the Act faced, and this post outlines how the education provisions in the Act evolved.

The main parts of the Act are:

  • the duty to prepare and report on national strategies;
  • the duty to prepare and report on local strategies;
  • a duty on local authorities to report on how they are addressing gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence within their education institutions, including through sex education;
  • the power for Ministers to issue statutory guidance and the duty to follow such guidance; and
  • appointment of a Violence Against Women Adviser.

Recent news

  • The Welsh Government post of Violence Against Women Adviser (created by the Act) was advertised, but as a part-time role;
  • Welsh Women’s Aid consulted on a Good Practice guide to delivering Whole Education Approaches to Preventing Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence in April;
  • Recent news reports suggest that police training in Gwent is not up to scratch, with many relying on e-learning;
  • Academic research shows violent crime may be 60 per cent higher than previously thought because victims can only record a maximum of five incidents;
  • Last week, the Crown Prosecution Service revealed that 5,124 people were convicted for violence against women and girls in Wales in 2014-15;
  • A UN report on violence against women examining how well the UK responds to violence against women and girls was published in June by UN’s Special Rapporteur Associate Professor Rashida Manjoo. In the report Rashida Manjoo recommends that the UK Government:
    • urgently evaluates the way life-saving women’s support services (including refuges, helplines and BME women’s services) are funded and commits to ensuring that these are made adequate and sustainable;
    • make sex and relationships education compulsory in schools as the fundamental way of ensuring the UK tries to prevent abuse;
    • examine the way legal aid changes are impacting women facing abuse;
    • review the assessment of women asylum seekers’ claims to ensure gender sensitivity; and permit an independent examination of the treatment of women in the Yarls Wood immigration detention centre (she was denied entry to the centre on her visit to the UK).

There is still lots of work to do to implement the Act, from the design of effective healthy relationships education to the training of frontline professionals, and the development of national and local strategies.

View this post in Welsh
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Slimmed down Gender-based violence Bill to be debated by Assembly

25 November 2014

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Since its introduction in June, the Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill has had a rough ride in the Assembly.

It began life in 2012 with a White Paper consultation on legislation to end violence against women, which was hailed as ‘ground-breaking’ by the Welsh Government and welcomed by stakeholders.  The proposals were intended to strengthen leadership, improve education and awareness, and strengthen and integrate services.

However, when the Bill was introduced to the Assembly in July, the name had changed, the education section had been dropped, the definitions had altered, and the duties on local authorities had become part of guidance. Campaigners publicly expressed their disappointment with the slimmed down Bill, saying that it did not focus on the primary victims of such abuse. They also criticised the lack of education and guaranteed access to services.

The primary elements of the Bill (as introduced) are:

  • the duty to prepare and report on national strategies;
  • the duty to prepare and report on local strategies;
  • the power for Ministers to issue statutory guidance and the duty to follow such guidance;
  • appointment of a Ministerial Adviser on gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

gbv engThe Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee has been scrutinising the Bill since July, beginning with a round table stakeholder event. The Committee also heard oral evidence from the then Minister in charge of the Bill, Lesley Griffiths AM, a panel of children’s organisations, a panel of academics, panels of women’s and men’s organisations, third and public sector panels, and the current Minister in charge, Leighton Andrews AM.

The Committee also received 90 pieces of written evidence. While respondents in written and oral evidence broadly supported the purpose and intent of the Bill, they told Members that they had major concerns about the content.

In response, the Committee published its stage 1 report on 14 November. It supported the general principles of the Bill, but made twelve recommendations to the Welsh Government to amend the Bill to:

  • use a rights-based approach to ensure a right to services for victims;
  • refer to ‘violence against women’ in the Bill, so that the root causes of violence against women are tackled but that all victims can access services, regardless of gender;
  • provide for compulsory education programmes on healthy relationships;
  • establish minimum standards for local strategies;
  • give the adviser independence from the Welsh Government and the power to conduct investigations;
  • adopt the United Nations definition on ‘violence against women’ and the Home Office definition of ‘domestic violence and abuse’.

Today the Assembly will debate the Committee’s stage 1 report on the Bill.

Violence against women and domestic abuse– what is being done in Wales?

11 February 2014

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

In June 2014, the Welsh Government will introduce legislation to tackle violence against women and domestic abuse to underpin the Right to be Safe strategy, which was published in 2010.

Definitions

Violence against women: The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women 1993 stated that violence against women is any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women.
The term includes:
 domestic abuse;
 rape and sexual violence, abuse and exploitation;
 stalking and harassment;
 trafficking;
 female genital mutilation;
 forced marriage and
 honour-based violence.

Domestic abuse and violence: There is no statutory definition of domestic abuse and violence, and the term covers a range of behaviour, not all of which is criminal. Historically there have been a number of different ‘official’ definitions.
From 2013, the UK Government’s cross-government definition of ‘domestic violence and abuse’, which is also used by the Welsh Government in the White Paper, is “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.
This can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological; physical; sexual; financial or emotional abuse.”

Prevalence of violence against women

  • Up to three million women across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, stalking, sexual exploitation and trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM) or so-called ‘honour’-based violence each year.
  • Seven per cent of women and five per cent of men were estimated to have experienced domestic abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.2 million female and 800,000 male victims.
  • 404,000 women are victims of sexual offences in England and Wales every year (2.5% of women).
  • 85,000 women are victims of rape in England and Wales every year, which is roughly 2,000 a week.
  • Around one in twenty females (aged 16 to 59) reported being a victim of a serious sexual offence since the age of 16.

Right to be Safe strategy

While the criminal justice elements relating to violence against women and domestic abuse are not devolved, the Welsh Government has responsibility for social welfare, local government, health, housing, education and children’s issues, as well as co-ordinating multi-agency working.

The Welsh Government’s Right to be Safe 6 year strategy for all forms of violence against women and domestic abuse was introduced in 2010. The strategy significantly extended the scope of the 2005 domestic abuse strategy, and addresses four key areas:

  • prevention and raising awareness of violence against women and domestic abuse;
  • providing support for victims and children;
  • improving the responses of criminal justice agencies; improving the response of health services and other agencies.

Legislation

daeOn 26 November 2012, a White Paper consultation on an Ending Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Bill was published, which outlined the policy and legislative proposals.

The proposals focused on three specific areas:

  • stronger leadership across public sector services in Wales that is  independent, provides a strategic overview and can monitor and challenge;
  • better education and awareness from the ‘cradle to the grave’, which includes the public, frontline staff and professionals, and
  • strengthening and integrating services that are consistent, effective and of a quality standard.

Specifically, the White Paper proposes to:

– appoint an ‘Independent Ministerial Adviser for Ending Violence Against Women’ who will have:

  • the power to require information and conduct investigations against agreed quality standards;
  • the ability to contribute to decisions taken on the use or allocation of funding/resources by providing information to Welsh Ministers (i.e providing performance information to inform future funding decisions);

– require public services to collaborate on a local and regional level to develop and implement strategies to reduce violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence based on needs assessment analysis;

– commission an independent review of services for victims;

– ensure that education on ‘healthy relationships is delivered in all schools, and to place a duty on local authorities to identify a regional champion to promote the issue educational settings;

– introduce a National Training Framework to which key public and specialist service providers will pay due regard;

– place various duties on devolved public sector bodies to:

  • contribute to multi-agency fora that are convened to share information and promote the safety of individuals at risk of violence against women, domestic abuse or sexual violence;
  • ask and act’ in relation to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, particularly in housing;
  • provide safe accommodation;
  • have workplace domestic abuse policies for their employees.

 The consultation ended on 22 February 2013, and a summary of the 147 responses was published in September 2013. The Bill is expected to be introduced in June 2014.