Paul Streets: The Queen's Speech is not all bad news

Let's not forget the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, writes our columnist

Paul Streets
Paul Streets

Last Thursday, the House of Commons passed the Queen’s Speech, including the new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. It is one of the few pieces of legislation not related to Brexit to make it onto the statute book.

The response to this Queen’s Speech has been interesting. "Empty", "tired" and "weak" are just some of the terms commentators have used. It makes me wonder what words people affected by domestic abuse would use to describe a bill designed to save lives.

Let’s not forget that two women are killed by their partners or former partners every week in England and Wales.

Apart from the impact on lives, this has a massive impact on our hospital, police, court and benefit systems, and, as our colleagues at Lloyds Banking Group know all too well, it can destroy people’s personal finances and drive them into debt.

The voluntary sector has been at the heart of the fight against domestic abuse. It started with the opening of the first refuge in Chiswick in 1971 and now encompasses hundreds of small, local charities as well as the larger representative bodies such as Women’s Aid and Safe Lives.

The Lloyds Bank Foundation has been funding charities that support women on the front line since we were founded and, while it’s still one of the areas we invest in the most, we’ve grown and evolved our approach.

In 2016, we became the lead philanthropic funder of Drive, a programme that works with perpetrators of abuse to tackle their behaviour. It’s astonishing that there is still controversy about getting people to ask "why doesn’t he stop?" instead of "why doesn’t she leave?"

This is an important development, but we must recognise that it is still small, local charities that provide the lion’s share of support to victims and survivors.

And rightly so. This is an issue that requires a high degree of trust, understanding and specialist knowledge. Much of our grant-making has been targeted at core service provision for these charities, but we know there is more they want to do and more we as a funder need to do to  improve the environment that affects how these charities work.

That’s why we developed Transform, a one-off grants programme. We invited bids from charities and partnerships that wanted to influence policy, build the evidence base, develop models that could be grown and replicated, or create collaborative partnership models to tackle abuse and violence.

We had a terrific response that demonstrates the range of innovation and partnership working across the sector and recently announced the 17 diverse projects we have chosen to fund.

Domestic abuse increasingly receives public and political attention, but the greater, unspoken taboo is sexual violence perpetrated by people whom the victim doesn’t know.

Small local charities are often the only major sources of support for people who experience sexual violence, so we're also supporting some important collaborations in this space.

Our overall aim is to influence responses to domestic and sexual abuse and strengthen the sector that supports it. It’s a huge issue that affects more than twice as many people as the two million that Cancer Research UK estimates have survived cancer. And yet it is not a "popular" cause: cancer charities have 30 times the combined incomes of those working on domestic abuse.

There are other funders investing in this space, but even together we can’t make up the shortfall between demand and their income. It’s an area where the state, and state funding, will always be critical.

We should therefore be thankful to the thousands of small local organisations that are working with people in their local communities.

As the new bill makes its way through parliament, I hope we never hear the words weak or empty used to describe society’s attempt to tackle these destructive issues.

Paul Streets (@PaulStreets) is the chief executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

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