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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Making the Grade - or not!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Meg was invited to make some remarks about the publication of a report, Making the Grade, at an event in the House of Commons. The report attempted to grade Government Departments about their work in tackling violence against women.


I know that we are united in our commitment to tackling violence against women. But in my view, the report we are here to discuss is not compiled in a way which will command confidence in its findings, and is not useful ammunition for any campaigner.


This report fails to acknowledge what has been done to tackle domestic violence, prostitution and trafficking in this country - not just in the last year, but over the last decade. So I want to set out what Government has done in the past year alone.


The Past Year

We have updated and published a cross-government national domestic violence plan to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence. This will increase the rate that domestic violence is reported, and will increase the number of domestic violence offenders that are brought to justice. It will ensure victims of domestic violence are adequately protected.


We have established a prostitution strategy which includes: prevention, tackling demand, developing routes out and ensuring justice. This is not just about giving women the vital protection they need. It also means responding to the impact prostitution has on people and their environment.


This year, we held consultations on human trafficking; sexual violence and forced marriage. These will result in national action plans on all three areas next year which will set out what we intend to do across government departments.


In October I attended the launch of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, the first of its kind in Europe. This is a multi-agency centre which will develop expertise and operational coordination in relation to the trafficking of human beings. The centre will help victims and bring more offenders to justice.


We provided £2million for specialist advice in courts. This will ensure that our expanded Domestic Violence Court Systems work better. There are 25 currently in operation with a further 28 in the course of being set up. Since their introduction two years ago, the number of recorded cases of domestic violence has increased by 32%. Successful cases rose from 46% in 2003 to 59% in 2005.


Over the last three years we have invested more than £30 million in new domestic violence refuge provision, and the refurbishment of existing schemes. Each year, around £50m of revenue funding goes into housing-based support through the Supporting People Fund.


We are providing £150,000 this year to support UKRefugesonline, as well as £100,000 towards the free domestic violence helpline.


I know we have a way to go in tackling violence against women, and I am more than willing to admit to shortcomings in our plans or actions. But not to receive any acknowledgement that we are active in this area certainly makes me question the abilities of those involved.


Our Future Activity

As to our future activity - my department have already started on:

  • building or refurbishing 511 refuge bed spaces for women,

?        introducing a new performance target for local authorities on domestic violence,

?        working with local authorities to set up a further 165 sanctuary schemes in the next year to enable victims of domestic violence to stay in their own homes.


We are currently looking at how we can ensure that domestic violence is given prominence in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review. I have previously indicated the importance of including the broader agenda of violence against women as part of those discussions.


?In April 2007 we will introduce the new Gender Equality Duty. This requires public authorities to promote gender equality, and actively work to eliminate discrimination. Preventing and responding to violence against women will be one of the issues that will need to be considered.


?I have just returned from a very productive visit to Madrid, where the Council of Europe launched its Blueprint to tackle violence against women. When I meet with Ministers and practitioners in this field from other countries it is clear to me just how far advanced the UK’s policies and programmes are compared with a number of other member states.


This is true not just on domestic violence, but on sexual offending, trafficking, prostitution, and forced marriage. There is no doubt that the importance of tackling human trafficking was placed high on the agenda of the European Union by the UK during our Presidency last year.


These issues are being addressed by three Inter Ministerial Groups which I sit on. These groups include ministers from across government to ensure that all the key inter-departmental policy areas across Whitehall are linked. 


Not a Realistic Reflection

I hope that this account of the main aspects of what we have been engaged on, and plans for the future, demonstrates why I am frustrated by some of the methodology and messages in Making the Grade. This report is not a realistic reflection of the programme of work being carried out in my department and across government as a whole.  


Of course government needs to do more, needs to continue to press the point that violence against women is unacceptable.

Of course you need to push us to be more ambitious about what we can achieve.

Of course, we need to think across government, and value the role of those working at a local level - local government, police and the courts, employers, community and voluntary groups.


But one of our biggest challenges is to keep this issue in the public eye, to maintain public support for the work we do. So my problem with this report is not simply its lack of acknowledgement about the activity that has been taken. In politics we are used to that.


The substantive point is that a report indicating that nothing is changing in this area is deeply disheartening - to local campaigners, to women in general, and most importantly to the women who suffer violence against them day in, day out. It falsely presents a picture of inactivity, of not caring, of the fact that the violence they experience is not important enough for anyone to do anything about it.   


This matters because we need to offer hope to these women, to re-assure them. We need to send a strong message to perpetrators that we are not just taking this issue seriously but we are taking action to ensure they will be caught and face justice. We need to keep the public with us, to ask them to continue to support the work we are engaged on.


We must continue to be outraged that on average two women still die a week because of domestic violence. But we must match this outrage with accurate assessments of what works, a clear understanding of the complex causes and solutions and a sustained programme of action.  

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