HC Deb 18 December 2002 vol 396 cc826-8
2. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

If he will make a statement on the supporting people programme for tackling domestic violence. [86319]

The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The supporting people programme will bring major improvements to the quality of housing-related support services for vulnerable groups, including people experiencing domestic violence. Specialist co-ordinators on domestic violence are working closely with local authorities and providers to offer support and raise awareness.

Shona McIsaac

I welcome my hon. Friend's recent announcement of £9 million extra to deal with domestic violence. Will she tell us in more detail what is involved in the projects? Will they impact, for example, on the Grimsby women's refuge, which has only 10 places for women who are victims of domestic violence?

Mrs. Roche

What happened last week was an important announcement. Together with organisations such as Women's Aid and Refuge, and with the backing of Comic Relief, which has made its largest domestic donation, we have given funds so that we have, for the first time, a national helpline for those suffering from domestic violence. As well as that funding, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has given £7 million to help the Housing Corporation fund refuge places. As far as the refuge is concerned, I believe that it covers Cleethorpes and our money will bolster any bid that it may submit to the Housing Corporation. At the end of the process, we will consider the geographic coverage to see what other unmet need there may be.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

Earlier this year, the Opposition were pleased to support a change in the law that gave people who suffer from domestic violence priority in local authority housing. The hon. Lady will know, not least from constituency cases that I have raised with her, that that message has not got through to local authorities, some of which do not seem to have grasped that it involves moving people across local authority boundaries. In a perversion of the Christmas message, domestic violence will almost certainly double this time next week, as it did last Christmas. Notwithstanding a need to issue guidance to local authorities, will she give the clearest message to them, at this crucial time, that accommodating people who suffer from domestic violence sometimes involves them crossing local authority boundaries?

Mrs. Roche

I am happy to do so. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the issue. I know that he takes a keen interest in it. Guidance is available on the supporting people programme. He will know that draft guidance on the priority need order has also been made available. The final guidance will be issued once we have analysed the results of the consultation. There is a firm message to local authorities that the subject is a priority and that they must work together. The strongest message we can send out from both sides of the House to perpetrators of domestic violence is that it will not be tolerated.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Is it not the case, however, that many extremely good organisations already exist to deal with that problem, although they do not concentrate exclusively on the housing needs of women and their families who flee domestic violence? For example, Camden Safety Net in my borough works well across many departments. How will they access the additional support offered in the supporting people programme?

Mrs. Roche

Victims of domestic violence are one category of the supporting people programme. There are other categories for other vulnerable groups. It is interesting to note that, when we analyse the figures nationally of people who present themselves as homeless, 16 per cent. show a connection with domestic violence. The project that my hon. Friend mentions will definitely benefit from the national helpline.