Ending domestic abuse

Last week in Parliament I joined the debate on a new Bill that aims to make significant changes in the law and access to services so that preventable suffering and harm caused by domestic abuse and violence ends.

I don’t doubt the collective determination in the House of Commons to stop women and men being killed by their intimate partners or family members.

This Bill starts in the right place. To prevent these deaths and suffering we have to change our culture about relationships. Too many children are growing up in homes (about 1 in 5) where they are witnessing coercive controlling behaviour, abuse and even violence.

This is what love looks like to these children and it’s little wonder that many will go on to be either victims or perpetrators themselves. So ensuring healthy relationships education is given to all children and that many more professionals that come into contact with children are properly trained in domestic abuse and violence, is essential.

So too is access to services to support these children so the cycle can be broken. This will require cross government working and the spending review provides the opportunity for each department to secure the necessary funding to enable this.

In the debate, I highlighted people that I feel are too often ignored when this issue is debated, that is older people and those with disabilities. Age U.K. produced a good report for this debate and it backs up what I have seen in Cornwall. At a recent meeting with the excellent Women’s Centre, we discussed “The 2018 Safer Cornwall Domestic Violence needs assessment update”. It highlighted the underreporting and lack of services for older people and disabled people, living in our remote rural communities.

The report concludes that for people over 81, over half of domestic abuse reported and a fifth of all “violence with injury” offences were committed by the victim’s grown up children. Two of the four homicides committed in the last five years were committed by family members. Clearly more work needs to be done to identify vulnerable adults and support struggling families.

For many years, starting when I was a Director of Age Concern England, I have worked hard to raise the issue of financial and economic abuse of older people by family members and intimate partners. I am delighted that for the first time this type of abuse is included within the legal definition of domestic violence and abuse.

But it’s not just family members committing abuse but trusted, non-paid carers. People who deliberately befriend elderly or vulnerable people so they can abuse them, often economic abuse.

I asked the Home Office Minister to launch a call for evidence to ascertain the prevalence of this abuse and consider including it within the definition of abuse within the Bill. Professional carers are regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

I am grateful for to the many victims and survivors who have worked with me to help bring in this Bill forward.

First published in the West Briton 10/10/19.

Welcoming investment in Cornwall’s voluntary services

This week some of Cornwall’s voluntary sector organisations, including Job Centre Plus, have been given a cash boost to roll out more of their innovative work. 

More young people across Cornwall will benefit from new mental health support including counselling, mentoring and arts programmes in their communities. This will be backed by a multi-million pound government investment this year. 

As part of the government’s commitment to transforming mental health care – backed by an extra £2.3 billion a year through the NHS Long Term Plan – £3.3 million was announced for 23 local community projects across England, with Young People Cornwall receiving £65,243. 

Young People Cornwall will expand their ‘Hear Our Voice’ project, set up in 1997, which provides children and young people (CYP) aged 11-25 experiencing difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing with access to support through a range of interventions in non-clinical, school & community settings. Their expansion will employ two additional Well-being Practitioners (WP) who will be able to work with children and young people aged 8-10 years, supporting them at an earlier stage, before emerging mental health issues escalate or reach a point where statutory services must intervene. 

Earlier this year the government pledged to overhaul society’s approach to mental illness through better access to education, training and support. This included a commitment to train all teachers to spot the signs of mental illness in children. 

The funding will come from the Health and Wellbeing Fund, part of a programme of government investment in the voluntary sector. 

Mental health services are being transformed through the NHS Long Term Plan so that 345,000 more children and young people have access to mental health support by 2024, including via mental health support teams in and around schools. This will significantly improve early intervention and prevention. 

We know children and young people face many pressures at home and in their social and academic lives. Giving them easily accessible mental health support, providing them with the tools to manage their own mental health at an early age can help them thrive later in life. 

It’s only right that children and young people are able to access mental health support, not only through the NHS, but in the heart of their communities, schools and homes where they spend the majority of their time. 

A project pioneered by work coaches in Job Centres across Cornwall will have access to £100,000 more funding to continue referring people with mental health conditions to specialist one to one support, without the need for a GP or clinical assessment. Some people – for whatever reason – don’t want to be assessed in a clinical setting. 

The results of the pilot so far prove without a doubt that this approach works, with people supported by their work coaches and specialist support before their mental health spirals downwards. 

It’s good to see more local people receiving support to enable them to manage their mental health and get their lives back on track. 

First published in the West Briton 22/08/19

Twelveheads Play Park – Pocket Parks Plus Project – Sarah Newton MP Visits

The culmination of close on 6 months hard graft down at Twelveheads came to fruition on the 31st July as our local MP, Sarah Newton and Cornwall Councillor John Dyer MBE paid a visit to see what we had been up to. A lovely sunny day which saw a number of local residents turn out and enjoy a good chat with Sarah, John and some of those who had driven this project through, in her own words our MP said:

“This is exactly what the Pocket Parks Plus initiative was aimed at providing and this is indeed a terrific example of what can be achieved by a few committed individuals from across the community – you have done a fabulous job. It is thoughtful, inspiring, has both the environment and residents at its heart, I am most impressed by the imagination of those who have made this happen. It is something for everyone and I note in particular just how much material has been recycled to make such artistic play equipment. May I therefore, on all your behalves, just say a huge thank you to everyone involved in refurbishing this area, which has so much potential.”

In truth, the project itself is not quite complete yet as we have a couple more weeks in which to build the rustic Drum Kit, repair the roof to the Community Shed, finalise the Bike Rack behind the bus shelter, screen off the area between the Shed and Toilet block and may be even install a few wooden animals behind the chain link fencing – in order to keep an eye on things! We are nearly there now though and so will be celebrating the site in all its glory with a Free Community BBQ event at 4.00pm on Saturday the 7th September. So, come along then and enjoy this space.

First published in What’s On in Chacewater.

Reforming our Divorce Law

Marriage will always be one of our most important institutions. It is vital to our functioning as a society, as we all know instinctively from our own lives and from the lives of family and friends. Rightly then none of us is indifferent when a lifelong commitment cannot continue, but it cannot be right for the law to create or increase conflict between divorcing couples. 

People going through divorce already have to face more than enough emotional upheaval without the conflict that can be created or worsened by how the current law works. 

I have reflected at length on the arguments for reform and on what people have said in response to the Government’s proposals. From my constituency advice surgeries I see how the attribution of fault leads parents to use their children as weapons in a continuing battle with their former partner. 

On Tuesday, a bill to reform our divorce law cleared its first hurdle in Parliament.  It responds constructively to the keenly felt experience of people’s real lives. While I am advocating more marriage advisory support to prevent divorce, I support this bill as I think that the end of a relationship should be a time for reflection, and not of manufactured conflict. 

It is 50 years since the Divorce Reform Act 1969 gave rise to the law we now have. It allows divorce only on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The court cannot hold the marriage to have done so unless it is satisfied on one or more of what the law calls “facts”. Three of the five “facts”—adultery, behaviour and desertion—relate to conduct of the respondent. The other “facts” are two years’ separation and five years’ separation, the difference being that two years’ separation requires both parties to agree to the divorce and the same applies to civil partnerships, except that the adultery fact is not available. But the “fact” that someone chooses does not necessarily bear any resemblance to the real reasons the marriage or civil partnership broke down. Those reasons are often subtle, complex, and subjective. Who, if anyone, was responsible is a question that can be answered honestly only by the people in the marriage. 

We are probably all aware of situations where a couple have sadly grown apart over time and jointly agree to divorce.  The current law does not allow them to do so unless they are first financially able to live apart for two years. They might be forced to present events in a way that serves the system; minor incidents become stretched out into a pattern of behaviour to satisfy a legal threshold, which then bleeds over into how a couple approach negotiations over arrangements for children and finances; or there may be a coercive relationship, where one partner is desperate to divorce but is too scared of the consequences of setting out the evidence of their partner’s unreasonable behaviour to the court. It should be enough that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. 

First published in the West Briton