LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The British government is failing to provide adequate refuge and support for female victims of domestic violence, particularly asylum seekers, those with disabilities and members of the LGBTI community, a parliamentary watchdog said on Thursday.
Domestic violence in the United Kingdom is widespread across races, religions, communities and cultures, according to a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which said the scale of the violence was “deeply troubling”.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge, said the report highlighted the catastrophic failure of the state to protect women and girls from violence.
Two women are killed every week by a current or former partner, she said, and too often opportunities to protect them are missed.
“This is a national disgrace... How many more women have to die before we build an effective, national response to this problem?” Horley told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The report examined the government’s delay in ratifying the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, a measure to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence which came into force in August 2014 and has been ratified by 16 member states including France, Spain and Italy.
The government must ensure that local authorities, to which it has devolved power, implement the convention in their areas or risk harming its international reputation as a world leader on combating violence against women and girls, the report said.
Baroness Peta Buscombe, a member of the committee, said there were concerns about the treatment of women in patriarchal communities, who face barriers including language difficulties, peer pressure and coercive control when seeking help.
“The committee does not believe the government has succeeded in reaching these women or tackling the cultures which do not treat women as equal to men,” Buscombe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Home Office (Interior Ministry) policies in the United Kingdom leave female refugees, asylum seekers and those dependent on their partner for their immigration status with the choice between staying in a violent relationship and facing extreme poverty, she said.
The report found that many of these women were not able to stay at refuges as they were not entitled to housing benefits, so they were left homeless and at risk of further violence or forced to return to an abusive relationship.
The government’s decision to hand control of specialist support services to local authorities has left the most vulnerable female victims of violence unable to access vital help, it said.
Local funding cuts have fallen most harshly on women from minority ethnic communities, women in the LGBTI community and women with disabilities, the report said.
The committee said it had received evidence that the police were not responding promptly or consistently to allegations of violence against women and girls, and had failed to make dealing with the issue a priority.
Frontline officers should be given education and training on all forms of abuse, including financial and coercive control, and specialised domestic violence units must be fully staffed and adequately resourced, the report said.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported last week that 1.4 million women were victims of domestic violence in the year to March 2014, up 1.4 percent from the previous year.
The committee also called for schools to teach children about issues relating to violence against women and girls, and financial support for victims who are not entitled to benefits.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce