- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Assembly Member and domestic violence campaigner Joyce Watson has welcomed news that the Welsh Government is set to introduce new domestic violence legislation.
But in a National Assembly for Wales debate, the Mid and West Wales AM warned that vital domestic violence service could be at risk as councils look to cut costs, and argued that any local authority bringing forward proposals to cut funding for frontline services should have their decision referred to the Welsh Government.
On Tuesday (12 July), the First Minister announced that the Welsh Government will bring forward a Domestic Abuse Wales Bill in its legislative programme—the first Bill of its kind in the UK. The Bill will focus on prevention, protection and support, and will introduce a statutory requirement for local authorities to have a violence against women strategy in place on a local level. The Bill will be introduced during the course of the 2013/14 legislative year.
Speaking in the Senedd following the announcement, Mrs Watson said:
“I thank the First Minister for showing not only his personal commitment but also his Government‘s commitment to this particular issue. Finally, this will be mainstreamed, so that women and children can come in from the cold, and be welcomed, listened to and treated with dignity wherever they are.
“For too long, violence against women and domestic abuse have been seen as someone else‘s problem—now, the First Minister has made it clear that it is society‘s problem, as are the solutions. This public sector duty Bill will, I hope, produce, where it is not already happening, a clearly defined system of delivering for all victims in all parts of Wales.”
Earlier in the Plenary session, Mrs Watson praised the decision of the Local Government and Communities Minister Carl Sargeant AM to ring-fence the end violence against women budget in his Department:
“Over the last six years, funding in this area has gone up by nearly £5.5 million. By protecting the budget, the Minister has taken an important and commendable decision, especially in the face of the worst funding settlement since devolution.”
Mrs Watson went on to talk about the barriers to support for rural women and to suggest new initiatives, including training on violence against women issues for local councillors:
“There is a mobile sexual assault referral centre currently active in the Dyfed Powys area, which will be monitored and evaluated for the next six months. I look forward to an update report in six months’ time to see how that has worked.
“The Government has also invested in raising awareness of domestic abuse among small rural organisations that are not necessarily specialist, but which may come into contact with victims—organisations such as the Women‘s Institute, the National Farmers Union, the Women’s Food and Farming Union and community councils.
“However, what is most important is that funding for the sort of specialist support services that are delivered by the women‘s voluntary sector are supported in that community. Unfortunately, the commitment in the Minister‘s department, and across the Welsh Government, to tackling violence against women and girls is not always entirely mirrored at local authority level. The danger is that if local authorities do not understand these issues fully, vital services will be put at risk as councils look to cut costs. I would ask the Minister to ask any local authority considering cutting its budget to help to end violence against women to put forward a business case justifying any such proposed cut. I also urge the Minister to issue strong guidance for local government and to ensure that front-line services are prioritised.”
The AM’s comments have been endorsed by Welsh Women’s Aid.