Campaigners are seeking “urgent” support for their attempt to increase the rights of disabled survivors of domestic abuse through new government legislation.
They say time is running out to secure support in the House of Lords for two key amendments to the domestic abuse bill, changes they believe will make a crucial difference to the lives of disabled survivors.
The Lords begins debating the report stage of the bill on 8 March, with the draft legislation having already been approved by MPs.
Lobbying efforts are being led by the London-based user-led organisation Stay Safe East, which works with disabled survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, hate crime and other forms of abuse.
This week, it has written to other disabled people’s organisations, women’s organisations, charities and peers, to try to build support for the two amendments.
One of the amendments would remove from law the existing “carer’s defence”, which allows a family member or partner accused of abuse to claim they were acting in the disabled person’s best interests.
Ruth Bashall, chief executive of Stay Safe East, said: “If this landmark piece of legislation is to protect disabled victims as well as non-disabled victims, we must ensure that abusers are not provided with a clause to claim ‘best interests’ as justification for abusing us.”
The other amendment would expand protection for disabled people so that measures in the bill cover abuse not just by family members and partners but also paid care workers and personal assistants, and friends and neighbours who carry out unpaid caring duties.
Bashall said: “Every year, disabled people are victims of abuse by paid and unpaid carers or personal assistants with whom they have a close relationship but are not family members, and there is very little legislation to protect us.”
This second amendment has already secured significant cross-party support – including from at least five Tory peers – when it was debated in the Lords last month.
The efforts in the Lords are being spearheaded by the disabled crossbench peers Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.
Baroness Campbell has helped coordinate a legal opinion on the second amendment by leading social care and discrimination barristers Paul Bowen, Catherine Casserley and Steve Broach, and disability law expert Professor Luke Clements.
They have concluded that failing to include the second amendment in the bill is likely to discriminate unlawfully against disabled people under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Stay Safe East is now calling on fellow campaigners to contact members of the House of Lords and MPs to call for their support for the two amendments, to share its social media posts on Twitter and Facebook, and to sign its petition.
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