A disabled peer has inflicted a heavy defeat on the government over its refusal to extend the rights of disabled survivors of domestic abuse through new legislation.
The amendments mean 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.
The bill includes measures to create a statutory definition of domestic abuse, to establish a domestic abuse commissioner, and to place a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to survivors of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.
A vote on one of the amendments proposed by Baroness Campbell was won by 318 votes to 234, with the other two accepted by peers without a vote.
Despite the vote, the amendments will still need to be approved by MPs when the bill returns to the House of Commons*.
In all, 13 cross-party peers spoke in favour of the amendments proposed by Baroness Campbell, with only the Home Office minister Baroness Williams speaking against them.
Baroness Campbell (pictured) told fellow peers that to deny disabled people protection from the new legislation would be “wholly unjust and discriminatory”.
She said that the “vast majority” of carers were “caring, compassionate and utterly loyal” but that in a small number of cases this was not the case.
She said: “Domestic abuse is not limited to family members or sexual partners. Disabled people of any age can be abused by those on whose care they rely.
“These relationships often involve an imbalance of power and are just as susceptible to abuse as those between family members or partners.”
She said she remembered a “haunting” example of abuse brought to her when she was chief executive of the National Centre for Independent Living.
A disabled man without speech, who used a communication board, had told her how it was “regularly removed from reach so that his carer was not interrupted”.
She added: “He was too afraid to complain because, as he put it, of the ‘likely consequences’.”
She said evidence “clearly demonstrates that such abuse continues today”.
Another disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who has helped lead the attempts to amend the bill, said: “Including this here will help with the wider understanding of the scale of the abuse against disabled people, but it is also important for the individuals who are experiencing it, if and when they seek support.
“I worry that, if disabled people are not included in this legislation, they will fall through the net of reporting and of subsequent support and it will push them into greater peril.”
She joined Baroness Campbell in praising the lobbying efforts of the user-led organisation Stay Safe East, which works with disabled survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, hate crime and other forms of abuse.
She added: “Given the significant number of disabled people impacted by domestic abuse, it is imperative that the amendment be accepted.”
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Sal] Brinton also backed the amendments.
She said: “The problem with private care at home is that often it is not visible at all. That is why these amendments are so important.
“The bill needs to understand that the relationship between disabled people and their personal carers is akin to the familial and relationship definitions used elsewhere in domestic abuse legislation.”
The disabled Conservative peer Lord Shinkwin praised the “practical, common sense set of amendments”.
He said the government needed to ensure that disabled people are “equally protected from abuse in the domestic setting.
“That equal treatment needs to be based on a simple recognition that disability, especially when an impairment makes a disabled person reliant on the carer or personal assistant, also makes them vulnerable to domestic abuse by their carer or personal assistant.”
But even though no peer spoke against the amendments, Baroness Williams insisted that they “would have detrimental effects on the overall understanding of domestic abuse and the complexities of the familial and intimate partner relationships that domestic abuse is understood to encompass”.
She said they would mean the legislation would “include a much wider range of connections within health and social care settings, which are covered by other legislation, and would confuse the meaning of domestic abuse”.
And she said it would mean “diluting and stretching the focus of the domestic abuse commissioner”, while the government would have to “reset and reassess much of the work we are doing to prepare for implementing the bill and developing a new domestic abuse strategy”.
Baroness Williams said that protection from the kind of abuse raised by Baroness Campbell was offered by existing legislation, such as the Care Act 2014 and the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
Baroness Campbell said she was “deeply disappointed” by the minister’s response, which suggested the government “simply do not understand the nature of domestic abuse experienced by disabled people”.
She said the amendments would not dilute the bill but would strengthen it, “because it will include those who are, at this moment in time, being domestically abused because they rely on another human being for their care”.
She said: “It is not comfortable to think about the domestic abuse of disabled people within the intimate setting of the home – but it takes place.
“Acknowledge it we must, and we must develop a solid way to address it.”
Baroness Campbell had said earlier: “So often when disabled people fight for their civil and human rights, we are told that our demands would open the floodgates to unmanageable litigation.
“It has happened at every stage of the campaign for disability rights legislation. This is not the place to repeat that exercise.”
After the debate, she told Disability News Service: “I would like to urge the Commons to seriously consider the inclusion of disabled people and carers in this flagship domestic abuse bill, when it comes to them at the end of the month.
“Members of the Lords have carried out thorough consultation with disability groups, instructed an opinion from highly specialised disability discrimination and social care lawyers endorsing the intent of my amendments and garnered cross-party support.
“Surely this should be taken very seriously by MPs. It’s up to them now.”
*Other amendments proposed by Baroness Campbell were debated last night (Wednesday) and would have made similar changes in relation to controlling or coercive behaviour under the Serious Crime Act 2015. But she withdrew them because of the risk that they would jeopardise another amendment that she and Baroness Grey-Thompson supported and which the government had backed. Because of the government’s refusal to back her amendments, she said she had “no alternative” other than to “vey sadly” withdraw them.
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