The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act passed in April 2015. In December 2016, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee undertook post-legislative scrutiny of the Act and raised concerns about the pace of implementation. A year later, has anything changed?
Sections 3-4 of the Act required the Welsh Government to publish a national strategy on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV) by 5 November 2016.
The National Strategy was published on 4 November 2016 as a high level, strategic document, rather than a detailed action plan. The then Cabinet Secretary told the Committee that a more detailed delivery plan would be published as “a way of getting through the legal challenge of not delivering the strategy at the appropriate time.”
The ELGC Committee raised concerns that the delivery plan would not be legally enforceable under the Act, unlike the national strategy. The Welsh Government said that the legal status and timescale for the delivery plan would be determined by a Task and Finish group.
More than a year after the national strategy was launched, the delivery plan has still not been published.
Sections 5-8 require local authorities and health boards to publish local strategies on VAWDASV by May 2018.
In October 2016, the ELGC Committee heard that local strategies were beginning to be developed in the absence of the delivery plan or commissioning guidance, which ‘could lead to inconsistencies in approaches across Wales’.
The Welsh Government’s response to the ELGC Committee’s report said that “guidance will be published in relation to local strategies in July 2017”. This does not appear to have been published.
The Wales Audit Office published Findings of Call for Evidence on Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 in August 2017, which found that “local strategies are developing but need to be integrated with recent legislation to be truly effective”.
Section 9 requires local authorities to report on how they are addressing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence within their education institutions. The Government confirmed in April 2017 that the Regulations needed to implement section 9 would not be brought forward.
The Welsh Government established a healthy relationships expert group in March 2017 to advise on the new curriculum. The group apparently produced an interim report in July 2017 (which is not publicly available), and its final recommendations are due ‘in the autumn’.
Estyn’s Review of healthy relationships education was published in June 2017, which found that “the content and delivery of healthy relationships education vary too widely in schools across Wales. Overall, schools do not allocate enough time or importance to this aspect of personal and social education.”
The Welsh Government published a Good Practice Guide: A Whole Education Approach to Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence in Wales (developed by Welsh Women’s Aid) in October 2015. A practical guide for school governors was published in March 2016.
Section 10 gives Welsh Ministers and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) the power to issue guidance to further and higher education institutions. No progress appears to have been made on this.
Sections 11-13 requires the Welsh Government to publish national indicators to measure progress towards the aims of the Act, and to publish annual progress reports. The national indicators have not been published or consulted on.
The Welsh Government’s response to the ELGC Committee report said that the national indicators would be published “not before” October 2017.
Section 14-19 gives Welsh Ministers to power to issue statutory guidance.
- The Welsh Government told ELGC in 2016 that the statutory commissioning guidance “will be consulted on by July 2017”. This has not yet been consulted upon or published;
- Guidance on the National Training Framework is in force;
- A consultation on Ask and Act ended in January 2016. Pilot projects are currently underway in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board area and in Gwent. The Welsh Government’s recent letter to ELGC said that a phased rollout of Ask and Act is taking place, rather than a full national rollout;
- Multi-agency collaboration guidance was consulted on in 2015. The Welsh Government response to the ELGC Committee report stated that the multi-agency guidance “will be considered in light of the local government White Paper”. It has not yet been published; and
- According to the written evidence to the ELGC inquiry, guidance on working with perpetrators was consulted on with the Advisory Board in 2015, but has not been published.
Sections 20-23 requires the Welsh Government to appoint a National Adviser on VAWDASV to provide advice, undertake research and produce reports.
Rhian Bowen-Davies was appointed the National Adviser in July 2015 on a part-time basis. In June 2017 she announced that she would step down from her role, and left in October 2017.
In 2016 the ELGC Committee heard that it was difficult for the Adviser to do her job effectively with part-time hours, and recommended that the role’s capacity was reviewed. The job was advertised as a full time role, and the closing date was 14 September 2017. The appointment has not yet been announced.
In a consultation document about funding for supported housing published in October 2017, the UK Government proposed to remove refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system, meaning that people will not be able pay for supported housing with their housing benefit. Instead, it proposes that English local authorities and devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland are given a ring-fenced grant for short-term supported housing.
In September 2017, the UK Government confirmed that refuges will be exempt from the Local Housing Allowance cap on housing benefit for supported accommodation.
The UK Government’s forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is expected to:
- establish a domestic violence and abuse commissioner;
- set out a legal definition of domestic abuse, recognising that domestic abuse extends beyond violence;
- create a consolidated new domestic abuse prevention and protection order regime to create a clearer pathway of support for victims, and
- give the UK the ability to prosecute certain offences that occur outside national borders in relation to some VAWG offences, such as rape of an over 18 and sexual assault.
In its most recent letter to ELGC Committee, the Welsh Government said that the estimated total cost of the implementation of the VAWDASV Act was £1,406,800 between 2014-15 and 2017-18. The actual cost was £937,292 (including allocated funding for this financial year), but doesn’t include staff costs.
The Welsh Government’s response to the ELGC Committee report said that “development of a sustainable funding model is a priority to deliver the National Strategy. This work will include a review of existing Welsh Government funding that contributes to VAWDASV to ensure making the best use of the resources available[…] Progress will be reported to [the then Cabinet Secretary] at the Advisory Group in July 2017.” No announcement or publication has yet been made.
Article by Hannah Jonhnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.
Image from media.defense.gov by Mariah Haddenham. Licensed under Creative Commons.