Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau Y Bumed Senedd

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee - Fifth Senedd

06/02/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Caroline Jones AC
Dawn Bowden AC
Delyth Jewell AC
Huw Irranca-Davies AC
John Griffiths AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mark Isherwood AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Eleri Butler MBE Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Cymorth i Ferched Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, Welsh Women’s Aid
Huw Rees Cyfarwyddwr Archwilio, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Audit Director, Wales Audit Office
Nick Selwyn Rheolwr Archwilio, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Audit Manager, Wales Audit Office
Philippa Dixon Uwch-archwilydd, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Senior Auditor, Wales Audit Office

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Hannah Johnson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 11:02.

The public part of the meeting began at 11:02.

2. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
2. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Welcome, everybody, to the resumption of our proceedings this morning. We've reached item 2 on our agenda: introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We haven't received any apologies. Are there any declarations of interest? No, okay.

3. Ymchwiliad ar ôl y Broses Ddeddfu i Ddeddf Trais yn erbyn Menywod, Cam-drin Domestig a Thrais Rhywiol (Cymru) 2015: Gwaith Dilynol—Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 1
3. Post-legislative Inquiry into the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015: Follow-up Work—Evidence Session 1

We move on to item 3, which is our post-legislative inquiry into the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, and follow-up work that we will be doing. So, let me welcome Eleri Butler, chief executive officer of Welsh Women's Aid. Thank you very much for coming along to give evidence to committee this morning. We have, as a committee, followed up our initial scrutiny of the legislation, and indeed we receive quarterly updates from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip. I know that, in November 2019, the Wales Audit Office published its report on progress, and we'll be hearing from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip next week. So, thank you very much for coming in this morning, Eleri. Is there anything you'd like to say initially, before we move into questions?

No. Thank you very much for the invitation. Diolch yn fawr. Just really that our report to the committee, which you'll have seen in advance, is based on evidence from our work as the violence against women, domestic abuse, sexual violence umbrella-organisation perspective in Wales. So, it's informed by our membership of specialist services across the country, it's informed by survivors, by those who we deliver training for, and it's informed by our work delivering the national helpline as well. So, it comes from that evidence base.

Thank you very much for that, Eleri. If I may ask the first question, which is quite general: do you believe the Act is achieving its original aims?

I think, when the Act was first introduced, our perspective, as was the perspective of others, was that it was a very groundbreaking piece of legislation. It requires, amongst other statutory duties, that devolved public services focus on the prevention of violence against women in all that they do, which is fantastic. It's the first time we've got that in legislation in the UK. As we've identified in our report, there's been some progress on the legislation. I won't go through the detail, but we highlighted, for example, some positives.

We've got the national strategy in place, which has been really providing the strong framework for delivery in Wales. There's delivery of national campaigns, awareness-raising campaigns: Don't Be a Bystander, This is Sexual Abuse, coercive control. Our view on that is that it would be great if they were less sporadic and more long term in terms of public awareness campaigns, because that's where the evidence is in terms of changing behaviour and attitudes. And we've got a vast number of guidance, statutory and non-statutory guidance, that's come out from the legislation, some better than others, necessarily, but we've got the national training framework, we've got 'ask and act', we've got commissioning guidance, all really positive.

But I think as we highlight in the report, and from our member services and from survivors feedback, we still see inconsistency and some fragmented approached despite the purposes of the Act being to prevent violence against women and to improve provision of support and protection. So, there are a couple of examples.

Some of the guidance that we've seen, which we welcome, has been quite delayed in its introduction. We've had quite a few transition years since 2016. We've got task and finish groups to look at, for example, delivering the secure and sustainable funding commitment for specialist services, but that's been running for three-plus years, and we're trying to find a solution to that. And there's a particular lack of focus on securing specialist services and also a focus on children and young people, and I still think there's a bit of a postcode lottery across the country in making sure that we deliver children's rights to protection and recovery from abuse. As you'll see in the report, too many survivors are on waiting lists for access to specialist support, resources are still really insecure, and we're still particularly, across a range of public services, failing women from minoritised communities. We've got a lack of effective response and no recourse to public funds. 

And if you just look at the numbers of women killed by men in Wales, as well as across the UK, but looking at the Welsh figures, if you look at femicide numbers: between 2012 and 2014-15, at least 15 women were killed in Wales through fatal male violence; and then from 2015 to 2019-20, 41 women were killed through fatal male violence; 13 women were killed in 2016 alone in Wales.

So, we've got a lot more to do around prevention, I think. So, that would be my main point, and we've made some recommendations around that, which I'll come on to.

11:05

Thanks for that, Eleri. Obviously, we will come on to many of those matters. Huw.

Yes. Just to follow up on those statistics that you were saying there, every one of those fatalities is an enormous tragedy and there are wider implications around the family and so on, but have got any understanding of why? Is this something that varies from year to year markedly, or is something underlying that stark change in the fatalities?

There are statutory duties to review the fatalities that are related to intimate partner violence. So, domestic homicide reviews happen, for example, but reviews don't happen for all women who are killed through fatal male violence; it's only from a domestic violence context. So, we have a bit of an understanding about the learning from those reviews as to what led up to those homicides. What we're not very good at, I would say in England as well as in Wales, is collating that learning and drawing lessons from a range of different homicide reviews and then making really proactive changes to improve matters. It's the responsibility of local community safety partnerships to do those statutory homicide reviews, where somebody's been killed because of domestic violence, but I think we need to do more to collate the learning across the country.

Just on that—the reviews themselves—what do you expect to draw from those reviews? I'm assuming you're looking to ensure we don't get to a point where further women are killed. But is it to inform the wider domestic abuse strategies with the police? Because I think about my own constituency, I meet regularly with the police in my own constituency, and they tell me that domestic violence is the single biggest issue that they have to deal with in Merthyr Tydfil, for instance, much worse than drugs or anything else. So, how do those reviews inform how policing is delivered in terms of dealing with the preventative measures around domestic abuse, I guess?

I can't comment on specific reviews, because we're involved in some of them. But generally, these reviews were brought in in legislation for England and Wales back in, from memory, 2004 or 2005; they've been around for an awful long time. I think what we're not particularly good at is thematically drawing the lessons, not only from local reviews, but also from shared learning across different local authority areas, across regions. We've haven't got a sense of what all the reviews say in Wales, for example, necessarily, over a particular period.

The lessons and learning for all agencies—not only the public sector, but also charities, anybody who's come into contact with those families, those individuals who've been involved in a homicide prior to the death—should be the responsibility of community safety partnerships to make sure they happen. We have been raising: where's the accountability for making sure that that happens? It's not only with the police or the police and crime commissioner, it's with a range of different agencies.

We'd like to see that accountability be strengthened, actually, in relation to making sure that the learning and the changes that need to happen across our services and systems actually happen. So, it's not just a community safety issue. Whether that rests with public services boards or regional partnership boards—. It certainly should rest, as an oversight mechanism, with violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategic boards across the regions, but it's not really on their agenda because the statutory duty rests locally with community safety partnerships. So, I think we do lack accountability mechanisms.

11:10

I've just gone to check the ONS figures, and I think it says 33 per cent of female victims were killed by partners or ex partners, and only 1 per cent of male victims. But in reverse, 25 per cent of male victims were killed by friends or acquaintances, compared with only 7 per cent of female victims. Is there any interface? Are some of those male victims 'domestic' victims in your understanding, which raises a broader issue, or is there a clear demarcation line between the two, in terms of the 'domestic' definition? 

They would be included in domestic homicide reviews, so it doesn't matter about the sex, gender or other protected characteristics; they're all included within those statutory reviews. And in terms of the learning, they should all be prioritised and implemented. I think the differences stem from, to some extent, the differences if somebody is a male victim or a female victim, and depending on whether the perpetrator is male or female, and their relationship, the risks and the severity of harm of the abuse is different, and also the access to support services is different. So, some of the learning will reflect some of that, depending on the relationship between both parties, or sometimes multiple parties if quite a few people are involved in the homicide.  

Okay. Eleri, in terms of whether the legislation has been effective in achieving its aims, do you think we've reached the stage where any particular amendments might be needed? Will the UK domestic abuse Bill mean that there should be some change?

Yes. We have thought about this, because we're involved in representing survivors' views and services' views to advocate what we think we need from legislation for England and Wales with the Home Office. We're certainly not in favour of legislating just for the sake of it or making any amendments for the sake of it, but some of the issues that I do think need to be addressed or looked at, for example, partly to reflect UK developments around—I'll use VAWDASV as an acronym, rather than say the full title all the time. Some of the definitions in the legislation we have in Wales probably need updating and maybe need amending; it doesn't include coercive control, for example, and now that's within legislation as a criminal offence. It doesn't also align with the United Nations definitions around VAWDASV, and it doesn't actually align with the definitions in our strategy, which are good practice definitions. So, I would practically look at the definitions. But one of the things we raised at the time, as the Bill—before it became an Act—was going through, was it doesn't actually legislate for the provision of adequate service levels, especially service levels in local areas in each region, which is what's required in the Istanbul convention, for example. 

Would you favour incorporation of the Istanbul convention, then? 

Yes. In our appendix, we've provided a lengthy analysis of where we think we comply with the Istanbul convention and where there's some further work that still needs to be done. Some of that may be legislative, but some of that may be procedural. For example, ideally, we should be looking to legislate for provision of adequate levels of services. The domestic abuse Bill, as proposed for England and Wales, is looking at legislating for securing the provision of specialist services in England for domestic abuse as a statutory duty. That would only apply to England because of the devolved/non-devolved situation; but I think Welsh services and the Welsh framework for addressing VAWDASV would lose out if that happens.

The response generally is, 'Yes, we have got statutory commissioning guidance in place, we have got Supporting People', and we have had Supporting People, but actually when you look at the way services are funded, which maybe we can come on to a bit later, services are funded in a very sporadic way, and we know that the Supporting People budget's real-terms funding cuts are £37 million since 2012. And specialist services across Wales are seeing a year-on-year increase in referrals, particularly as a result of the 'ask and act' statutory duties from the public sector to the third sector. Five hundred and twelve survivors were turned away from refuge-based support last year. At the end of last year, we had 239 survivors on waiting lists for community support; 251 survivors were on waiting lists for sexual violence support. So, there's a big gap in demand and meeting needs based on just the numbers that we know about, and we're advocating, for example, in some of our research, that we need at least an additional £13 million through the housing support grant alone to meet current levels of demand that we know about. So, I think if we don't actually make the delivery of specialist services and the provision of specialist services in the third sector, informed by all the evidence that shows that those services like rape crisis services and so on work, we're really going to lose out compared with the rest of the UK. And that is one of the requirements in the Istanbul convention.

We also would like to relook at England getting a statutory domestic abuse commissioner. We advocated, when the Bill went through, that we should really have a VAWDASV commissioner in Wales with a significant budget, independent from Government, and accountability mechanisms for public service delivery and so on. So, it may be timely to look at that again—whether that needs to be strengthened.

There's a lot of other amendments we're advocating for in the Home Office England-and-Wales Bill, which are criminal and family justice focused, which is, obviously, non-devolved. But, actually, they won't work in Wales unless we've got the specialist service infrastructure across the country to support survivors—adults and children—and also to do work with perpetrators.

11:15

Would you have included your views on that UK legislation and the changes you want to see in the documentation you've provided to us? 

We provided a summary. We can send you more detail if that's helpful, because we've got a separate briefing on that.

Given the work we've done on the cross-party group on this, do you think there should be specific reference to disability and the increased vulnerability particularly of women and girls who are disabled who have particular neurodiverse conditions?

Yes. We would like—. One of the things we're looking at with other partner organisations is to legislate for a non-discriminatory approach to be put on a statutory footing to address violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. That would include disabled survivors, as well as survivors from other minoritised communities. Those who are most discriminated against or disadvantaged or less able to access services we think should be put front and centre of any strategy or any legislation, to make it work for them. And, if it works for those who are most discriminated against and disadvantaged, or furthest away from services and assistance, it should work for everybody else. So, yes, definitely.

Eleri, could I ask you about the provision in the Act that the national strategy be published within six months after an Assembly election? Because, in the past, that was stated to cause problems by Welsh Government. They felt that that timetable was just too restrictive. In fact, it was said that it took two years to publish a delivery plan, because of the initial six months requirement. Do you have any sympathy with that view, or not?

Working in the third sector predominantly, no, I don't—our time pressures are more pressured than that. I think that the strategy is due to be refreshed, obviously, next year, and I think what needs to happen and happen well is the process of engagement. That's probably more important to some extent than the actual end strategy, because you've got everyone to buy into its development or refresh. So, if we're engaging the survivors, if we're engaging with community members, and if we're collectively engaging with specialist services and the public sector to refresh the strategy as it is now before it's published, I think that deadline shouldn't really be an issue, and you'd get maximum buy-in and support for its delivery.

Okay, thanks for that. Would you signpost us towards any short-term actions Welsh Government might take to rebalance the implementation of the Act towards prevention? Is there anything in particular that you'd like to state at this stage?

Yes, there are a couple of things that have been raised with us and supported through some of our research. And I think, to start my response, I guess, to prevent VAWDASV—domestic abuse, sexual violence, violence against women—we really need to recognise the evidence that it's a human rights violation, that it's rooted in inequality between women and men and other intersectional inequalities, it's a significant public health problem, it's an impediment to sustainable development. And all the evidence globally shows that to prevent VAWDASV you have to adopt an equality and human rights framework. That's recognised in our strategy in Wales, which is a really good starting point, so that's really helpful. But we would like to see maybe a couple of areas of priority, both at a strategic level but also on a very practical level. So, for example, strategically, we really think there needs to be much closer alignment with the VAWDASV Act and the well-being of future generations work and much more accountability of public services boards and regional partnership boards to delivering the Act. The public sector is very focused on the well-being of future generations, as are other sectors, and social services and well-being legislation—there's a lot of legislation, but the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence legislation seems to be the one they come to last and it's not really integrated with other priorities or agendas. So, I think, practically, if there are accountability mechanisms that we can introduce to make sure that those regional and public sector services boards have clear actions and a duty to focus on prevention—which they do in the legislation, but they're not delivering it, necessarily—then I think that would be really helpful.

And also, I think, practically, we need to review the learning from some of the pilots we've got focusing on prevention in Wales happening at the moment. So, one of the things we developed, which is mentioned in the strategy—it's the Welsh Women's Aid prevention model of delivery in communities amongst professionals and amongst specialist services. It's called 'Change that Lasts' and it's an example of system change to achieve prevention and early intervention where survivors and perpetrators of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence are identified early and responded to early. Part of the programme involves upskilling and training community members—community champions—to stop the signs of domestic and sexual abuse earlier and respond appropriately and also to change attitudes and behaviour in their local communities, to have those conversations about why this is not okay, why it's not acceptable, and also to work with specialist services to shift their response from a short term, risk-focused response to a wider, longer term trauma-responsive service and also to build on survivor strengths.

So, we've been piloting this. It's the first pilot of its kind in the UK in south Wales, and some aspects of it in mid Wales and north Wales. The evidence from it—because it's being evaluated—is really positive around prevention, particularly, in communities. We've been talking about its learning with the new violence prevention unit that's just been set up—having a public health approach to violence prevention. But the funding for a lot of that, particularly in mid and north Wales, ends in April, and that's because the funding came from restricted, time-limited funding through UK Government, tampon tax funding, a bit of Home Office funding. It's never really been picked up strategically. So, as a very short term approach to prevention, I really think we'd be missing a trick if we don't learn the lessons from that pilot, those pilots across the country, and sustain that to see through the evaluation.

I also think, very practically, as well, we should be focusing on implementing the seven steps to achieving prevention that have been evidenced by the United Nations. So, there are seven clear steps that they say—. It's really evidence-based, we know the risk factors, we know the protective factors, we know where we can achieve significant impact in the short to medium term if we focus on seven key things, and I think, as well as obviously focusing on crisis and risk and high risk, we need to really shift our resources at the same time—which means growing the resources—to having a prevention approach to make sure we actually focus on stopping it from starting in the first place.

11:20

Thanks for that, Eleri. If you could send us details of the pilot, that would be very useful. Delyth.

Thank you, Chair. Just picking up on something that you said about the need for strategic leadership from Government, you've highlighted in your evidence that the leadership shown by the Welsh Government has been inconsistent across departments and that health has been particularly slow, which seems to go against what you were saying about how this should be a priority for public health. Why do you think that has been—? Has that been consistently a problem, or has that become more of a problem or become less of a problem, or—?

I think more work needs to be done across the health sector so it's not only looking at public health as an approach but also looking at health boards and primary health services, healthcare services, in local areas. So, there's really clear evidence, for example, of very practical interventions that health and specialist services can do. In south Wales, some of you may be aware of the IRIS, identification and referral to improve safety, programme, which is about looking at having specialist advocates, based within and alongside GP practices, primary care services, which is a really good early intervention model. It's rolled out across the rest of the UK. We've only got it in south Wales. It's been evidence-based in England and Scotland for about 10 years, and it's really well understood to have health as well as wider benefits. So, I think, from a commissioning perspective, regional and local commissioners really need to understand the evidence for that or reallocate resources to do that. So, that's a very practical example, but I also think, strategically, we haven't been very good at, I think, in Wales, responding to the global evidence from health; the World Health Organization have published a lot of recent evidence on what works to prevent, particularly, violence against women and girls but also other aspects of sexual violence and domestic abuse.

And, yes, we've got a national programme in Wales looking at adverse childhood experiences, for example, of which many are associated with domestic and sexual violence, child sexual abuse and so on. And there's been a lot of investment—multiple millions of pounds of investment—into training and supporting and raising awareness amongst the public sector in what are ACEs, what are adversities in childhood, and being more aware of those.

What we haven't done in parallel is then invest into support services for children and young people, so, once you've identified there are adversities, where do they get support? So, I think, for me, it's about looking at what health can do, but also it's about how health interfaces with the other systems, with the other sectors. We're having conversations at the moment with colleagues working in the new violence prevention units set up to look at a public health approach to violence prevention and serious violence, saying very much that actually—as you said in your local area—domestic abuse, sexual violence is one of the most common forms of serious violence that most criminal justice agencies are working with, are dealing with.

And yet the violence prevention, serious violence prevention, focus for England and Wales, particularly coming from the Home Office, is knife crime and youth crime: all very serious and needing to be addressed, but, actually, if you look at the numbers, domestic and sexual abuse is far more widespread and far more damaging. It's not about having a hierarchy, but it is actually about looking at how we can do things at the same time and prioritising our resources.

11:25

Very briefly, yes. Given the pledges made at Stages 3 and 4 of the passage of the VAWDASV Bill, on the evidence taken by the cross-party group, what role do you believe pre-custodial perpetrator programmes should play in prevention and early intervention?

We think that perpetrator interventions—whether it's programmes, pre-custodial, whether it's linked to the justice system, or whether they're voluntary—have a really strong role to play. We very much think that there's a sound evidence base for domestic abuse perpetrator programmes and interventions. We collaborate with and work closely with Respect, which is the UK organisation that credits non-criminal justice, non-mandatory statutory perpetrator programmes—so programmes in the community—and we very much encourage them. We would like to see those being commissioned across the country.

We haven't got a range of programmes across the country. We haven't got a range of interventions available, necessarily, and the really promising thing and the positive thing with those programmes is that they put survivors—adult and children survivors—central to that piece of work, so it's looking at the whole system. So, it's not looking at just doing perpetrator work in isolation with individuals; it's looking at the wider family, and who is experiencing violence and safeguarding them at the same time, which is why anything commissioned to do with perpetrators needs to be in adherence to national standards. There are standards that are evidence-based from research, and we wouldn't encourage anything to be commissioned that doesn't adhere to those standards, because that could be more dangerous and do more harm than good. So, yes, really strongly wanting to see that in place, but commissioned in the right way.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning. Regarding children and education, it is of paramount importance to address the needs of children and young people more effectively than they are being at present, because, at the moment, as you previously highlighted, it is a postcode lottery as to what type of help and how much children and young people are receiving at the moment. Early intervention also has a huge impact on a young person or child's life, and can help greatly in health, safety and well-being and their achievement. So, as well as the need for sustainable funding, I wonder if you can tell me: how do you think legislation and its implementation can address the needs of children and young people?

11:30

That's a very good question. I think there's a lot more happening in some areas around supporting the needs of children and young people particularly, and particularly where specialist services have accessed charitable funds to do some of that work, whether it's the lottery, Children in Need or other funds. But we also know that there's a big gap in children's needs not being met. My colleagues in Welsh Women's Aid have recently done a piece of work mapping provision and funds available for children and young people across the country.

If you look at the numbers, one in five children and young people will be impacted by domestic abuse; one in 20 impacted by sexual abuse; we're talking about 166,000 to 170,000 children and young people at any one time. The mapping that we did shows that only £1.5 million goes into our services across the country. That's around £9 for every child; it doesn't meet the demand out there.

And the other mapping that we did showed that only 11 local authorities across the country actually invest into specialist services for children and young people in the community. So, half of them, also, are not actually investing. So, the funding facilities come from outside, from charitable funding. So, to some extent, that's where the postcode lottery comes from.

I think it comes down to not only the amount of funding being allocated, but the way things are commissioned. We have got statutory commissioning guidance coming in, which I would hope would make a difference. We know that something like 88 per cent of children and young people impacted by domestic and sexual abuse are not actually getting the help and support they need, and nearly 300 children and young people were on the waiting list for specialist support, having been abused at the end of last year—those that we know of.

I think it's to do with, for example, commissioning, and looking at what other grants and programmes are there that we can integrate VAWDASV responses with. So, for example, the new children and communities grant that's come out, which combines early intervention, prevention, and support for children and young people, at the moment, the proposed grant outcomes and the indicators don't actually reference VAWDASV explicitly. So, with commissioners, if it's not on their radar, if they're not changing what they've always done, it's not going to be effectively addressed.

There has been a step in the right direction. So, Welsh Government third sector funding from the social services grant has funded a project called Ar Trac, which is for five to 16-year-olds across 10 local authorities in Wales, giving funding to specialist services to support children across the country. But again, it's very time limited and it's very piecemeal.

So, I know your question was in relation to not mentioning funding but what else; actually, for us, it comes down to the lack of support available. Because you can do all the positive things, which we really support—making it mandatory to have sexuality and relationships education in schools in the new curriculum in a year's time—but you can't really do that unless you've got parallel support in the community for children and young people who are in those classrooms, who are living with abuse on a daily basis, who then need to be referred to specialist support locally. It would be irresponsible to do that without the specialist support being in place. So, the whole thing needs to be joined up.

Thank you. And my second question is: why do you think the Welsh Government should reconsider its decision not to require local authorities to report on how they are addressing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual abuse within their institution?

Well, very simply, because we don't have public data or information on the monitoring of how the whole-school approach to the VAWDASV prevention is working. So, we don't have information on the monitoring of teachers and other school staff in terms of what training they're getting, what response is there available in schools. That may be being collated locally, but the reason that we really wanted that in the legislation—and there was quite a strong collective lobby for that, as the Bill went through—was to make clear the links between education, the evidence behind a whole-school approach and a whole-education approach to VAWDASV prevention, and the need to report on that. The guidance around a whole-school approach to VAWDASV prevention isn't mandatory, and a reporting tool in the legislation was going to be the thing, the turning point, the starting point, for making that reporting happen, and that's what we'd hoped for.

There's a lot of work that's happening in some schools. There's really good practice going on out there, but unless we've got a national picture of it, we don't actually know what's working well, where the gaps are, and what isn't working well. We've worked with NSPCC, with academic and other colleagues and the children's commissioner team in Wales to produce resources—AGENDA and Primary AGENDA—that have been led by young people to support young people in raising these issues and making the links with gender and other qualities in schools. But we don't actually know, unless it's a school-by-school basis, what the national picture is on reporting that. So, we really think that needs to be turned around. We really think the Government should reconsider that decision and make that reporting mandatory.

11:35

We only have 10 minutes remaining, I'm afraid, and a number of questions yet to get through.

Okay, I'll be brief.

We'll turn to commissioning and funding, although we've covered some of the territory already. Delyth.

Yes, I think some of this has already been covered, so if I could ask you a few things at the same time: you said in the paper that a number of regions aren't ready to implement statutory guidance, you've touched on that already, just if there's anything that you wanted to add to that; and under that I know that the audit office have said that mandatory training can seem like a bit of a tick box, again, I don't know whether, linking into what you've just said about the lack of information that we've had about which teachers have undergone training, there's anything that you wanted to add to that generally; I've also got a question about funding, we'll come on to that. Was there was anything, first, about the guidance?

So, in relation to the statutory guidance, I've covered a bit of it. The main thing, I think, is: to do effective strategic commissioning, you need to know what the needs are in your local area; you need to know what resources are going into services, both in the statutory public sector and the third sector; you need to know what the services are and how to meet the needs and gaps; and what change you want to create. Outside of the third sector, there's a real lack of data around needs, apart from the criminal justice system, where it is collected. There's a real lack of strong data in the devolved public services across the country, and that's a big gap in local needs assessments.

So, in terms of implementing the statutory guidance from April—we think the guidance is really good, by the way, we like the definition of specialist services in there, and it cross-references to national quality standards and frameworks and so on—the problem, we feel, and having also spoken to some commissioners, is the accountability to deliver it. We need accountability mechanisms in place to make sure that there's compliance with the guidance, and that's by funders who are not only getting VAWDASV grants from Government, but all commissioners.

So, how is that commissioning guidance being used by commissioners, by funders who are commissioning work around social care, around health, around offender management, around substance misuse, mental health? Across the board, it really needs to be mainstreamed, otherwise the VAWDASV grants on their own are a tiny proportion of what's being commissioned in a local area. It's not really being mainstreamed across those agendas at the moment.

Okay, thank you. Leading on from that, you've already mentioned about how funding is sporadic, there was one very specific thing that I wanted to ask you on that: specialist services are particularly at risk because of funding—again, the problem of it not fitting into a box, I suppose—does that end up meaning that, sometimes, women and girls in particularly challenging situations are put at even greater risk because specialist services are finding it difficult to get funding?

Yes, I think it applies to all survivors of abuse. Particularly, Rape Crisis and sexual violence services are predominantly funded through Ministry of Justice or Home Office funding, for example, or done through police and crime commissioners. We need much more robust integrated plans for funding specialist services in every region. But because there is a lack of data—. One of the things the Wales Audit Office found was services don't really know where the funding's going. The public sector services, when they fund services, they don't know where that funding is going, necessarily, and what it's delivering. So, I think that's a real issue.

And the fact we've got so many on waiting lists every year end—. We've got, actually, increasing numbers of survivors being turned away from specialist services: 512 last year. I think, when I spoke to this committee a couple of years ago, it was 300. So, it's increasing year on year. They're turned away particularly because the services haven't got resources and capacity to meet the demands that they're being presented with. That's particularly an issue, and it's particularly an issue for some groups of survivors as well, especially if they've got insecure immigration status and no recourse to public funds, which I can say a bit more about. But there are particular groups that are most at risk.

Investment in early intervention and prevention services will massively reduce cost pressures on statutory services and crisis services, often in multiples. What, therefore, is your experience so far of the merged 10 grant streams into two—the housing support grant and the children and communities grant—accessed by local authorities to support VAWDASV services?

11:40

We support commissioners to be flexible to be able to use those grants in a way that meets local needs—if they're actually identifying that VAWDASV is a significant local need in the first place, and that very much depends on their data. We feel there's a potential missed opportunity to make sure that those grants, as examples—. It would apply to other grants. The indicators and outcomes aligned with those grants are not really very explicit about VAWDASV.

The housing support grant guidance came out for consultation just before Christmas and it talked about domestic abuse. We were saying, 'Well, actually, it needs to also include sexual violence and abuse, it needs to reflect the wider forms of VAWDASV.' We've got some local services in some areas saying that their housing support grant commissioners are preventing them from taking into refuges, for example, survivors of rape and sexual violence, because it doesn't tick a domestic violence box, which is nonsense, really. 

So, we think there's a missed opportunity. We think the scope of them needs to be widened, but we really think VAWDASV should be explicit in both of them. The children and communities grant, which is a pooled grant from a range of different other programmes, doesn't mention VAWDASV at all. We know on the ground some innovative and good commissioners are using, for example, Families First and aspects of those grants to deliver domestic and sexual violence work, but it's not uniform across the country. It very much depends on the competency and the experience of the commissioners. So, we think they could be strengthened. 

And is there anything else that the Welsh Government could do to improve provision for women and children with no recourse to public funds?

Yes. I'm aware of the time, and we have a long list, so I'm happy to send more information. But just to particularly highlight a couple of things. Obviously, there's information in our report about the damaging consequences of the immigration rules around this, and the barriers that women face in accessing protection, support and safety from not only specialist services, but others.

I think it's important to say there are services in Wales that are supporting survivors without recourse to public funds. Last year, 33 survivors were referred to refuge-based support in Wales, and I think 25 were supported in refuges through their own funding. They aren't able to access benefits and so on, so the services fundraise to support them and do it that way. But we also know hundreds are being turned away, and not everybody's able to access help and support.

The couple of things that we would like to see are: to actually think creatively about how we in Wales, regardless of the immigration legislation, can deliver on the strategy commitment to make sure that everybody has equal access to safety, protection and support; and we need to make sure that services by and for black and minoritised communities, BME women's services, are resourced nationally and locally as well as other services, because it's about having a choice of provision.

We need to make sure that for Welsh Government grants, any new grants and funding streams that don't fall technically under the definition of a public fund, which is very clearly defined in immigration legislation, that everybody knows that they are not public funds for immigration purposes, and that actually they can be used to provide help and support for survivors who have insecure immigration status. There's some confusion around that.

Actually, we've seen some good practice examples. Some commissioners in some areas of Wales have made it a requirement that, when they've commissioned a VAWDASV service, they've put it in their contract that they have to support survivors without recourse to public funds. So, I think that would be a positive. So, there are very practical local and, as well as local, national things that can be done to improve that. Even though we aren't in control of the immigration legislation, which is a UK piece of legislation, there's a lot more that we can do, definitely. 

Yes, we're doing well against the time here, but I'm going to try and rapidly cover a couple of areas. Can you just expand a little on your concerns about the national indicators, and also your thoughts on the need for an outcomes framework for the Act?

Okay. I think, again to be very brief, for us, it's really important that the indicators, which are specific, measurable changes, to measure and identify the positive changes we want to create, the outcome—. We have a national indicators framework, but it sits underneath a national outcomes framework, because we all then collectively know where we're trying to go, what we're trying to achieve. Ideally, that should sit under the well-being of future generations outcomes—a more equal Wales, a healthier Wales et cetera. Because whilst the national indicators provide a suite of measures for what agencies can collect nationally, there's a tendency to identify what we're already collecting, or what's easiest to collect, or what we've already got, and make indicators out of those, rather than actually say, 'What are we trying to achieve? What impact are we trying to create?', and then, 'What do we need to measure to evidence that we've achieved that?' So, I kind of feel like we're doing it the wrong way round, very briefly. And I think the new strategy refresh is an opportunity to maybe address that. I know in the legislation there are national indicators required and there are working groups going on about that at the moment that we're involved in, but I think it would be really helpful to look at what we are required to create change on and what we are required to measure in terms of outcomes from the Istanbul convention, and from the sustainable development goals, particularly around prevention, and integrate those into an outcomes framework.

We've done some work on that and we've provided reports to officials, which, again, I'm happy to share if you're interested, on what an outcomes framework could look like, in consultation with the sector. But that's the gap at the moment. 

11:45

That's brilliant. That would be really helpful, Chair. And could I just ask you as well: how can the national adviser's role and the national expert group be approved? 

The national expert group hasn't really met very much; we've had, I think, two meetings in the last couple of years. So, bearing that in mind in terms of the context, I think that the group needs to have a clearer governance framework that reports directly to Ministers, and a clear work plan. One of the things that's come up—it includes officials, civil servants, myself and others in the third sector, as well as public sector colleagues—I think if the advisers on the expert group are actually also doing some of the work, particularly from the third sector, they need to be resourced to do that. That's something that's been raised. And also, there needs to be clarity on what the priorities of that group are, and what the expert group is advising should be a priority, rather than maybe trying to focus on things that have been delayed already and trying to use that group to catch up with them. 

In terms of the national adviser's role, we really welcome the allocation of additional hours; it's now a full-time equivalent role, which is great. We welcome the role's function in providing guidance and monitoring et cetera. There's limited information published as to what's been the result of successive annual plans that have been published, and what the outcome has been from monitoring activities. We really think independence is an issue, and it remains unclear what the remit is of advisers. I don't mean the individuals, but the role itself as defined in legislation—if that role is there to hold public services and Government to account or not, which is why, really, we wanted the domestic abuse and VAWDASV commissioner role to be equivalent across England and Wales.  Otherwise, we've got lesser powers and accountability mechanisms in Wales.

And I have to say that in the last few months and through the Wales Audit Office piece of work, there has been a resurgence of discussion from our members and from other services saying, 'Well, actually, should this role be strengthened to become a commissioner so that it has more teeth, that it has more of a budget, that it has much more of a clearer remit that aligns with the England proposal?'

Thank you, Chair. A couple of questions from me about looking ahead. Can you tell us how the different pieces of legislation are aligned, or are they not adequately aligned? If not, how can they be? So, I'm talking about the domestic violence legislation and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and, of course, the new housing legislation well. Are they adequately aligned at the moment? 

They should be. They are kind of aligned on paper but in terms of the implementation and delivery, we're not really seeing that in practice, I would say. And I think there are lots of opportunities there to align particularly with the well-being of future generations work with the VAWDASV work. We've done some work with the well-being of future generations commissioner to look at—. If we need to achieve a more equal Wales, for example, as one of the outcomes, you can't really do that without preventing violence against women, domestic abuse, sexual violence. So, we've produced some examples of how they could be aligned, and there's been some really good, strong opportunities there with the commissioner's office to do some joint work there. 

So, you've done some work around that. Could you let us have that? 

We can share that, yes. 

But in relation to some of the other legislation, we get the feedback, in a sense, that public services are really training and implementing the legislation in silos, or not at the same times. So, for example, if there's training around safeguarding and well-being around the social services legislation, there's an opportunity there towards a cross-reference with the VAWDASV work, but that's not really happening.

So, that type of training, for instance, should really incorporate all of the aspects of the legislation, in terms of aligning them around those particular areas.

11:50

Yes, I think it's a missed opportunity. Rather than wait a couple of years down the line for that public service's turn to do ask and act, for example—and they're doing earlier training around safeguarding—I think the messages need to be more integrated. Attempts have been made to do that, but VAWDASV as a piece of legislation, I think, isn't really well known outside of those who are interested in it. We still do training with professionals in the public sector and have meetings with them, and they've never heard of the Act. So, I think there's a lot more comms and promotion that needs to happen.

Okay. My final question, Chair, is what the 2021 national strategy should include, and, really, what the Welsh Government and the sector can learn from the last five years? That might be quite a big question to ask at the end of the evidence session—you may not have the time to answer that. I don't know, Chair, how you want to deal with this in terms of—. You might have a couple of quick responses to that, but whether you want to write in to us about that—

Yes, we can do. We can write in. But I think for us, it's also about the process of the strategy refresh, and that process is vital. We would like to see some of the recommendations that survivors have been making across Wales for delivery since 2015 prioritised and implemented. A lot of their quite practical recommendations haven't really happened yet, so we'd like to see survivors' voices and experience and recommendations feed into the strategy.

We'd like the strategy and the refresh of the strategy to be framed by the Istanbul convention articles that we are responsible for in Wales. That would be really helpful, and how we then deliver that in practice. We'd also like the strategy, both in terms of its scope, but also the content of it, to be really relevant for all departments and all ministerial portfolios across Government, as well as regionally, because at the moment it just feels very focused on whose portfolio—you know, where does VAWDASV sit? And it's not really clear from the strategy that we have here what the role is for health, social care, anti-poverty work Wales—the range of priority areas we've got—and I think there's a missed opportunity there. So, I'd like to see the refresh address those.

I'm happy to send in more information if that would be helpful.

Okay. Thank you, Dawn. Thank you, Eleri. Yes, I think there's quite a number of additional pieces of information we've requested, so we'd be very grateful for those. But thank you very much for coming in to give evidence today. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy.

Okay, I'll check that.

Thank you very much.

4. Ymchwiliad ar ôl y Broses Ddeddfu i Ddeddf Trais yn erbyn Menywod, Cam-drin Domestig a Thrais Rhywiol (Cymru) 2015: Gwaith Dilynol—Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 2
4. Post-legislative Inquiry into the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015: Follow-up Work—Evidence Session 2

Item 4 on our agenda today, then, is a continuation of our post-legislative inquiry into the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, and I'm very pleased to welcome the Wales Audit Office here today: Huw Rees, audit director; Philippa Dixon, senior auditor; and Nick Selwyn, audit manager. Welcome to you all. Thanks for coming along this morning.

Perhaps I might begin with the first question, which is on the aims and effectiveness of the Act. Do you believe the legislation is achieving its original aims, and does it need amending in light of the experience of implementation over the last five years?

Thank you. Good morning. Thanks for the opportunity to come and speak to you today about our report. Just by way of background, we've, throughout the course of this work, spent many hours talking to public bodies, commissioners, providers of services, but I suppose more importantly speaking to front-line workers, survivors, and their advocacy groups. And we've had really detailed conversations with those people, and Nick and Philippa have been directly involved in that work. So, hopefully, we can provide you with some insight.

In terms of the Act more generally, I think we found it's had a positive impact on public bodies in prioritising and raising the profile of these issues and raising awareness. And we've also seen a lot of training flowing from the introduction of the Act. But I would say that we find that there's still some way to go in some fairly key areas, and I guess we'll probably talk about those in more detail in further questions, but things like the refocusing of services on prevention, on the effective commissioning of services, how regional working is or is not working, and the issue of addressing perpetrators as well as victims and survivors. Positively, though, all authorities have strategies in place. They've identified what priorities for improvement they see, but those vary in quality, it's fair to say, and certainly vary in quality in terms of addressing the issues that I've just talked about. 

Prevention is a key thing to look at this over the longer term, but I think it's fair to say we find public sector response being fairly reactive in terms of dealing with the situations immediately as victims and survivors experience them, and preventing people entering into those situations is a real challenge.

In terms of any changes, I guess there's a debate about whether legislation or guidance, actually, needs to change to effect some of these changes, but the one thing that we are finding is there needs to be greater clarity, we think, around leadership and accountability on these issues. Joint plans and strategies are great, they get partners together, but who is it that's actually leading on this issue who is ultimately accountable for prompting that action?

This, sort of, plays into a general finding that we've had across a number of pieces of work: the coherence and alignment of legislation. This Act was pretty much being drafted about the same time as the well-being of future generations Act that put public services boards in place, and we don't see that connection between PSBs, that legislation, and this legislation, which does talk about—and, certainly, the guidance does—regional working in this area. So, we feel that that issue about leadership and accountability somehow needs to be clarified, whether through legislation or through guidance. 

11:55

Okay, thank you very much for that, Huw. We move over to Huw Irranca-Davies. 

Thank you, Chair. Could I ask whether you think that the delays in delivery plans and delays in guidance being brought forward have hindered the implementation of the Act?

I think we would say two things on guidance, but there are probably two other issues we'd want to pick up as well in terms of the potential impact and delay. Some of the guidance was produced late, and that did have an impact in terms of the robustness and quality of some of the responses, particularly the stuff around strategic development. That took two years longer than was first anticipated, and, from our view, it became quite obvious that authorities and local health boards were very keen to develop their local response or regional response but that's been possibly stymied by the lack of direction from Welsh Government centrally. 

Probably the two things that affected public bodies' ability to respond to deliver the Act are not necessarily tied to guidance. One is where VAWDA responsibilities rest within an organisation. What we found was that they tended to be middle managers or more junior members of staff, not significantly high-placed within an organisation to be able to direct strategically in a leadership role some of the big changes needed to get that impetus, and I don't think guidance would have really necessarily affected that change that was probably required at that time.

The second one picks up on the point Huw's just made, which is around—. The delivery of this legislation came at the same time as the WFG Act, but it also ties into other legislation that's recently been introduced, which also aligns to it. So, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 all introduced new legislation, much of which ties into this area of work. So, there's a lot of churn in the system, a lot of reaction being required from public bodies, which does make it quite difficult when you've got a finite resource dealing with it to be able to respond effectively. So, I don't think the guidance would have necessarily helped in that respect. 

Okay. And could I ask as well for your thoughts at the moment on the effectiveness of the national adviser role?

We didn't look specifically at the role of the adviser. What we would say is that, on the opportunities we've discussed our work with them, we've found them to be quite informed and of a senior level that could influence and direct change—very good at promoting the work, but I don't think we've got a specific view on how effective that is. 

I would agree with that.

I would probably say there's an opportunity now for a national adviser to pick up on the issues that we raise and that you, indeed, have raised previously to, I suppose, facilitate that problem of identification of where the whole-system problems lie and address them. Providing guidance is one thing. There's nothing better than getting people in the room and identifying what the problem is and who's going to go outside the room and deal with it.

12:00

Thank you and good morning. What role do you believe that needs assessments and mapping of service provision by public bodies should play, and should—if you believe the 'should'—these be revisited before the next national and local strategies are developed, or done during their development?

Well, what our review found was that—. VAWDASV is an area that covers many different local bodies: local authorities, police, health, fire and rescue. So, any needs assessment needs to consider all of those bodies. What we actually found in the course of our evidence was that whilst all local authorities and health boards, as the legislation requires, have carried out needs assessments, in many cases, these were incomplete. So, there were gaps, and often—in some cases, there was actually duplication in terms of the work that was being done, but, more worryingly, there was a lack of involvement and engagement and listening to survivors and people who had been using VAWDASV services. So, we would recommend, absolutely, refreshing the needs assessment and the key, for us, would be the collaborative working between all the different bodies involved, making sure all bodies take on board relevant information—we believe particularly health information is something that local authorities find difficult to access—but, very importantly, take on board the statutory guidance for the well-being of future generations Act around involvement in terms of meaningful and inclusive involvement of survivors.

Are there any data protection barriers that would need to be overcome?

I think the Welsh Government, through its work with local authorities and other public bodies, has put in place some good arrangements. The Wales accord on the sharing of personal information has been in place a number of years, and organisations are able to share information quite well between themselves. I think there's a cultural issue that some people still find it quite difficult to work within that accord, and I can understand that—you're holding very personal and very sensitive information on subjects that are quite traumatic for individuals—but there are systems in place that allow you to do that. I think it's just reinforcing it, and we did a report in, I think, December 2018 on the use of data, which highlighted a number of areas where we felt data could be strengthened in local authorities and other public bodies—and we can certainly provide that to committee if you would find it of interest—on the things that we see as real challenges. But it's this cultural breakdown, getting people to understand it's a resource that can be used for public good, not just for that individual. Particularly, as Philippa said, when you're talking about people who have gone through quite traumatic experiences, having to keep repeating the same information for different people at different times in the system can be quite offputting, and it's something that we certainly picked up in our engagement, with survivors frequently telling us that, 'Yes, we are asked our views, but nothing really happens, or we are asked to repeat them again and again.' And it can become quite damaging to them emotionally to keep going through that.

Yes. I would say certain politicians have to repeat this again and again, as we're reminding them that they are cultural barriers—in so many words—and that they can do it.

Because I know, in my experience, we get the same excuse regularly.

I think we found the general data protection regulation, GDPR, has not helped in that respect, because that coming in recently has almost brought it back into people's minds that they don't want to fall foul of it. But I think if you have clear principles on why you're doing it, and a will to do it, then you should be supported to achieve that.

Okay, Mark. And, yes, further information would be very welcome. Thanks, Nick. Delyth.

You talk in the report about the fact that there should be a joint pathway set up. I really agree with that. I'm just wondering how local the pathway or pathways should be. So, should that be happening in every local authority area, or should there be a macro pathway and micro pathways that feed into each other? How do you envisage it working in practice?

I think bodies have to get it right at a local level first before you can actually think about regionalisation, and then I think it's for them to decide which services could be offered at a regional level, for example, if there are niche services that would only have a relatively few number of people using them, but that is very much for local bodies to decide on the appropriate level of provision and the appropriate footprint.

And we did see some good examples where I think some of the pathway was in place. So, the report mentions the work in Swansea on the domestic abuse hub, which we felt was a really good, positive example of how agencies in the local area had come together to identify how best to provide a service. And there's a similar one with RCT in their challenging families programme. Again, it's a way of bodies working jointly, very much in that style.

12:05

Yes. I think we have to remember, because there are so many bodies involved, the absolute importance of collaborative working so all organisations know what the other is doing, they know where and how and when to refer. And, equally, that people, the public, know where to present if they need to access services.

Absolutely. I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you. Finally from me—the report that you've given, it doesn't specifically talk about the needs of children and young people, but that was something that's been raised specifically by other witnesses that we've had evidence from. So, could I check, please, if you had evidence given to you about the barriers, if any exist, that were highlighted that children and young people have—who've experienced abuse—when they tried to access services, and in what ways they may be different from the needs of women or adult survivors?

We didn't actually look too deeply at children, and, when we heard about it, it was very much peripherally. The barriers seemed very similar: lack of collaboration, lack of use of appropriate data, joint working—along those lines.

And I think that one thing I would say is that the statutory agencies that are engaged with a victim or survivor tend to view the family as a whole, not individually as a child or an adult, and that permeates in terms of how they respond to it then.

Just to add, we did hear—. Sorry, just picking up on the point that Nick made about working as a whole family, we did come across some examples of good practice. For example, in Rhondda Cynon Taf council, they have a resilient families programme, which is very much a short, sharp, targeted 12-week intervention programme, which has had really good success in terms of building resilience within individual families.

And that's perhaps something that you might be able to provide further detail on.

On this, then, what role, if any, in this context, can you play, or do you play, or not, in considering duties under the Equality Act 2010—the equality duty? With the previous witness, I referred to the combined issues when victims and survivors are also disabled, and we've taken evidence in the cross-party group on violence against women and children that it's often worse, because the disability is exploited and used as a weapon against the victim and survivor.

I've got casework with children, allegedly who've suffered or are suffering or under threat of sexual abuse—in one case, rape, and now a young adult. But because the public services bodies, social workers and police—although not a devolved matter—have not adapted their questioning and interrogatory techniques to the communication and processing needs of the survivors, they've ended up penalising the victims and survivors. So, how important is it that we, in addition to considering children, young people and adult victims as well, consider that element under the equality Act to ensure that adjustments are made in how statutory services approach individuals?

Well, firstly, in our report, we talk about the importance of utilising the experience and knowledge of specialist service providers, and I think that's key. I also think meaningful, inclusive involvement, as the well-being of future generations legislation says, reflecting the full diversity of the population is what's important here to understand the needs of people within the population. I think those are two key things that I would say. I don't know if you would add—.

I was going to say that, and also to say that part of the joint pathway and the collaborative working around this needs to tease out those things that may well fall between the cracks, and look at what the barriers are for those victims, survivors and users of services are that get in the way of that. And, certainly, equalities issues are definitely one.

Thank you, Chair. Huw, you mentioned earlier on about commissioning, and Women's Aid have said to us that they think that regions are not yet ready to implement the statutory commissioning guidance from April. Do you agree with that assessment, and, if you do, what do you think Welsh Government can do to make sure that regions are ready for it?

12:10

We certainly did a lot on local commissioning, and I think we've also got a perspective, which Nick can give you—

Yes. In the report, we highlight some weaknesses that we've found in terms of the local commissioning arrangements, and our view would be that, until authorities and other public bodies have got a real handle on the local arrangements, it's probably difficult to scale up and deal with things regionally. So, we identified, well, the most fundamental one of all, I guess—not knowing how much money is being spent in an area because of the diversity of sources of funding, some national, some within local areas, some from the UK Government, often operating to different timescales, different project criteria and not really being brought together into a single system within a body. It makes it quite difficult then to scale that up into a regional programme of work. So, I do have a degree of sympathy with Welsh Women's Aid and the point they make about the challenges that brings.

So, what, if anything, could Welsh Government do to ease that process a little?

I think there is a role probably for the national adviser to promote the need to change the commissioning arrangement. I think they've got an influential voice and can do something around that. I think the Welsh Government can also look to get local authorities and others to provide some indication of where they see themselves in terms of commissioning: do they know how much they spend, do they have a simple system that covers all aspects of the commissioning arrangements? At present, you've got bits dealt with by Supporting People, some dealt with under the Home Office funding: have you brought it together into a comprehensive system that allows you to have a single route into services locally?

And is that part of or one of the barriers to creating a sustainable funding model?

I don't think we would say that you could put more money into the system until you really know what you're spending and whether it's producing what you want. So, at present, the three things we look at around value for money: do you know how much you're spending? Well, probably not for some authorities. Are you spending it well? Well, most of them don't hold benchmarking information on unit costs to understand how they compare to others. Are you spending it wisely? Not many have very good systems to monitor and evaluate what's being delivered in terms of outcomes. So, replicating a bigger system when you know you've got these weaknesses would suggest that you could be setting them up to fail in some way.

Yes, I understand. I understand. My final question, Chair, is just about the national indicators and whether you think they provide an effective way of measuring progress.

I think they're a good starting point. I think our concern would be that they tend to replicate what's already being collected, not necessarily moving into areas where we know that some of the challenges lie. An example I would give is that there's a lot of information focused on provision of information on the police service, and we know the police collect that, but that only gives you a partial picture of the type of services that victims and survivors may use at any time. There's a wide range of other bodies involved, and there's nothing really capturing their engagement and role in this. I think there are some really good ones around getting citizens' perception of violence against women as an issue, but I guess the concern is—and it's been acknowledged in the technical note—that we don't have the methodology yet to really push that forward.

So, is there a case for the Act having an outcomes framework? Would that help?

I would say that, given what this is aiming to achieve in an area where people with some really significant problems are experiencing services, then, yes, for sure.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Talking about prevention, which you touched on earlier, how do you think public bodies can shift their approach towards prevention, and what short-term actions can the Welsh Government take to drive this?

So, when we were talking with local authorities, one of the things we really tried to understand was the barriers towards the shift towards prevention, and many of the issues we've already discussed—the complexity and the short-termism of the funding regimes, a lack of staff, resources and capacity, limitations in ability to get the data that they need, and a lack of leadership. So, there are all these barriers to prevention.

But when we actually went out and talked to local authorities, something that really struck me was what they said, 'We're so busy dealing with this very vulnerable population and providing acute services for them,' that they were reluctant to cut these services in order to further invest in prevention. Obviously, you would expect there'd be an efficiency saving once you actually had prevention established, but it's more the lag or transitional phase that they were concerned about. And also you would have to account for the fact that good quality prevention work would inevitably lead to an increase in the number of people presenting as well, so there would have to be a shift, actually, to deal with that.

In terms—. Sorry, just to answer your question about what actions the Welsh Government can take, we would recommend that they look at these barriers that we've discussed, and decide how best they can address these. 

12:15

Okay, thank you. So, what is the impact of the national training framework in practice, and how is this monitored? For example, are the numbers of 'ask and act' referrals tracked?

What we've found with the training was that the idea was to make it everybody's business, identifying violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and also identifying any potential perpetrators. In terms of what we've heard from all the various stakeholders, this is having some success. And it's not limited to just staff who directly work in services. So, it could be somebody who's in a local authority property to fix a boiler, and then they see holes punched in the walls, doors taken off the hinges. So, as we understand it, there is some success.

In terms of how it's monitored, we understand there's been significant roll-out with lots of numbers actually trained, and local authorities required to provide figures in terms of how many people have actually had this training. But in terms of actual evaluation, there are some aspects of that in the national indicators, but these are subject to the limitations that Nick's already talked about. 

Okay, thank you very much. Obviously, you've mentioned that data regarding victims is limited to access, but regarding the perpetrator, that would be simpler in some instances because of the sex offenders register and because of criminal cases against the perpetrator. So can you explain, really, about the data sharing regarding perpetrators, please?

I think the first thing to say is that a lot of perpetrators are not actually convicted or subject to any criminal justice process, so our concern would be that purely focusing on people who are captured by that particular source of data would miss a great deal of perpetrators. What we've found as a rule when talking to local authorities and survivors and the sector organisations is that, whilst there's some really good, positive work out there with perpetrators, for example the Drive programme, the actual provision across Wales is highly variable, very often short-term, when it needs to be more long-term, focused work. There's limited capacity, and it tends to focus on a very typical picture of the man as a domestic abuse perpetrator, whereas it fails to tackle same-sex relationships and women as perpetrators. So, there is a real challenge with perpetrator work, and again, it comes back to the barriers, similar to what we discussed around prevention—lack of joint working, lack of resources, capacity in the system, those kinds of barriers. 

Can you expand on that point? I know that when we were scrutinising the later stages of what became the VAWDASV Bill, there was an attempt by myself and equivalent spokespeople in the other opposition parties to include reference to—[Inaudible.]—perpetrator programmes in what became the Act. The then Minister told us there were no accredited schemes in Wales. In fact there was: there was the Relate programme, and we heard earlier from Welsh Women's Aid about the Respect programme. I don't know whether you've considered the adaptability or practicality of those accredited programmes and how they might be rolled out to better fill the gaps.

We were certainly aware of those programmes and we would encourage the widespread take-up of them, but it's more the barriers in place that are preventing those being implemented—the barriers that I was just mentioning. 

Okay. Any more questions from Members? No. May I thank you, all three of you, for coming in to give evidence to committee today? You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

5. Papurau i'w Nodi
5. Papers to Note

The next item on our agenda, then, is papers to note. Papers 3, 4 and 5 all relate to this particular piece of work on the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act, and we will consider them in due course, in considering the evidence we receive. Paper 6 is a letter from the First Minister to the Llywydd in relation to the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill. Are Members content to note those papers? Thank you very much. 

12:20
6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 6 is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of today's meeting. Is committee content to do so? Thank you very much. We will move to private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:20.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:20.