Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

02/06/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Sara Kirkpatrick Prif Weithredwr Cymorth i Ferched Cymru
Chief Executive, Welsh Women’s Aid
Yasmin Khan Cynghorydd Cenedlaethol ar gyfer Trais yn erbyn Menywod, Trais Arall ar Sail Rhywedd, Camdrin Domestig a Thrais Rhywiol
National Adviser for Violence against Women, Other Forms of Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk

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.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 14:00. 

1. Cyflwyniadau, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

May I welcome Members to this virtual meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting, published last Friday. This meeting, however, is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.

Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Microphones will be controlled centrally, so there is no need for Members or witnesses to turn them on or off individually. We haven't received any apologies, but David Melding MS will be substituting for Mark Isherwood for item 8. Are there any declarations of interest? No.

One other matter I should mention is that if, for any reason, I drop out of the meeting due to technological difficulties, the committee has agreed that Dawn Bawden MS will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin.

2. Ymchwiliad i Covid-19 a'i Effaith: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Drais yn erbyn Menywod, Cam-drin Domestig a Thrais Rhywiol
2. Inquiry into Covid-19 and its Impact: Evidence Session on Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence

Okay then, we'll move on to item 2, the committee's inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact, and for this evidence session, the impact on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. I'm very pleased to welcome Sara Kirkpatrick, chief executive of Welsh Women’s Aid. So, thank you very much for joining us today, Sara, and thank you for your consultation response and the additional written evidence you've submitted ahead of this meeting. If it's okay with you, due to the limited time that we have, we will go straight into questions.

Let me begin then, with the first question, which is on the impact of COVID-19 on victims of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and also the impact on the services that offer support. How would you characterise that up to this point, Sara?

Thank you so much for inviting me, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to give evidence. Can I break your question into two parts and respond, first, in terms of the impact on survivors, and then separately, perhaps, addressing the impact on specialist services, if that's all right?

So, looking at the impact that it's had on survivors to date, we have a challenge. We have the visible problem and then the invisible problem. So, the visible problem we can talk about; we have aggregated data from the helplines, where we can see who is calling and who is reaching out for support. We are hearing from member services about victims and survivors who are reaching out to them and looking for support, and that those requests for assistance are increasing. So, people are increasingly reaching out, particularly to the Live Fear Free helpline, and those calls have been increasing both in duration, but also the severity of the problems that are being discussed in those calls to the Live Fear Free helpline appears to be more severe at the present time.

We could draw some conclusions from that. So, it would be reasonable to assume that people are reaching out for help at an opportunity when they can, and because they're living within constrained environments, they have less opportunity to reach out for help, and that might well be why we are hearing of higher severity and that the calls are taking a longer amount of time when those calls are made. We're also hearing that the Live Fear Free helpline is receiving silent types of communication, so, texting and e-mailing communication, as well as an increase in the helpline, the telephone calls themselves. Again, what this speaks to is that people are living constrained lives, and are only able to reach out for help in more isolated or more unique moments.

I guess the other bit about survivors is that unseen problem. We know that, in normal life, or in a non-COVID 19 environment, people would reach out for help in GP surgeries, when they are seeing the school nurse, or when they are interacting in the world. As people have been asked to stay at home, they are interacting less in the world, which means that they're actually having less opportunity to reach out for help at the same time as living in that constrained environment. We think that that ripples on, also, to the smaller victims, and I mean physically smaller. So, if we think about children and young people who are indeed physically smaller and are also victims of domestic abuse, whether that's because they're directly harmed or whether they are exposed to an environment that is a different kind of direct harm; those little people are no longer going into school, so some of the protective environments that they would once be going into are not there, they're not going and being in that safe space five days a week for a period of time. We will have heard the narratives in other spaces about how this might affect a young person in terms of access to free school meals, but it also means that it's access to that safe space, access to a trusted other. So, again, it's about opportunities to reach out for safety and support, which I think have probably reduced.

We do know—we've got some tangible evidence—that victims and survivors are on the increase, but that's only what we can see, and I think it's just really important to say that we are reasonably confident, since domestic abuse and sexual violence are generally under the radar, and under-reported issues, that, in a time when people are unable to reach out, we know that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg.

So, the other half of your question was that thing about what has been the impact on services. As a membership organisation, and a recently appointed CEO of Welsh Women's Aid, it's been an absolute terror and pleasure to observe our membership meetings weekly, and to hear the incredible adaptions that members have made in such a rapid turnaround to look at how they can access PPE, that protective equipment; how they can ensure that environments are safe for people who are seeking emergency accommodation; and how they can creatively address self-isolation in units of multiple occupancy.

I have been left absolutely overwhelmed and astounded, and, as ever, delighted that I am part of working in a sector where people are so resourceful, at the same time as really rather sad that they have to be resourceful in such a way. So, what we hear in our members' meetings—and we have two different types of members' meetings weekly. So, we have the full membership meeting, which is for sexual violence and domestic abuse services, which meets every Monday, and I would throw an open invitation to all participants at this meeting: if you would ever want to be coming and meeting the members, they would, I am sure, welcome a visit. But that's a weekly space where we actually address what it is looking like, boots on the ground, what is the increase in demand, and what are the challenges this week. 

Sorry, I feel like I've gone off on a tiny bit of a tangent. So, we have evidence from them that demands on services are changing, but not decreasing. They are facing new challenges, such as anxieties within accommodation-based services for service users—that idea about new people coming in, or where people are going. There's a different type of anxiety that is adding to the existing anxieties. Survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence were not living an anxiety-free life prior to COVID-19. COVID-19 is not instead of—it is as well as the problems that people were already facing. So, I think that's really important to highlight. So, I think that's what we're seeing as an impact in terms of specialist services is that they're having to adapt. They're facing greater and fresh anxieties in addition to their existing anxieties. 

I'm going to be asked questions about funding in a moment, so I won't throw that into the mix as well, but what I am hearing from our membership is that the demand is keeping everybody at full capacity, at a time when staff are also—. So, staff in specialist services are also living lives that are anxious and are also affected by COVID-19. So, I shall stop there on question 1, if that's all right. Please do ask me if I've missed anything. 

14:10

No, Sara, that's fine. We will be coming on to areas that are relevant to what you've said in the questioning a little later on. But at this stage, I hear what you say about the specialist services. In terms of the general capacity in the sector—so, those specialist services, the places of refuge, the helplines—what is the position, in your view, in terms of capacity at the moment?

So, the Live Fear Free helpline is still available, and has every intention of continuing to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that's taking calls and the more silent messages. Refuge accommodation and specialist accommodation services, across Wales, we have a fluctuating offer of between 15 and 20 available beds, and that's accommodation spaces, not just a bed that would take a family. There are constraints on some of those, but that's 15 to 20 beds across the country and that's holding steady at the moment. So, there's a little bit of variation week on week. But there has been no week so far where there is literally no availability of accommodation. But at the same time, we recognise that that availability is spread across the whole of the country, so it might well not be local to an individual who is seeking accommodation. And also, some of those accommodations would have limits on them, so might not be suitable for some people seeking support. 

So, women who are experiencing oppression and exploitation in the sex industry might well have different accommodation-based needs to someone who is escaping domestic abuse. So, while those would all fall within the suite of concerns that we would have in terms of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, the accommodation-based support that they would need might be different. And that feels a little bit varied across the country in terms of what additional accommodation-based support is available, and it is something that I'm working with, or that my team is working on, in terms of identifying how additional resources can be targeted towards some of those people who would not necessarily be suitable for the crisis-type accommodation that we do automatically think of, or easily think of when we think about violence against women and girls' accommodation-type support. 

Yes. Okay, Sara, thanks for that. We'll turn to my colleague, Huw Irranca-Davies, then, for the next questions. 

Thank you, Chair. I think I'm unmuted. Good afternoon, Sara. I wonder if I could just ask you a couple of questions. You covered a lot on the issue of the evidence of what's happening, and I think, practically, it would be fair to say that it's going to be pretty darn hard during the course of a pandemic, during the course of emergency measures, to get real hard, definitive data on what the demands and the pressures are, but you've given us a really good, I think, illustration from a basket of indicators, which probably reflects also the Home Affairs Committee's report on 27 April as well: some of the similar factors and cases becoming more complex, more challenging, more serious. 

There are a couple of issues that I wouldn't mind picking up with you, though, that they picked up on. They raised the issue as a profound concern over the threat of domestic abuse-related suicide. Is there any indicators, any evidence, anything within the groups that you meet with that's picking up with this at the moment?

14:15

Suicide is always a profound concern for me, for two different reasons. Sorry, I have to go off at a tiny tangent. I don't know if you know that I'm a subject matter expert, and prior to coming to Welsh Women's Aid my area of specialism was working with perpetrators of domestic abuse. So, one of the things that I have a personal and professional investment in is watching for risk indicators and signs of concern around not just victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but also those who cause harm within intimate relationships. So, for me, there is a profound concern because one huge suicide ideation is very closely linked to homicide ideation for those who are using harmful behaviour. So, for me, it's always a profound concern, both because there is loss of life, and I'm always heartbroken by loss of life, but also, sometimes, for perpetrators of domestic abuse, that's also accompanied by taking members of their family with them, which is something that we would always want to avoid. 

There's been some recent research done around women choosing self-harming and suicide, as a situation for survivors as well as for perpetrators. I don't know whether there is any current evidence, but it's certainly something that I could get the team to look into and get back to you if there are any sort of current indicators across Wales on that one, if that's helpful. I feel like I've gone off at a tangent; I do apologise.  

No—that would be really helpful, Sara, if your team has gone anything on that. We wouldn't want to put you to undue work there, but if there is something, that would be helpful. 

Just one other thing on going forward. Anticipating, as the emergency measures, albeit hopefully, being lifted, if we can keep the virus under control—. Can you anticipate what that might mean for pressures on resources? Now, there may be some upsides to this, because as people recognise they can return to work, that might assist in terms of the operation of refuges and so on, but, also, it might actually bring more people out of the woodwork, who, as you've described, currently feel constrained in being able to come forward. So, have you had any discussion with your colleagues, the longer we go into operating under this pandemic, about what this will mean in terms of pressures and demand for services?

Many conversations with colleagues, yes indeed. Thank you for the question. We can look at evidence from other places and see that as their lockdown environments have relaxed, that, actually, the demand for services has increased. I guess, for me, there is also a profound anxiety that if people have been in constrained environments, those people who've been using state-sponsored oppression, for want of a less kind phrase—. While we've been in a situation where we've been asked to remain at home, those people who would choose to control their partner and force them to remain at home, they've been enabled and empowered to a certain extent by the restrictions placed by COVID-19. At the point where the state stops imposing those rules for them, the need for them to impose their own rules might grow stronger, at a point where survivors might see an opportunity to exit, and, as we know, one of the significant risk indicators for serious harm, certainly in domestic abuse situations, is at the point where women leave.

So, there is, for me, a grave concern that, at that point where we start lifting restrictions, where people start to think, 'I could leave', if they were to express that at the same time that somebody was thinking, 'I have an anxiety that somebody might leave', we might actually have a recipe for some concern, in my view. So it's that idea that, actually—. So, perpetrators of domestic abuse and people who choose to exploit vulnerability have been given a little bit of support for a little while. At the point where we start to reduce restrictions, they will have to impose their will in different ways, which I think will add to the safeguarding and to the safety planning that our member services and the helpline need to do with victims and survivors. So, it doesn't mean that we should not provide those services; it's about being aware that people are going to need different types of safety plans in the not too distant future.

14:20

Thanks, Sara. That all suggests to me, and possibly to other members of the committee, that there's going to need to be a very live dialogue between the support services and the sector and Welsh Government about how the demands might morph over time and where those resources need to be directed best at any moment in time.

Which brings me to—. If I can bundle a couple of questions together here about funding, I wonder where you are, first of all, with your discussions with Welsh Government on emergency funding, and also, coupled to that, why you think there is a need for emergency funding, particularly in light of the Welsh Government argument, which I understand is that, 'Well, there's been additional funding put into, if you like, the settlement for the sector generally, and that's additional beyond what was there last year'. Where are you with those discussions, and what would be the best way forward, do you think, in terms of engaging with Welsh Government in terms of the demands that you're going to face?

I guess the best way forward, I believe, is to work closely and collaboratively with the Welsh Government. I hope, and it is certainly my experience to date, that, while we have some points of disagreement, actually they do look to us, and they do value the contributions and the insights that we can offer, which I think is hugely important. It feels that Welsh Women's Aid, with their pool of membership, but also with their sort of experts by experience—the survivor engagement suite of work that we've undertaken—have the ability to offer expertise and insight to Welsh Government, which feels really important. We are having regular meetings with Welsh Government every Friday, where we are looking at the journey forwards. We have been talking about the slightly longer planning, financially, because it's great to look at emergency funds for the next five minutes, but actually the impacts are going to be considerably greater than the next five minutes.

I guess one of the points of difference, which we continue to discuss, because I think it's about working closely together, is that Welsh Women's Aid would strongly encourage ring-fenced funding, but ring-fenced towards violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence services, so that there is no misunderstanding. And we would also strongly encourage messaging to be singular and transparent so that confusion doesn't occur. I think one of the things that I found slightly confusing when I first arrived—and it's certainly something that's been clarified—was that there were some funds that had been announced that were then announced again. I believe that the intention—

But I believe that the intention was to put some confidence. And I guess what disappointed me, and probably disappointed the people who made that decision, was that what it promoted was confusion rather than confidence. And I think when we work closely together, we avoid that. Because I think when the common goal is confidence, and when what we want, every single time, is for any survivor, who is in a place where they could reach out for support, to be able to and to believe that, if they reach out, it will be there, then we need to work together for that common goal. There is no point in providing reassurance to survivors and yet at the same time leaving services, which are the next step, on their knees, and struggling to provide those services.

I can see a hand. Should I pause and let Mark speak? 

14:25

I just wanted to ask a supplementary question, if I may, Chair—a quick, brief one. When I've raised this issue previously with the Deputy Minister, not just in relation to this issue, which I have, but also other specialist front-line services at the moment, particular those supporting disabled people, the answer's been that they've created a generic pot, which third sector bodies can bid from. So, 'We don't want to take a ring-fenced approach, because that pot's available.' How accessible has that been? Is that the answer, or is that still creating problems? 

Welsh Women's Aid have recommended that there is a ring-fenced pot. I guess it's one of the reasons why I am so admiring of Wales as a country in terms of the forward-thinking legislation, in terms of the optimism and them saying, 'This is the problem and we can address it'. It feels like the way to follow through is to take the same approach with funding, rather than to go with the generic, because, actually, where we're saying, 'This is a boundary problem; you've created legislation that identifies what the boundaries of the problem are', you have a perfect framework to then say, 'These are the boundaries of the problem and these are the boundaries of the solution that we're providing.' I have heard and I am fully aware that there are pots of money that are available. 

One of the things that I am hearing back from member services—and obviously I haven't spoken to them within the last 48 hours, but I am aware—is that some of the announced money and applications have gone in to those generic pots of money, but it is taking a while to actually trickle through to front-line providers, which is difficult, because front-line providers have already spent the last 10 weeks being responsive, providing their services in different ways, and almost every member service has been able to financially calculate how much that's cost them additionally, in terms of resources that they no longer have, because they're carrying a higher number of empty rooms so that they can allow social distancing, or because they are having a lower volume of clients, again, so that they can do social distancing. So, they are bringing in less revenue at the same time as they are spending more money to ensure that they provide high-quality, safe, effective services for survivors. So, we know that that's happening and, at the same time, we are hearing it is taking longer than we would hope for applications for bid-for funds to actually turn into money in services' accounts. Is that candid enough for you? 

Okay, thank you, Mark. Okay, Huw. We move on, then, to Delyth Jewell. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Sara, you mentioned earlier that it isn't just about emergency funding. Obviously, we are in an unprecedented situation so sector needs that funding as well. But, more generally—you've already alluded to this—the way in which the violence against women domestic abuse, sexual violence sector is funded is not ideal because there isn't sustainable funding. I think, in 2016, the Welsh Government said they would be finding and developing a sustainable funding model, and we're in 2020 and that still hasn't happened. Could you talk us through why that is an issue? I'm sure we're aware of this, and I know that we're short on time, but what are the main implications of that? And is there any update that you could give us in terms of what the Welsh Government has indicated about its awareness of the need to do this?

I can certainly try. I feel I'm a little bit late to the party on this particular conversation, but I also feel that this conversation has been revived somewhat by COVID-19. It's interesting that you talk about this commitment being made really quite early on. So, 2016 is when the commitment was made, and certainly one of my induction briefings has been to be brought up to speed in terms of the sustainable funding. And one of the other things is about multiple funding streams and a lack of clarity about who is funding what. I'm certainly beginning to get a realistic grasp of what the devolved administration looks like, and I think sometimes that there is an inadequate understanding by Westminster, which I think is not helpful to Wales, which I think must be incredibly challenging for you all, and is certainly challenging to me. But I've only been in post for a very short space of time so far. So, I think that doesn't help—that uncertainty that is created by Westminster not necessarily being always clear. So, they'll send out messages, and they'll say 'England and Wales' and, actually, that's a devolved matter, which has been quite interesting to me.

So, I think that the sustainable funding—because there are multiple funding streams, it makes it quite bitty. It's really hard to have a coherent and consistent response and a coherent and consistent approach, both across the country, and across the different streams of funding that are coming in. It feels like that's what the sustainable funding group was designed to do—to look at all of that money that's coming in and to create a clear picture of it.

I know that Yasmin Khan, the national adviser, is coming in next, and, certainly, there was some momentum that was gathered a few weeks ago when we were talking about the sustainable funding notion. But I think one of the things that became very clear to me is that we can only stretch an elastic band so far, and one of the challenges and one of the reasons that the question is continually asked is because we are trying to figure out how far we can stretch the elastic band, and we were already in a place where violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence is a huge problem. I guess I did do some thinking about this: if we get this right, if the forward-thinking legislation gets it right, and there is a commitment to eliminating violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence—then, before the situation gets better, it has to get worse. There has to an even greater demand on resources, because prevention takes a little while to play out, doesn't it? So, we can make that commitment to prevention, but that is not going to deliver in the first five minutes, and if, when we are looking at the now demand—and we are increasing awareness and we are increasing demand—if we look at thresholds and tolerable levels, and we say, 'Those things have a low enough threshold, we won’t address them', then that is the fertile ground in which the next generation of abuse grows.

So, it's almost as if we need to think about how much it costs to solve the problem rather than how much of the problem we can afford to fix. Does that make sense?

14:30

It does. Thank you. I appreciate that it's a very complex question to have put to you, especially in this kind of setting when we're up against the clock. So, thank you—that's really helpful.

The other question I had is again relating to the invisible problem that you alluded to earlier—the fact that we are seeing an—. Well, we are almost certain that there is an increase in incidents, then, of abuse that isn't being reflected always in an increase in reporting. As a committee, we're aware that there are really innovative ways within Wales, but also across the globe, really, that women or children—people who are at risk of abuse—can be made aware of that through ways like leaflets in their shopping deliveries or safe words. Are there particular innovations that you've heard about that either you think the Welsh Government is doing well that you'd like to emphasise, or that you think that they could pick up on something that's being done elsewhere?

Well, I guess, because I am speaking to Welsh Government right now, it feels really important to say that one of the things that they are doing well, and I think they should keep doing, and that they've worked quite closely with Welsh Women's Aid on, is the bystander initiatives. That idea that, actually, when we think about responding to violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence, only when it is bad enough do people reach out for help and support from professionals. Before they go anywhere near professionals, before it reaches the high thresholds of significant concern, we are bumping into our neighbours and our friends, and the people around us. So, when we have effective bystander approaches, actually what that starts to do is address the conducive context, challenge the conducive context, so I would say, 'What are Welsh Government doing in partnership with us, but also on their own merits?' I would say they're doing that incredibly well, and that, for me, is where the conversation should be taking place, in terms of prevention. And I'm not alone: the World Health Organization also thought that that was good practice, so they've actually mentioned it, so I think that's reassuring that the World Health Organization were saying that the bystander approach was a really good one.

I have also heard that some organisations—I think it was Tesco, but other supermarkets may be also undertaking this—were putting domestic abuse and violence against women and girls and Live Fear Free helpline resources into shopping deliveries—not into just some people's shopping deliveries, but into everybody's shopping deliveries. And for me, I am always incredibly positive about non-targeted offers, because targeted offers can—not always do, but can—increase risk, because the perpetrator who observes the targeted offer says, 'Why was that targeted at you?', and there is some possibility that that causes harm later, whereas a general offer speaks to the survivor and speaks to a dozen and one other people who don't care and aren't interested, but it doesn't increase the risk in the same way. So, I'm a huge, huge fan of the non-targeted offer.

I know that the safe words, the code words thing, is sort of—we're looking at opportunities for that at the moment. I think we have to be quite cautious about code words. I think they can be really, really helpful and there's certainly been some campaigns across the years. So, we had the Ask for Angela stuff, which was for concerning behaviour and sexual violence in pubs and clubs, but one of the things about that is that the information that you need as someone who is experiencing harm is available to you in a safe space, so within the toilets, you will be able to see a leaflet that tells you, or a poster that tells you to 'ask for'. So, the information is available. 

What concerns me when we are living in a constrained environment is for someone who is experiencing harm to access and learn what they need about a code word. It's either going to be broadcast so loudly that everybody knows what the code word is, at which point it's not really a code word, it is just the word 'help'. It feels like we're doing that thing where we ask victims to learn how to stop being victims, and I guess I've spent quite a lot of my working life in the accountability business, where I think that it's about making a space where any victim, any survivor, can reach out for help, and we are equipped enough to hear them. So, I think the code-word stuff is really useful when you have ongoing relationships with people, and I would certainly support any efforts that make people safer, even if it only makes one person safer. But I think I would be putting my emphasis and my innovation hopes on the non-targeted and on the broader understanding of a society that says, 'We do not tolerate, we do not accept violence against women and girls, domestic abuse or sexual violence.' We don't wait until we can count it. We say, 'This is not okay.' We resource it, we respond to it, and we say, 'This is a problem.'

14:35

Thanks for that. We'll have to move on, because I'm afraid time is rapidly defeating us. Mark.

Nobody's unmuted him.

[Inaudible.]—mute. Right. Last year, the Wales Audit Office found that violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services in Wales are fragmented, with gaps in provision and in knowledge about need. And in February this year, Welsh Women's Aid highlighted, quote, a lack of engagement with health as a particular issue. To what extent do existing problems in the sector hamper the efforts, your efforts, to deal with the crisis?

14:40

To what extent do those problems hamper it? They always hamper it, because when we are making efforts to bridge gaps, or we are unaware of gaps, then people fall into those gaps. And I think sometimes it is unfortunate that the fractures occur due to challenges around funding, which I think is really difficult, and I think it's one of the things that Welsh Women's Aid has the opportunity to be that broad church and to hold together violence against women and girls specialist services, who are all united in their intention to provide support services to victims and survivors and front-line services. There shouldn't be a competition of need; different people need different things. So, we talked earlier about survivors with disabilities, but I would also highlight that the black, Asian, minority ethnic community needs different things. There shouldn't be a primacy of resource; all of those things are needed if we're going to look towards an elimination of violence against women and girls. We can't say, 'We'll worry about that once we fix this.' We need to be able to say, 'All of these things need addressing, and they need to be addressed with equity, and they all need to be addressed effectively.' And I hope that part of what Welsh Women's Aid does, as that membership organisation, is have the opportunity to advocate in that way for all services to be adequately there. I can see a hand, so I think I'm supposed to pause at that point.

Not really, Sara, it's just an indication to come in next, as it were. But, Mark, if you're content at that stage, I'll bring Caroline in with a quick supplementary.

I'm happy about the supplementary, and I've got one short question left, haven't I?

That's fine, absolutely. Caroline. Caroline, we're unable to hear you at the moment.

I thought it was all being done for us, sorry. Thank you, Chair. Hi, Sara. Could I ask a question that I've been asked earlier this morning by a constituent, actually, and they'd like to know about your policy, and where they can access it, on domestic abuse by proxy—you know, harassment and stalking by a former partner. They just wondered what sort of advice you could give on where to find the necessary help that they need, and what your policy is on it.

I'm going to answer the question in two parts, really. The first thing is that that's not domestic abuse by proxy. Stalking and harassment is a criminal offence, and if one of your constituents is experiencing that, then, in the first instance, it is a criminal offence—that's not okay. The Live Fear Free helpline would certainly be a resource, and your local constabulary would absolutely be a resource. In terms of resourcing and policies and procedures, I'm more than happy to get the team to send across—I'm assuming that our team have your e-mail address. More than happy to share the resource, either directly with you or with the entire committee, in terms of what policies we have on that.

Domestic abuse by proxy is not a phrase I've ever heard used before—

—but, on the other hand, I'm getting a sense of understanding that it might be worth saying that in 76 per cent of relationships that have ended—domestic abuse relationships that have ended—the domestic abuse is ongoing. If we look at the definition of domestic abuse it says, 'People who are in current or former partners'. Just because a relationship—. Thank you so much for asking the question, and thank you to your constituent, because, actually, it's really important for us to remind ourselves that just because the relationships ends, actually this is not the end of the problem. In fact, for many victims and survivors, this is the beginning of a whole new nightmare. So, it's not domestic abuse by proxy, it's domestic abuse. It is a criminal offence. The Live Fear Free helpline can put your constituent in touch with specialist services, they should talk to their local constabulary, and I'm more than happy to get the policies across to you. Is that all right?

14:45

Thank you. One of the categories raised with us is older people. A month ago, Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, e-mailed me, and, subsequently, the committee, stating that they were facing a crisis due to the levels of support they're being asked to provide, dealing with significant diversification in the issues people are seeking their advice on. They're anticipating a further surge in demand once lockdown is over, and they're barely able to cope with 30 per cent of the calls they're receiving. So, again, to what extent do you know or believe that current services in Wales are appropriate and accessible for older people experiencing abuse?

I think it's really important. I understand that the Live Fear Free helpline team have been talking to the Hourglass team, and that feels really important, because people need to be able to get the right support, regardless of whom they reach out to. So, we need services that are there and are available, but we also need inclusive messaging.

The world has moved on a lot, but I remember when violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence would show just a particular type of character, who looked somewhat thuggish, with a great big fist held up, and an individual with a black eye. I hope we've moved on, but I'm not sure that we show a diverse-enough range of images to perhaps speak to older people. And so, if older people don't feel that they're included in the message, do they reach out for the right help? So, I hope that Hourglass—we will certainly be amplifying their message about making sure that anyone who's experiencing harmful behaviour can get support.

But is there enough out there for them right now? If an older person contacted the Live Fear Free helpline, they would get exactly the same response—they would get an appropriate response for their needs—but I guess one of the questions is: is the messaging targeted towards them effectively enough right now? I don't really have the answer to that question. I feel like I've fumbled it for you, Mark, sorry.

I think, basically, you're agreeing with Hourglass, but, at the same time, emphasising the fact that you're working together as much as you possibly can to support each other.

It feels really important to do that. People only have, sometimes, one opportunity to reach out for help. I always have a concern that, if they reach out in the wrong direction, they still get the right help.

Okay, thanks for that, Mark. Thank you, Sara. We've only got a few minutes left, I'm afraid, but we've got a couple more questions. Dawn Bowden.

Okay. Thanks, John. My first question, actually, I think you dealt with when you answered Delyth Jewell earlier on, about looking at other examples from across the world and how they've dealt with the issues during this pandemic, but, if you've got anything else on that that you can add, that would be gratefully received.

But, specifically, I guess I'm asking you now to tell us what it is that you feel that Welsh Government needs to do in the short, medium and long term in dealing with this in the post-lockdown world. So, we're dealing with the pandemic, we're in the middle of it, we have the issues that we know we have to deal with during the pandemic, but we're going to come out of this the other end at some point, so I'm asking you to tell us what you think Welsh Government should be doing in the short, medium and long term post pandemic.

Okay. Thank you so much; it's an excellent question. I think, for me, it's about planning. So, it's about planning for the future now. We are never going back to a pre-COVID environment, but, at the same time, we already had violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Those problems were already there; we now have them compounded. We are going to have them compounded by an economic impact. Certainly, it's going to have some economic impact on us in the medium and long term. 

We are going to have people who have lived constrained lives reaching out for help, so we are going to see a surge of seeking support. There have been some people who have—. So, some academics and sexual-violence specialists have identified that, actually, some harms to children take quite some time to be revealed. So, I think we can probably—. I think that—. It's not a particularly optimistic thought, but I think sexual violence services will see an ask not just in the medium term; I think they're going to be seeing an ask in the longer term from people who've been in constrained environments with predators within their own home, and that that won't be reached out for for longer. That's certainly what sexual violence services have been talking about, certainly across the networks that I speak to. 

What we need to do in order to ensure safety for survivors in a post-lockdown world is we need to plan. We need to be able to predict and project exactly what is going to happen and then plan for it. I think there are lots of resources that we can pull together to make that happen. There has been more than one pandemic. So, we've had SARS, we've had other pandemics that have happened in western-type worlds. We've had other recessions. We've had significant wars in the later part of the twentieth century. All of that gives us an evidence base so that we have an ability to predict and project what the patterns of harm will look like. The increase in sexual exploitation of women, the increase in violence against women and girls—those things can be effectively mapped. We don't have to wait until it happens; we can effectively draw on data from across the western world and across the world in the later twentieth century and predict both what harms are likely to be, but also we can look at past evidence to say what strategies have been most effective at mitigating against them.

So, there have been a variety of approaches to responding to violence against women and girls. We can take all of that knowledge and say, 'Actually, while it was optimistic, this didn't work. Actually, prevention programmes that are aimed in schools are more effective than prevention programmes that are aimed in a different area.' That was an example, not an actual tangible; it's not a thing. 

So, it's really important to say we can learn from what's been done before. There have been reconciliation approaches that were used in Kosovo, for example, where they really changed society quite radically and quite quickly in comparison to other areas that have had civil wars and how they've come out of it differently. Does that make sense?

14:50

Yes, it does. My final point on that, Sara—and thank you for that very comprehensive answer—is whether your weekly discussions with Welsh Government are starting to address some of these things. Or are you just focused on services during the pandemic at the moment? Are you starting to have the conversation about where we go after this?

In the weekly discussions with Welsh Government, actually, we are focused and it's not so much about the broader picture, but there is more than one conversation being had. So, we're not losing the attention in the one meeting of saying, 'Where are we going? What's happening right now?', but there are further conversations being had.

We had a planning meeting last week. So, there is planning and there are discussions about predicting and projecting, and it's certainly something that's on—. I've been talking to colleagues in other organisations, because public health is really aware that, actually, what we need is a long-term plan, Welsh Government is really aware that what we need is a long-term plan. I've been speaking to colleagues in some of the police and crime commissioners' offices.

What we need to do is work together to ensure and, I think, the leadership of Welsh Government to say, 'We don't just want to say what are we doing next week, we want to be able to say what are we doing next year.' And I think that leadership is hugely important, and Welsh Women's Aid are continuing to work with everybody that we can on that, but not just in the weekly meetings. I guess that's why it's 'yes' and 'no'.

Okay. That's fine, thank you. Thank you, Sara. Thank you, Chair. 

Okay, we'll have to conclude this session at that point. Sara, thank you very much for giving evidence to committee today. As in the normal course of events, you will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.

Okay, committee will break briefly then and resume at 3 o'clock. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:54 ac 15:01.

The meeting adjourned between 14:54 and 15:01.

15:00
3. Ymchwiliad i Covid-19 a'i Effaith: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Drais yn erbyn Menywod, Cam-drin Domestig a Thrais Rhywiol
3. Inquiry into Covid-19 and its Impact: Evidence Session on Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence

We move on to item 3 today, then, and a further evidence session regarding the committee's inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact with regard to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. I'm very pleased to welcome Yasmin Khan, national adviser for violence against women, other forms of gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Welcome, Yasmin. I wonder if I might go straight into questions, given that we have limited time, as ever, the first of which is: how would you characterise the impact of the pandemic in this area?

I think, in terms of lockdown, it's been extremely hard in terms of routes to support for victims of abuse. So, in terms of leaving the property, seeking help, et cetera, it's become increasingly difficult, and that's been a real issue for many of the survivors and victims we've spoken to.

What you also have is some freedoms that have been restricted, concerns with security, and households being worried about finances. The pressure-cooker environment that has been bubbling away as a result of the pandemic has been extremely difficult for victims who are experiencing abuse. So, that's something that we need to really understand. And if we look at countries where pandemics—[Inaudible.]—some way forward to where we are in Wales, we will see that there are figures that have been touted. For example, in China, incidents of domestic abuse have almost tripled. We know that Google, in Australia, they've had a 75 per cent increase in terms of the searches for domestic abuse services. So, these are all the things that are very important in terms of contextualising the difficulties that have been exacerbated in this pandemic for victims and survivors.

I think there's a genuine concern in terms of the specialist support services, which are already stretched—and you will have heard from Sara Kirkpatrick from Welsh Women's Aid, who are already stretched in providing services—and victims are absolutely helpless, believing that there is nowhere left for them to turn. So, in terms of the impact for victims of violence against women, domestic abuse, gender-based violence, it's an increasingly difficult environment for them to be in. I think they're presented with challenges that are more complex than we could ever imagine, and I think there's definitely a call for us to ensure that we can reach out, with our key stakeholders, to as many victims so they do know that there is help available. And we have been working closely with police and crime commissioners. We have been also working really closely with the UK Government and the national briefings that we have on a weekly basis. So, in terms of context this has presented a number of challenges, but in terms of the support that's available, it's also provided extreme challenges for the services that are already running on shoe strings in some respects, and, of course, we talk about the accommodation issue. That is something that we're very alive to and we need to consider in more detail.

15:05

So, in terms of capacity then, Yasmin, is that where you see the real pressures at the moment—those specialist services and the actual refuge places? We've also got the helpline, of course. That's where you see the pressure coming at the moment, is it?

Yes, most definitely. Welsh Women's Aid, who, as you will all know, are the umbrella organisation for not all, but the majority of specialist providers, and they have a report that they undertook 2019 called the 'State of the Sector'. At that point, 41 per cent, they said, of services didn't have enough money to continue their service post March 2019. So, I think in terms of what place we are in because of the pandemic and what place we were in before, there's a real issue in terms of capacity.

We also know that refuge spaces have been particularly challenging, and I think that the money that's been afforded by the Government in terms of the £1.2 million that's been provided goes a long way to capital funding. There's also £1 million that's been highlighted from the Minister for housing, and that's been really helpful.

But capacity for services is a real issue. If you look at particular groups like children and young people, with the schools being closed, where do they go to for help? We know now that online abuse is continuing, and we know that the way that we're having to deliver services to children and young people is very important. So, I think there is certainly a capacity issue, and there are certain groups that we really need to reach out to, and services are stretched as they currently stand, anyway. So, it's something that we do consider.

We have a really good insight. We have a national meeting every Friday, which even Nazir and I both attend, so we have a first-hand insight from the specialist sector organisations. I've also been involved in the sexual violence stakeholder group, the children and young people group, because all those different groups will be having specific constraints in services, but also challenges for their victims. It's very important that we have that fuller understanding right now.

Okay, Yasmin. We'll come on to some matters in more detail in due course, and maybe return to one or two of those things. Huw Irranca-Davies.

Thank you, John. Yasmin, you've been very clear on the current pressures and the constraints on services, and also the demands on services as well. Are you able to make some sort of educated, not guess, but some sort of reading of what this will feel like as we go further through the current constraints of the pandemic, and as those constraints, hopefully, at some point are eased, what that will mean in terms of both individuals who need support, but also the effects on the wider support services available?

Okay. Certainly, that's something that we have discussed at those national steering groups and we've actually considered looking at a COVID exit strategy for how we are going to be delivering services and dealing with the increasing demand for really complex and high-risk cases. On a normal day, in a normal period, those cases do exist, but I think with the pressure-cooker environment, victims are being exposed to such violence that perhaps, in normal circumstances, they weren't experiencing. The need for trauma-informed services, so the impact on an individual's health and mental well-being, that's something that really needs to be considered in terms of the long-term approach of how things might be different when we come out of this, and not only just for the survivors, but also for the workforce.

I think the staff that are providing that service to victims are also under the increased pressure of the lockdown situation, so coming out of lockdown is really important in terms of how we're looking after our workforce—agile working where it can be encouraged and continued, but also in terms of the whole picture and understanding of what a good domestic violence and good sexual violence service model should look like. I think one thing that's very clear is that now we are seeing an increase in referrals to the Live Fear Free helpline, we are now having those increases that we heard about very early on in the pandemic. Services were telling us, 'That's not what we're seeing on the ground', and I think that will become something that's difficult to disaggregate, when all the UK-wide approach has been, 'Go to the national domestic violence helpline', so we've had to think about that short-term impact of the pandemic on victims and services.

But in terms of the long term and the exit out of lockdown, we are going to be working more collaboratively on solutions that we need to provide to cope with that added demand for services, and the increased capacity that survivors need. We're hearing about much more violent cases that are happening in the home. We're hearing about the need for the perpetrator to leave the property as opposed to the victim and their children. There have been some real stories about the criminal justice system, and how courts are now opening, but the support for victims is not being matched. So, all those kinds of practical issues that have to be considered post COVID is something that we're starting to discuss now.

So, in terms of the anticipated rise in services, and the demand, I chair the sustainable funding group, and I'm sure you'll want to ask me questions about that later on, but in terms of the group being revisited in this pandemic, we've done that three weeks ago, and what we've decided is we need a commissioners group to start to understand where those gaps exist, and work much more collaboratively, especially around health services. As I mentioned earlier, the demand for sexual violence services, the waiting list for counselling, the way that counselling sessions have been delivered, all of this is something that we need to consider once we start coming out of lockdown, and that's something that I'm really pleased to say we have started to look at right now. 

15:10

There are so many questions that arise out of that, and time prohibits us, but it will be interesting to see, as your thinking develops on that—you and other partners—coming out of COVID, how much of that can be shared with the committee. I think that would be really helpful.

Let's turn to the funding, then. I'm guessing from what you're saying that you have a fair degree of sympathy with the argument that's been put by the sector that provides support services of different types that there have been long-term issues over sustainability of funding, and that this has been exacerbated currently within the pandemic. Do you have sympathy with their argument that actually there needs to be emergency funding now, or are you content with the Government's response that actually there was an uplift in funding, and there is availability of funding through other funding such as third sector, homelessness funding, et cetera, et cetera, that groups and organisations can tap into?

Just slightly before we entered into lockdown there was available £1.2 million in capital funding, which has gone specifically to VAWDASV provision. But in terms of the sympathy that I have, and the work that goes on really with specialist services, it's something that we have widely recognised. Unfortunately, the funding allocation is the funding allocation, so in terms of emergency funding, we've worked really closely with National Lottery who, through their existing programmes, have offered all services who are funded by the National Lottery in Wales to have at least a 10 per cent uplift with almost an e-mail exchange in terms of where they saw that increase in demand for services. 

We're also working with the Ministry of Justice funding that's been afforded to police and crime commissioners around emergency funding, what has been the increase in demand and where that should be appropriated. That's absolutely fine, emergency funding is required, but what happens when that emergency funding runs out? If we look at, for example, the waiting list for counselling for victims who've experienced trauma, often resulting from sexual abuse, there were 2,500 victims waiting for counselling pre pandemic, and post pandemic it's how you realign some of that funding to deal with those health issues.

Just before the pandemic and the lockdown, Nazir, my counterpart adviser, and I established a cross-ministerial group, where we really wanted to work on all those areas of Government, and more so the directors general. So, we have a really whole-systems approach of how health has an impact on people's issues around domestic violence. In rural communities, how we can work with the department for economic affairs around how difficult it is to access services in rural Wales. We understand the complexities that currently exist for victims within the black and minority ethnic communities, and also there's this wider scope that's been discussed about the impact on those communities of the outbreak. 

So, all this information around funding is something that we really need to have a better understanding of, because it seems in local regional boards, regional commissioning boards, that funding has been allocated at a disparate level in comparison to other regions. So, if we know that we need to support, for example, refuges in south Wales, we need to also have the same framework applied, based on evidence and local needs, in, for example, north Wales. It's something that has been particularly challenging when we're commissioning services and we're using a different approach, but the VAWDASV team have had to provide commissioning guidance to get regions ready, and have provided £15,000 of funding to those regional boards so that funding can become aligned at that regional level. Therefore, we can identify where those gaps exist. 

So, funding is always going to be a challenge, and even if we had an open chequebook, we need to make sure that those funds are appropriated in local areas based on what needs to be done, not just sporadically providing funding. I think that's always going to be a challenge. 

15:15

Okay. Caroline. Caroline, we're unable to hear you at the moment. Is there a prompt to click on to unmute? 

Yes, there is now. Yes, okay. Thank you, Chair. Yasmin, I wonder if you could tell me what role you think national advisers have played in supporting the Welsh Government's response to dealing with violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence during this unprecedented outbreak of coronavirus? 

I think having independent—and I think that's the key word here—having two independent advisers who also have linkages with the UK Government, but are completely focused on the picture in Wales, the landscape in Wales, and engaged with the sector that is providing services, to be informed and give evidence-based reviews to the Ministers, to Welsh Government officials, to public services, because the VAWDASV Act 2015 is primarily focused on improving the public sector responses to victims of VAWDASV by prevention, protection and support. 

We've been involved in terms of prevention. We have to start off with looking at how do we actually look to work towards providing that evidence and that landscape review. So, we've been really fortunate to work with one theme around perpetrator work. So, how can we start with looking at perpetrator work? Originally, there was some real challenge in the sector in terms of why should we be focusing on perpetrators, when the focus in the funding should be aligned towards victims' services. But if we look at the Act and look at the prevention element, we must be considering the work around perpetrators.

We've been heavily involved with Dr Cerys Miles's work in terms of having a rapid evidence review of which perpetrator services are working well and what standards we should be looking at for perpetrator work, and making sure that's effective and that, actually, behaviour is changing. So, I think that that has been a real positive around how we've been independent in giving Ministers, Welsh Government officials and public services that independent review on where we feel action needs to be implemented. I think, around protection, it's really important that we've been aligned with the sector, the VAWDASV sector, and more so now than perhaps we've ever been, through national weekly calls with all of those specialist services to understand better what those challenges are, to appreciate that the Live Fear Free, for example, helpline is now up to an 85 per cent increase, and we're involved in those campaigns. I've been involved in those campaigns with the Minister to reinforce those messages. 

What we've also wanted, and I feel that we have achieved, is working with the police and crime commissioners in terms of the funding that's available to those specialist services, but more so looking at what can we can do better to reach out to those groups who—. The 999 response, where you can press 55 and the caller on the side of the phone will understand that there's help that's needed—we've helped get that information translated into other ethnic languages. And I think that's important; that messaging and that communication has been key. In fact, because of our work with the domestic abuse designated commissioner who's been appointed, Nicole Jacobs—. We're also having weekly dialogues with her, and one of the things that she's been extremely commending in Wales is the messaging around sexual violence. She's trying to see how, in England, they can also ensure that the message around sexual violence is implemented across in England. We feel, in Wales, that's been really, really useful. 

I think some of the work that's been done in those other national campaigns has been very, very effective, especially the work around the bystander campaign and how we've helped to—. We've been involved in every single campaign in Wales, and because we work in—both Nazir and I both work in—England and Wales, we're really—. We're not complacent about what works in Wales, but, certainly, in terms of an incubator for good practice, there's an awful lot that we can take from Wales. More so we're involved in—. I'm particularly involved in the single unified homicide review. That is absolutely trailblazing in the work that it's done, in terms of looking at the domestic homicide review, the adult homicide review and the child homicide review. Surely, those lessons learned need to embedded through a single unified review, and I'm chairing the learning and education taskforce, and I've had various conversations about what we need to do. It's very important that we change behaviour, that we listen to what the evidence is providing. And I feel that our role—. And we've been supported by the Minister and the Welsh Government VAWDASV team. I can honestly say it's been an absolute pleasure working with the sector and really valuing how much commitment there is from leadership in Wales. Also, with the Welsh Government and the Ministers, I'm really impressed by the work and their commitment. Funding is always going to be an issue, but I hope that our independence has really highlighted what we can do differently, with the capacity to deliver it with the services, but also how we can actually roll out a lot of good practice that's been developed. 

15:20

Thank you for that. Could I just sort of slightly come in briefly?

Could I briefly come in on the work with the perpetrator? Because I think this is very interesting, really, and it's essential. Does that work include reuniting families at all?

The landscape review for perpetrator work will actually work alongside existing preparator programmes, programmes that are accredited through the Respect accreditation. So, some of that work is actually done in very close proximity with getting families back together. It's not like a broad-brush approach in terms of every single programme should have that. I think there's a risk assessment; I think every case is unique and therefore the safeguarding risks are unique to that particular family. So, all that considered is really important.

We've been doing some work with the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service as well around that family court process, which there has been a lot of criticism of, I have to say, especially going through some of the survival work that's going on with Rachel Williams. But there's certainly something to be said, as you mentioned, about keeping families together, if it's safe to do so. 

15:25

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Yasmin, you mentioned earlier that you chair the sustainable funding group, and you said that funding's always going to be an issue. Now, I'm sure that you are as frustrated as anyone—and probably more frustrated than most people—about the fact that it hasn't been possible yet to get a sustainable funding model. Could you talk us through whether there's an update on that? Do you think that this crisis will have strengthened the case even more for there to be a sustainable funding model, or do you think that, as well as that, it might be complicating the situation as well?

I think that—. Because I've been involved in the entire framework around sustainable funding—. I've been appointed as chair, and I must tell you that, of all the groups and partnerships that I have involvement with, the sustainable funding group has probably been the most challenging—I have to be upfront and honest about that. And the reason why that's been particularly challenging, pre-pandemic, is because—specialist services and all the membership groups, we've all had difficulty getting to understand what a sustainable funding approach or a model should look like. And I think it's fair to say, and I think members would support this understanding, that there was a real expectation that the Welsh Government funding could be given on a longer term basis and that was a Welsh Government issue—that the Welsh Government should be funding more and for longer term. And that was the real challenge, right from the offset.

So, the whole group dynamic has changed, I think, because of the pandemic being a contributing factor, where—because of what's happened, and because we've had to really focus on how we can support services in doing their job, when it's already been demanding on them pre-pandemic. And I feel that we've actually got to a place now where we've understood what a sustainable funding model should look like. We've accepted that the Welsh Government funding is not the only funding in a very diverse sector. So, we're working extremely closely with the police and crime commissioners, we're working closely with the health boards, we're working closely with the trusts, which have now really come to Wales in saying, 'Where are those gaps in services?' And that has really accelerated the pace of the work that the sustainable funding group has done.

We've actually agreed, in the last month, what we all understand is a sustainable funding approach and who that involves. We're going to establish a commissioners' group, which we've not done before, so we have a much better understanding of who is funding what, how funding can be pooled together in a regional budget, and divvying out where those local services have presented a need for. The difficulty still exists that, unfortunately, inherently, in regional boards funding is being commissioned almost on that regional approach basis. And what we've got to do—my role particularly—is steer the conversation about having that national approach that survivor groups understand, the specialist survivor—sorry, the specialist services—have a much greater understanding, and that they can have that flexibility.

But what we've been very clear on is that Welsh Government are not the only funders, and that, as we get funding from the Treasury on a year-by-year basis, it's very difficult to then confirm and commit to a three- or five-year funding cycle, which isn't what the expectation has always been of.

Thank you. Thank you for that. My other question: I wanted to know what your view is about some of the innovations that we've seen in terms of trying to encourage people who are suffering abuse and who may find it more difficult during the lockdown to report that. We've seen, for example, things like Ask for Angela—people suggesting that something like that should come back, but that it should be more of a GP setting rather than being in a club or a bar, as it was before. Apparently, some supermarkets are putting flyers in their deliveries, and Sara from Welsh Women's Aid was just saying that's not a targeted approach, that that's going out to everyone. How effective do you think those initiatives are? 

15:30

I think it's right that we have to look at different ways of reaching out to those women, men, who are in their homes and are being trapped in that environment. So, I'm really supportive of different ways of engaging. So, for example, there's a new campaign that really focuses on social media about 'you are not alone', 'your home should be a safe place'. And I've actually been involved in that, so I think that's very positive that that should be something that we should look at, especially for young people, because social media is their only outlet. And as schools and colleges are closed, I think that's something that we're really, really supportive of.

Where shops and supermarkets and pharmacies are being engaged in the whole messaging and touch points for victims to go out to, where they are safe—actually that's the only place they're going to be safe at, in those supermarkets, getting their prescriptions et cetera—I think that's absolutely a great way forward and innovative way to reach out. But the training has to be right there. Sometimes, you can put people at further risk if you haven't had the 'Ask and Act' training, for example, if you haven't had that insight that you can only engage with survivors where there's nobody else in the family around them. So, as long as that training has been delivered to them in a way that they can access that self-help safely, then I think that's really, really positive. But I think the Welsh Government are also working with Public Health Wales to place information leaflets in home testing kits, for example. I think that's a brilliant way to reach out to those groups who are really, really struggling. 

One of the things I'm really concerned about is the level of violence that has increased as a result of the pandemic. And it's really when individuals are reaching out—and they may only have that one chance to get in touch with a service, whether it's the new type of service that's available to them at the local supermarket, pharmacies, or this number that's being put in the testing kit that's being proposed—that when those calls are being answered and when those individuals are being approached they've got the necessary training and the referrals to make sure that no individual is put at further risk from seeking help. Because we know that can be absolutely catastrophic the second time around, and that's something that we really need to make sure we get right. And people have only got that one window of opportunity to access that help; let's make sure we've got it right and support them and do not put them in further danger because of the way that we've supported them or the way that we've dealt with that initial inquiry—very important. 

Okay. We move on then to Mark Isherwood. Mark, you might have to click on the prompt to unmute.   

Can I just have a short supplementary to one of the previous points? 

Diolch. I agreed with your comments when you were speaking about perpetrator programmes. However, when we unanimously voted for the legislation five years and three months ago, the Welsh Government promised that they would be introducing those programmes early in this Assembly term. They argued then that there weren't accredited programmes in Wales, when, in fact, there were accredited programmes operating in parts of Wales. So, when is this going to happen? It's over five years since we were promised. What is the action plan? What are the run-by dates? How will this be reviewed?

Okay. In terms of the perpetrator programmes and when are they going to be delivered, I think one of the things that was very, very apparent when the legislation was introduced was there were so many different perpetrator programmes, and actually some were accredited, and, unfortunately, some were not accredited, and they didn't really need to be, because they were more community education programmes. So, the work that has been completed by Dr Cerys Miles around the whole review of perpetrator services—I'm going to be honest with you, it came with a lot of resistance to begin with, because of some of the reasons that I outlined earlier on in the conversation; mainly because of resistance from some aspects of the sector, which were asking for more work to be done around victim support services rather than perpetrator services. So, I think it has to be accepted that there was a little bit of a resistance in terms of looking at how we can implement the whole range of perpetrator programmes that are available. Now that that has been completed, that review has been completed, that piece of work has been completed, there is an action plan to actually roll that out, and as far as I'm aware, those workshops are still taking place as we speak, in the lockdown environment, and we're involved in that.

In terms of specific times and deadlines, I can provide written updates following this meeting, but I do not have them to date. I think the task in hand was much bigger than originally anticipated. I think it's fair to say that I'm really supportive that we've spent much more time on this area of work given the nature of the importance and the significance of the work.

So, an action plan has been implemented, the workshops are still being delivered in lockdown, but I don’t have a specific, 'This is when that is going to be completed, and this is when it's going to be delivered.' I don't actually have that. But I'm confident that that can be provided following this—

15:35

That would be welcomed, and I also commend some of the evidence that we've taken at the cross-party group on violence against women and children on this issue from some other providers.

But moving on, last year, the Wales Audit Office found that violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services in Wales were, quote, fragmented with gaps in provision and in knowledge about need. And this February, Welsh Women's Aid highlighted, quote, a lack of engagement with health as a particular issue. To what extent are you confident that the existing problems in the services in this sector have not hampered efforts? Or how are you dealing with the barriers that exist because of those problems highlighted?

Okay. So, in terms of the fragmented approach that has been highlighted in the Wales Audit Office report, I think it's really important to recognise that the Welsh Government—the VAWDASV team—have provided a really comprehensive piece of work in mapping where those gaps exist through those national indicators that are due. And, unfortunately, there has been a slight delay in implementing those.

But how this national indicator survey has been formed has been through a year long piece of work through workshops across the whole of Wales to ensure that we're asking the right questions so we can ascertain where those gaps exist. So, all of those providers, groups from north Wales to south Wales, have been engaged through a series of workshops to refine some of those questions around national indicators.

We've been working internally with the knowledge—the [Inaudible.] team—to make sure that, where we've got a particular question, we can interrogate further the information that we receive around how people are feeling safer, where they feel those gaps are and what more needs to be done. So, the national indicators are something that will reduce that fragmentation and that lack of information in terms of how victims see accessing services to be, in terms of access. Are they accessing them? Are they available in rural areas? Are there enough services around accommodation, for example? But that's national, and the work around national indicators really highlights some of those gaps that have been highlighted.

In terms of the capacity for services in terms of the increase that they've had in demand, et cetera, that's something that has been discussed pre-pandemic, and we have a national expert group that looks at all these issues. Nazir and I will be publishing this week a snapshot survey of sexual violence for the specialist sexual violence services, because we understand, we hear and we listen to the increase in demand for those services around historical sexual abuse, for example. We know that, by working with the police, that's one of the biggest challenges that they faced last year in terms of investigation and the capacity, and yet the impact on health services. So, both Nazir and I were really keen to establish that cross-Government working group, and what we understood to be a better model of working was actually engaging with the director generals directly themselves, so those actions that we've highlighted, particularly around health, and their involvement on supporting victims who've experienced domestic and sexual violence, sexual violence have been really crucial in bringing down those practical barriers that we know exist, for example, the waiting times that victims have to wait for trauma-informed provision and the access to refuges. All that kind of work that's been done can be fed through the Welsh Government departments, but also on a stakeholder level, the national expert groups have a specific action plan, so some of the areas highlighted are around sexual violence that I've highlighted; children and young people is an area that we want to focus on and we've included those areas as priorities in both mine and Nazir's action plan.

15:40

Thank you. As you know, the suite of Welsh legislation, not least the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, requires collaboration and engagement, but the services are designed and delivered not just with statutory providers, but with people and communities. So, there isn't time for you to go into that, but it would be helpful to know some information on the extent to which the working groups are not simply consulting with statutory-body-heavy organisations, but that this is actually collaborating, engaging, designing and delivering future services with the key specialist providers on the front line in the third sector, and of course, the experts who are the people who've survived abuse, and perhaps best know how to go forward.

But time's against us; I'll move on to my final question, which relates to the degree to which services for older people who experience abuse are appropriate and accessible, recognising the particular concerns raised with us by Hourglass, the former Action on Elder Abuse, that they're facing a crisis because of the level of support they're being asked to provide, dealing with both the immediate diversification of issues caused by COVID-19, but also the anticipated surge in demand once lockdown is hopefully over, and they're saying they're barely able to cope with 30 per cent of the calls they're receiving.

I think, if I can just pick up on the issue you mentioned about engagement not being heavily focused around statutory organisations, the Welsh Government is doing some quite comprehensive work around a national survivor engagement framework, and they have a national survivor engagement plan with a view to ensuring that services can be influenced by those victim journeys, so that's just something to answer from your previous question.

In terms of the issue around elder abuse, I think it's fair to accept that currently, the provision does not fully engage or provide the level of service that's required for older people who have been in relationships for a very long time, and the services that are accessible and available perhaps don't particularly meet their needs.

If we look at a practical solution, like housing, for example, we need to engage with the issue around protecting them in their own homes, because they are more unlikely to want to be in a refuge where their needs are not being considered, so I don't think there's been enough done about that. Increasingly, what we're hearing now is that the pandemic has certainly increased the demand for old people living with their children, their grandchildren, and actually, being abused by them, so it's not just the partner violence. And again, I think because of the nature of the services providing, if you like, that one-size-fits-all, 'You're a victim of sexual abuse, you're a victim of domestic abuse and there's a refuge, or there's an advocate who can help you,' we really need to listen to what those services should look like for older people and work with housing associations, particularly in Wales, where they do have a number of accommodation and schemes that do support people and I don't actually believe that we have that flexible service approach, and I think we need to do more about that; I really, really do. I think, working and understanding some of the issues that victims who are older and the experience that they have to encounter, the profound impact that that has on individual health has been really, really alarming.

So, what services are available to them is something that I don't think we've got to grips with in Wales—in England, actually—and I think we need to do a lot more work with existing services that are engaging with older people. I don't think we do enough, and I think we definitely need to do more. We know that because of the lockdown situation—that's something that's been highlighted that really needs some attention.

15:45

I think we'd agree with you on all of that. The issue is, though, given that they talk about crisis, what action happens now to enable them to deliver those services now when the demand has increased so significantly, and when it's anticipated that it will continue to do so as we move forward?

As I said, there's a number of housing partners who could really help and assist in that way in terms of what can be available right now with those schemes. The wraparound support can be provided with those specialist organisations, but, again, those particular issues that older people face are going to be unique and thereby, we need training, those services need training in terms of making sure they are ready for those support services to be accessed once we understand what that need is from the individual. So, I really don't think we've got to grips with that. I think that's fair to say, and I think we need to do much more around that. 

Okay. We're going to have to move on, I'm afraid; we've got very few minutes left for this session. Dawn Bowden.

Thank you for that, Chair. Can I just ask you if you've got any examples or evidence of good practice in other countries, dealing with violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence during the pandemic?

Yes. Well, we are looking at what is happening internationally. I cited some work that's been going on in China and Australia—how this has had an increase for online presence, for example. And, actually, the role of the wider community to understand the issues around domestic and sexual violence, and how they've actually been pivotal in getting the services to respond to individuals who can't go and ring the helpline or cannot go to a service that would have been there in normal circumstances. There isn't actually an awful lot to learn.

In terms of good practice and what can we learn from things that are happening in other areas, I think one of the things that we're really keen to establish is how that collaboration, that partnership, has featured really, really well. We've had national emergency groups every single week, but I think the way that we're—. The access issue has been one of the key areas of work that we really need to understand better, and those groups to support, it is something that we're considering. But, I think in terms of good practice, I can honestly say that the work that's been done through the serious nature of violence, and the unfortunate deaths that have resulted in the lockdown, has really accelerated the work of the single, unified homicide review. Strangely, bizarrely, we look at child homicide differently as we do with adults, and as we do with domestic homicidal abuse. I think one of the ways that Wales can really be leading the work—not only in England but internationally, is how we learn from that single, unified approach. So, I think that's important.

One of the areas of work that's been particularly interesting is, where I'm from, around where we are in the north of England, there's actually something called a navigator project, which has been established because of the pandemic, and that's all the specialist services working together that support an individual who comes through. So, if it's someone from the black and minority ethnic community, it will go the BME specialist organisation; if it's somebody with complex needs or multiple issues, they will go with somebody who deals with high-risk communities—high-risk victims, sorry. If it's somebody who hasn't got an older person scheme available to them through the housing partnership that they have with the domestic violence services, that client goes to them. So, that is almost a navigation scheme; it's almost like the holding ground, and then works collaboratively with those partners. It's something that I'm really keen to look at in Wales, which, in some pockets of Wales is being done, but I think in terms of the national roll-out, that would be something that would be interesting. 

One thing I would really support in Wales is the public health approach that South Wales Police are actually exploring, bringing in other partners. And that whole ideology of where the incident occurred, had that child reported it to school, where we could go back to the journey of almost like the outbreak of that incident in the home—how have we missed that referral and how are we only dealing with it at the crisis level? So, I'm really going to be supporting and exploring how Wales can actually lead the way on treating domestic abuse like a pandemic and understanding the root cause, and where we can adopt a public health approach, because I think, in Wales, you have a definite commitment—I think, universally, we do have that. We have a corporate duty, as we know, but it's also about looking at, economically, the cost to those public services that domestic abuse is. If we actually go back to the root cause, how can we actually make savings if we just get it right the first time? So, I think there's a real argument for a public health approach to be implemented, and that's certainly something that other countries are working on and looking at—that this is a pandemic—which is a really good approach.

15:50

Okay, thank you for that. I'm very conscious of time, Chair, so I've just got one further question. You mentioned coming out of COVID, I think, in response to an earlier question from Huw Irranca-Davies, but what actions do you think the Welsh Government now—well, not now—needs to take in the short, medium and long term, in terms of dealing with the post-COVID situation?

I think the short term has been highlighted throughout this conversation—the emergency funding that's being afforded to the sector and also realigning some funds from the Welsh Government's purse to concentrate on this emergency demand for the sector. So, short term, I feel that it's been appropriated in the way that it should be. The collaboration is there to draw in further funding, so I think the short term is almost covered, if you'd like to put it that way.

Medium term—I think it's really about taking some lock, stock and barrel approach about where we're really still not understanding the true sense of demand for services—[Inaudible.]—sexual violence. Nazir and I are going to be sending out surveys to all of the sexual violence specialist providers to look at what the current demands are, where the strengths in the service are, where the weaknesses are and where those opportunities are, particularly for communities—. Access is a huge issue in rural communities and particularly for black and minority ethnic communities, so that medium-term approach is something that we're already considering, and for children and young people.

I think as far as the long-term approach for coming out of COVID goes, it's something that the national—[Inaudible.]—are also looking at right now. So, myself and the other specialist providers, and the Welsh Government, are feeding into what we need to look at three, six and nine months down the line.

But I think, arguably, the funding model will always be something that fits into the short, medium and long term, and it's really an opportunity for us to work collaboratively to see what money is coming in, but also, at a local level, to see where the demand doesn't meet the service and where we can bring money in to support that. Or if something's happening in north Wales, for example, through the sexual assault referral centre remodelling, the work that the south Wales project is doing, we need to make sure that we can build that resilience in the centre of the service, because I think one of the things that has been highlighted through the pandemic is the weaknesses of some of those areas that we've been speaking about. Throwing funding at some services is not the way forward. It's about how we can increase the capacity and build that resilience in that centre by helping them look at sustaining their own service, and looking at fantastic programmes that they've developed that they can use as an income generator. So, it's also about looking at that in the long term—how we can support the sector in improving its resilience.

Okay, thank you. Thank you very much, Yasmin. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Dawn. Okay, thank you very much, Yasmin. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

4. Papur i’w Nodi
4. Paper to Note

Our next item, item 4, is papers to note. We have one paper, which is the Welsh Government's response to our committee report on benefits in Wales. Is committee content to note that paper? Yes, thank you very much.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) 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(ix).

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 5, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. So, I propose, in accordance with that Standing Order, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Yes. Okay, thank you very much. We will, then, carry on in private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:54.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:54.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru