Is the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 working?

A National Assembly for Wales committee has been looking at the progress of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. It has made suggestions for how the Welsh Government can make the law more effective, and particularly to prevent abuse happening in the first place.

Background

The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 was passed in March 2015.

The aim of the Act is to improve the public sector response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. It intends to give public authorities (such as councils and health boards) a strategic focus on the issue, and to ensure the consistent provision of preventative, protective and supportive services.

The Act is internationally recognised as a ground-breaking piece of legislation. If it is implemented successfully, it should lead to real improvements in the protection and support for survivors and, ultimately, the prevention of abuse.

Photo credit: Amy Dianna, "White Ribbon Day", Flickr

What the Committee did

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee believed that it was important to do an early review of how this law was being implemented, which may help identify any areas where the Welsh Government could improve its approach.

The Committee undertook a short inquiry in September and October 2016.

We chose to focus on a number of key issues, including healthy relationships education, awareness of the Act among public authorities and the work of the National Adviser. The full terms of reference for the inquiry can be read on the Committee’s web pages.

What the Committee heard

The Committee spoke to a wide range of stakeholders and heard directly from survivors whose views played a critical role in informing our work. Without their contribution and recommendations, this report would not have been possible. The Assembly Members on the Committee were inspired by the strength of survivors in sharing their stories and experiences.

The Committee received 36 pieces of written evidence, held six oral evidence sessions and visited four projects to meet with service providers and survivors.

The main findings of the inquiry were that:

  • The pace and consistency of the Act’s implementation has been slow in some areas. The publication of statutory guidance has been delayed. There were concerns about resources and potential increased demand for services, and how the Act’s requirements align with other legislation;
"Awareness and understanding of the Act and its requirements remain inconsistent across the public service in Wales.”
  • The Welsh Government took 18 months to prepare its national strategy, and consulted on it two months before it was required by the Act to be published. The Committee was disappointed that the preparation of the strategy was not undertaken sooner, and considers that the strategy would have been more ambitious and robust if it had been planned better;
"I believe, we can deliver a very high level overarching-principle strategy that meets the legislation requirements, but actually the detail of delivery will be in the delivery plan underneath that. I think that’s a way of getting through the legal challenge of not delivering the strategy at the appropriate time."
  • Teaching about healthy relationships is key to the prevention of abuse and violence. It should be included in the curriculum and be taught in all schools. More needs to be done to address teaching about healthy relationships in colleges and universities;
“When you’ve left school, you’ve ingrained a lot of these societal problems and a lot of these unhealthy attitudes towards sex and relationships, and by then it’s too late to give sex and relationships education that’s inclusive and expect that to change everything.
So, what we need is education that is targeted at changing societal attitudes”.
  • The capacity, resources and influence of the National Adviser need to be reviewed.
“When I look at my annual plan, there are differences [.] as to what nationally may be priorities. [..] without resources, how can some of that work be driven forward when [..] there are no resources allocated to the adviser”.
Photo credit: Sarah, "Walk a Mile in her shoes", Flickr

Recommendations

After listening to these views, the Committee made a number of recommendations to the Welsh Government, covering four broad themes:

1. Pace and consistency of implementation

The Committee was concerned that the pace of implementation of the Act has, in some areas, been slow. We recommend that the Welsh Government’s forthcoming delivery plan should provide detailed actions and timescales for outstanding guidance, regulations and other commitments.

2. National and local strategies

The Committee recommends that, as a matter of urgency, the Welsh Government should clarify the legal status of the forthcoming delivery plan, outline when it will be published, and how it will be consulted upon. We also recommend that the ten survivor recommendations from the recent Welsh Women’s Aid research are fully considered during the development of the national survivor engagement framework.

3. Education

The Committee recommends that the Welsh Government should commit to including teaching about healthy relationships in the new curriculum, and outline how healthy relationships and consent education will be addressed by colleges and universities.

4. National Adviser

The Committee recommends that the Welsh Government should review the capacity of the National Adviser’s role, and consider allocating additional resources to it for research and supporting the development of local strategies.

Note from the Chair

During this inquiry, we found that, while the Act will achieve improvements in the way public authorities support survivors and prevent abuse, there are some practical steps that need to be taken to ensure the Act achieves its aim of improving the public sector response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

We found that some public authorities are struggling to fulfil the requirements of lots of different pieces of legislation and we were worried about the pace of implementation of some parts of the Act.

We were also concerned about funding for specialist services, such as refuge and counselling. The Act is likely to increase demand for these services but, according to some witnesses, around 47% of the sector could be lost next year.

We found that there had been some problems with the preparation and publication of the National Strategy, and that the Welsh Government is intending to publish a 'delivery plan' to cover the detail that couldn't be included in the strategy. But the Committee is worried that, unlike the strategy, this delivery plan's objectives may not be enforceable under the Act. We are also concerned that no timescale has been set out for when the delivery plan will be published. This could affect the development of local strategies, which are required to be in place by 2018.

The Committee thinks that compulsory education about healthy relationships is key to preventing abuse and violence happening in the first place. We would like the new curriculum, which is currently being developed, to include this.

The Committee had some concerns about the National Adviser's role, and wants the Government to keep the resources allocated to it under review.

John Griffiths AM, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

I hope the evidence we have gathered and the recommendations made as a result will contribute to the effective implementation of this Act in the long term.

We would like to thank survivors, and Calan DVS, Newport Women’s Aid, Rainbow Bridge and Bawso, who arranged the visits for Members.

Keep in touch

To keep up to date with the Committee's work, visit the web page or follow @SeneddELGC on Twitter.

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