Labour Party frontbenchers used the backdrop of International Women’s Day to call on their government counterparts to deliver a cross-department drive to tackle the “epidemic” of violence against women and girls.
Shadow secretaries of state, including Yvette Cooper, Angela Rayner, Lisa Nandy, Rachel Reeves, Anneliese Dodds and Wes Streeting, wrote to their ministerial opposite numbers calling for “consistent, collaborative cross-departmental action”.
In their open letter, they said violence against women and girls is “endemic at every level of society” and that while the police and the wider criminal-justice system plays an important role in bringing perpetrators to justice, tackling the problem is far broader.
The MPs said rape victims may confide in their GP but not go to the police; domestic-abuse victims could confide in a housing case worker but not report their partner; and a drink-spiking victim might tell their student union or lecturers but stop short of involving the police.
The open letter underscored the extent to which public-sector professionals such as teachers need training to pick up warning signs that children may be experiences abuse, while bus drivers need to be practically and mentally equipped to respond to incidents on their vehicles.
"Departments need to ensure public services are supported to work together to protect women and girls, prevent violence and support victims. Crucially, they need action from government to work cross-sector and cross-department to put ending violence against women and girls at the heart of everything we do," the letter read.
“We welcome the government’s inclusion of violence against women and girls in the Serious Violence Prevention Duty requiring public bodies to work together to tackle this harm,” the MPs said, referring to the draft guidance issued under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021.
“This is a crucial first step in recognising that the action needed goes far beyond one department alone, but we must go further.
“We are writing to you as shadow secretaries of state to ask you, our opposite numbers, to recognise that this is an issue that cuts across departments and can no longer be siloed. It must and can only be addressed by government as a whole.
“The scale of our action must meet the scale of this crisis. We believe we all have a responsibility to ensure that ours is the last generation plagued by violence against women, and we know that there is widespread support, both from the public and from organisations across the sector, to make this commitment a reality.
“Only by working together can we build a world in which women and girls are free from violence.”
The letter added that the Labour Party’s green paper on ending violence against women and girls contained proposals for criminal justice, health, education, social services and housing, as well as plans for a specific ministerial position for rape and sexual violence survivors to work across departments to advocate for victims.
According to the Office for National Statistics’ most recent annual data on domestic violence, there were 845,734 domestic-abuse-related crimes in England and Wales in the year to 31 March 2021. The figure is a 6% rise on the previous 12 months and represents the third year in a row that an increase has been recorded.
At the same time, the ONS said referrals of domestic-abuse-flagged cases from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service dropped by 3% between the year to 31 March 2021 and the previous 12 months.
The figures indicated fewer than 10% of recorded domestic-abuse crimes resulted in a referral to the CPS for a “charging decision” on whether a prosecution should be brought. Referrals dropped from 79,965 to 77,812 over the period.
Late June, separate ONS research found that around a third of women over the age of 16 in Great Britain had experienced at least one form of harassment during the last 12 months.
The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey said women aged 16 to 34 were more than twice as likely to have experienced harassment in the last year than women aged 35 and over.