Labour would offer New Zealand-style paid leave for domestic violence victims

Lizzy Buchan

Employers would be ordered to offer paid leave to victims of domestic violence under new plans from Labour, which could help thousands of women escape their abusers.

Dawn Butler, the shadow equalities secretary, will say that domestic violence should be written into employment policy to help end the "epidemic" of abuse, where two women are killed each week by a current or former partner.

The move is inspired by legislation in New Zealand, which has become the first country in the world to introduce 10-days of paid leave for abuse survivors to help them find new homes, and protect themselves and their children.

It came as Labour activists were due to descend on Liverpool for the party's annual conference, where rows over Brexit, antisemitism allegations and the future of the party are likely to dominate proceedings.

In a speech at the party's women's conference on Saturday, Ms Butler will say: "Employers have a duty of care to employees experiencing domestic abuse and should put in place a range of workplace policies to help victims.

“This crucial time will allow women to leave their abusive partners safely, get the help, protection and support they need, knowing their livelihood is secure.

“These 10 days could literally help save the lives of those women.”

More than 1.2m women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the year up to March 2017, but changes to how specialist refuges get their funding has put the future of many facilities in doubt.

Demand for help continues to outstrip supply, with 94 women and 90 children being turned away from one refuge on a single day last year.

“Councils should not to have to consider cutting funding for women's refuges, a lifeline to the most vulnerable women in their hour of need," Ms Butler was due to say.

“Local authorities need sustainable, long-term funding to ensure that refuges can continue to provide a vital service. Labour will establish a national oversight mechanism to set quality standards for refuge provision and support.”

Under plans to put equalities "centre stage", Ms Butler will tell delegates that Labour would establish a standalone department, with an equalities minister at the cabinet table.

An influential committee of MPs has previously warned that the "conveyor belt" of ministers at the Equalities Office risked undermining the government's efforts to root out inequalities.

Ms Butler will say: "We want to live in a society where no one is held back, but we know stubborn inequalities are damaging the lives of so many of our fellow citizens and stopping us all from reaching our full potential as a society.

"We can’t carry on just tinkering around the edges, with equality an afterthought or little more than a question of political presentation, not a priority for the Tories.

"So far we have seen seven different ministers for equality tagged onto four different departments and a budget that's nearly been halved. This proves the Tories are not taking equalities seriously.”

Since 1997, women and equalities issues have been shunted between eight different government departments.

In the past two years alone, the brief has been held by Justine Greening at the Department for Education, Amber Rudd at the Home Office, and now Penny Mordaunt at the Department for International Development.