Study urges new focus on family violence

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The Government is devoting too much energy to tackling crime committed by strangers and not enough to combating violence in the family, a new study says.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a think-tank with close links to Downing Street, criticised ministers for focusing on crimes that grabbed headlines such as street muggings and playing down the "significant proportion" of violence at home. Christmas is regarded as one of the "high points" of the year for domestic violence.

In the spring, the IPPR will call for a controversial new approach. It wants a strategy to tackle "family violence" as a whole, including attacks on children and the elderly. Feminists will strongly oppose the move, arguing that it risks ignoring the physical harm done to women. But the IPPR denies violence against women would be downgraded.

The study, seen by The Independent, concludes that the Government's focus on crime in public spaces detracts from the reality that children and some adults are more likely to be victims in their own homes.

"The most common type of violent crime is between people known to each other in some way," it says. "Indeed, 25 per cent of all violence includes people in a domestic relationship, with a further 43 per cent occurring between people who are acquaintances."

Although one woman in four is afraid to go out alone at night, some 70 per cent of violent crime against women is domestic. And of the 3,000 paedophiles released from custody each year, 80 per cent had offended against either their own children or children they knew. Despite these figures, the Home Office's action plan on violent crime puts the emphasis on attacks by strangers. Only £6.3m of its £400m budget to reduce crime is devoted to domestic violence.

Part of the problem is public attitudes, the report suggests. "It is more comfortable for the general public to understand crime as something done TO respectable people BY people with another set of values and codes than the people we know. It is easier to blame strangers than to admit that people like us, and indeed people whom we know and like, commit violent crime," it said.

The study by Clare Sparks and Saira Zavery will form part of a wide-ranging report by the IPPR's criminal justice forum due to be published in April.

The authors urge the Government to bring in a joined up strategy to tackle family violence. They argue that different agencies within government handle cases affecting different victims and therefore "miss the connections" between them.

The IPPR is worried that, despite the revulsion at cases such as the murder of Sarah Payne, there is still a general "public tolerance" of violence as a way of solving conflict. Opinion polls suggest that only one in 10 people would physically intervene to help a woman being hit by a man.

¿ Old people are paying the price for the Government's under-funding of local authorities, a report by the Liberal Democrats said yesterday. Since 1997, charges for day care have risen on average by more than 17 per cent and for home care by 21 per cent.