David Ruffley MP speaking in the House of Commons.
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What David Ruffley's resignation tells us about attitudes in power to domestic violence

The Conservative MP will stand down at the 2015 election after accepting a police caution for a common assault on his former partner earlier this year.

At the start of this year, David Ruffley MP accepted a police caution for common assault on his then partner. Last night he resigned. (Or rather, he promised to resign in 2015 – after taking another ten months of wages from the taxpayer.)  

Reading Ruffley’s resignation letter – much like his "apology" last week, you would be excused for thinking this was a man who had been forced to quit over nothing. An assault that left his then girlfriend “wincing in obvious pain” was, according to Ruffley, a "very regrettable incident".  Objections to him being allowed to continue to be a member of Parliament was, to the Conservative MP, “a protracted media debate” on his “private life”.

What has had the biggest stench in this has been the way all – both Ruffley and the ones rushing to brush it under the carpet – have strained to say they would never “condone domestic violence under any circumstances". What was this, then? What Ruffley was cautioned for doesn’t "in any way qualify as domestic abuse", according to his local association chairman. Ruffley accepted a caution for common assault - the incident took place in his home with a woman he was in a relationship with. It’s not clear which part of that doesn't qualify as domestic abuse. Perhaps the part where he is a wealthy, elite, white man.  

This week, David Cameron vowed to consider making domestic violence a specific crime. The same David Cameron who has overseen the slashing of services for victims of domestic violence – and who did nothing when Ruffley accepted the caution months ago. Just left Chief Whip Michael Gove to say how "sorry” he was that Ruffley will be standing down at the next election and that he “fully respect[s] his reasons". All they need is to chip in for a leaving present at this point; perhaps a commiserating bottle of whisky and a card signed “Chin up, from the boys”.

If it feels like the Ruffley events tell us something about what male-dominated powers think of domestic violence, it’s because it does. It tells us they wish to call it “an incident”. That they prefer to excuse abuse as “regrettable”. That they believe a man leaving his girlfriend in visible pain should be “private”.

"All these things happen behind closed doors,” Ruffley’s local Conservative chairman told the BBC. "It was a private matter, and as in most domestic issues, I suggest it was six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Nobody really knows what went on."  

Every week in this country, two women die at the hands of their partners or exes. Thousands of others, in every street, are controlled, raped, hit, scarred. Around 90 per cent of abusers are not even prosecuted by police. We know what goes on. And worst of all, we know the men in power don’t really care.

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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