The ‘stay at home’ guidance issued by the Government on 23 March was necessary to protect the NHS and save lives by flattening the curve of coronavirus infection. But for some people home is not a safe place to be.
A global surge in domestic abuse has been reported during the coronavirus pandemic, as those living with domestic violence face greater risks at home during lockdowns, and support services are harder to reach and to provide.
The UK has followed the global pattern of rising domestic abuse risks during the crisis: calls and contacts to helplines have increased markedly and evidence suggests incidents are becoming more complex and serious, with higher levels of physical violence and coercive control.
Counting Dead Women has calculated that there were at least sixteen domestic abuse killings of women and children between 23 March and 12 April.
Rising domestic abuse has devastating impacts on the lives of victims and children who experience abuse in the home and the consequences are long lasting. Action is needed during the Covid 19 crisis—both during lockdowns and after them—to prevent and tackle abuse and to support victims, otherwise families and communities will be dealing with those serious consequences for many years.
We welcome the public information campaign announced by the Government on 11 April, encouraging people to seek help and making clear that help is available, and the additional funding made available to charities, including those tackling domestic abuse and child abuse. And we strongly support the clear commitment of the police to prioritising domestic abuse during the crisis.
Now a full action plan is needed covering support services, housing and the criminal justice system. This cross-Government Covid-19 strategy on domestic abuse needs to cover both the period of lockdown and the period immediately after lockdown when need for support is also likely to be acute. It should be led and coordinated by the Home Secretary and involve relevant Ministers across Government as well as the Domestic Abuse, Victims and Children’s Commissioners and frontline providers.
The plan should include access to information and support, outreach and prevention, funding for support services including specialist and BME services, housing support and refuge accommodation, and a strong criminal justice response. The national strategy should be backed up by local action plans produced by all local authorities as part of their emergency Covid-19 planning.
Support services for domestic abuse and vulnerable children need urgent and direct funding support: without it, victims will be put at much greater risk of harm. The Government should provide an emergency funding package ringfenced within the promised £750m fund for charities that recognises the needs of, and is accessible to, both generic providers and small, specialist, targeted services.
New strategies are needed to ensure victims can access support, taking account of the fact that it might be harder to phone from home, or to talk privately to a GP, friend or neighbour while the lockdown is in place. We welcome the progress which has already been made towards a Safe Spaces model to offer help through pharmacies. The Government should sponsor a scheme enabling victims of abuse to contact support services through supermarkets and other retailers too. Local services must be proactive in their outreach during lockdown, including visiting families and households where there have been domestic abuse incidents in the past or where there are vulnerable children.
The Government must ensure that the network of refuges is sustainable for the long term by providing ring-fenced support for the additional costs, and loss of income, incurred by services as a result of coronavirus. And to address the huge and immediate pressure on refuges, clear Government leadership should be brought to the task of securing hotel and hostel accommodation for victims across the country so that anyone needing to leave their home during lockdown because of abuse can be guaranteed a safe place to stay.
Domestic abuse needs to be a priority too for the entire criminal justice system, to ensure that Domestic Violence Protection Order cases are heard swiftly and that alternative temporary accommodation for perpetrators is provided during lockdown, if that is needed to apply DVPOs and keep victims safe. The Government should ensure that legal aid is granted automatically to domestic abuse victims in respect of any application for protection during the lockdown. The Government has rightly made clear the importance of tackling domestic abuse and supporting families during the Covid-19 crisis. Concerted action is needed to ensure that happens.
Published: 27 April 2020