Anita Gale on the rise in domestic abuse during lockdown and ensuring proper support for victims
The Covid-19 lockdown is believed to have caused an increase in the incidence of domestic abuse and violence. Mandy Thomas, a Survivor Ambassador for Women’s Aid has said: “This pandemic is an abuser’s paradise. We all need to act to burst their bubble”. Others talk about ‘walking on eggshells’ as the abuser is at home 24 hours a day, giving their victims no respite.
Karen Ingala Smith, the founder of Counting Dead Women – a pioneering project that records the killing of women and their children – has identified at least 16 such deaths in the UK between 23rd March and 12th April. That’s 16 killed across the first three weeks of lockdown compared with an average figure in ‘normal times’ of two a week.
At the same time, several domestic abuse charities have reported a surge in calls to helplines and online services since the lockdown conditions were imposed.
So what help is available?
Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons are offering Safe Spaces in their consulting rooms, where victims can access the phone numbers of organisations that give advice and support. But while charities such as Women’s Aid and Refuge continue to play a vital role, a decade of funding cuts from the Coalition onwards means there are fewer women’s refuges available.
So, what are ministers doing to tackle the additional difficulties that victims of abuse have faced during this crisis?
The government announced on 2nd May that it would give £76 million additional funding. Yet when my Labour colleague and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symons asked recently how much had actually gone to the frontline, the Home Secretary revealed it was a mere £1.2 million.
Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, recently told MPs of her concern that some of this new funding may struggle to reach small local charities that support specific groups. In her evidence, she said: “We need to allow those charities to quickly and very simply bid in and get the funds they need to sustain what they are doing, but also plan for the inevitable surge that we will have. There will be people that are waiting and trying to survive every day and then will access support as quickly as they can when some of the lockdown is lifted”.
Ministers must ensure what they have promised gets delivered to these charities as quickly as possible. As lockdown restrictions are gradually eased, many victims may find themselves in a better position to get away from their abusers. But the money promised should be regarded as a long-term commitment, as problems will continue in the months and years ahead.
A related problem is the impact of lockdown on charities, which have suffered a loss of income through their inability to fundraise properly. So further government support will be necessary if these organisations are to continue with their vital work. Along with a guarantee from ministers that the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill will be robust, ensuring abusers are brought before the law and better treatment for their victims.
Baroness Anita Gale is a Labour Peer. She tweets @BaronessGale
Published 28th June 2020