Coronavirus: Communities Secretary vows priority council housing for people fleeing domestic abuse
The Communities Secretary said victims should not have to choose between ‘staying somewhere that they know is unsafe or becoming homeless’.
People fleeing domestic abuse will be given priority for council housing amid fears of a surge in cases during the coronavirus lockdown, the Communities Secretary has announced.
Robert Jenrick told the daily Downing Street press conference that victims of abuse would be given the “status that they need to access local housing services much more easily", as he vowed £76m in new funding for charities supporting vulnerable people through the crisis.
The new measure comes after MPs urged the Government to do more to support victims of domestic abuse following warnings of a spike in calls to charities working to help survivors since the nationwide lockdown was imposed.
Refuge has said calls to its own helpline soared to 49% above average in mid-April, while research by Counting Dead Women estimated that at least 16 domestic abuse killings took place in the three weeks after lockdown began - double the average 21-day toll in the past decade.
Mr Jenrick said: “For some in our society, these measures mean sacrifices that none of us would wish anyone to bear. For victims of domestic abuse, it means being trapped in a nightmare.
"The true evil of domestic abuse is that it leaves vulnerable people including children living in fear in the very place where they should feel most safe and secure, inside their own home.”
And the Communities Secretary announced: “Today I can confirm that, through the domestic abuse bill, the Government will also be ensuring that the victims of domestic violence get the priority need status that they need to access local housing services much more easily.
“This is fully-funded commitment which will mean that no victim of domestic violence has to make the unbearable choice between staying somewhere that they know is unsafe or becoming homeless.”
A similar measure to give priority need for housing for abuse victims has been in force in Wales since 2014, and charity Refuge said the move was "welcome news for abused women and children".
"For victims of domestic abuse, it means being trapped in a nightmare" - Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick on the Covid-19 lockdown
The Government has also confirmed it will dole out a proportion of the £750m support package announced for charities by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month to organisations working to help victims of domestic abuse.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said £28m of that pot would be used “to help survivors of domestic abuse and their children by providing more safe spaces, accommodation and access to support services during the coronavirus outbreak”.
Mr Jenrick said: “We know that some refuges have had to reduce or even to cancel the service that they would want to provide during the pandemic.
“This fund will help them to meet the challenges posed in this national emergency and to continue to help those that desperately need support.”
Meanwhile £34.15million will be handed to organisations supporting vulnerable children, including care leavers and those with disabilities; £10m will be allocated to help victims of sexual violence access advice and support services, including £3m a year boost for the recruitment of Independent Sexual Violence Advisers; and £1.73m will go to charities supporting the victims of modern slavery to help victims stay in state-funded safe accommodation “for the next three months”.
Labour said it would “look at this package closely” to ensure it was “sufficient to meet people’s needs and that the money gets where it is required quickly”.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “Through this crisis, Labour is offering constructive support and challenge to the Government. On issues like domestic abuse, where the Government has not been moving quickly enough, we will call for more action.
“We thank all the domestic abuse and violence against women and girls charities working extremely hard to help some of those who are most at risk during the lockdown.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine meanwhile said the extra funding would be “welcome relief, and hopefully will mean that people get the help they need”.
But she added: "Although it is a good start, many will wonder why it took the government so long to take these steps. It is also important that this is only the beginning of a more comprehensive project to stop domestic violence, which will need more investment.”