Priti Patel unveils extra help for domestic abuse support lines amid surge in demand during coronavirus lockdown
The Home Secretary said she wanted to show the Government stands ‘in solidarity with victims of domestic abuse’
Domestic abuse helplines will receive a £2m funding boost so they can support people affected by the crime during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the Home Secretary has vowed.
Priti Patel made the pledge as she launched a new public awareness campaign to make clear that help is still available for those experiencing domestic abuse despite strict curbs on people’s movement.
But Labour and the Liberal Democrats called on the Government to do more to support “vital services” for people suffering abuse - including a demand to offer up hotels as refuges.
Charity Refuge warned this week that there had been a 25% surge in calls and online requests to the National Domestic Abuse helpline since the lockdown began.
The Home Office said it would work with charities and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to “immediately” channel £2 million to domestic abuse helplines and online support services in a bid to shore up capacity.
Meanwhile a new campaign dubbed ‘#YouAreNotAlone’ has been launched and is aimed at reassuring victims that support services remain available.
It will see members of the public asked to share a photo of a heart on their palm “to show victims that they are not alone and to convey to perpetrators that domestic abuse is unacceptable in any circumstances”.
Domestic abuse charities are also being urged to bid for a slice of the £750m in emergency charity funding unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak this week.
Ms Patel said: “Coronavirus has opened Britain’s enormous heart and shown our love and compassion for one another as we come together to help those most in need.
“And I am now asking this nation to use that amazing compassion and community spirit to embrace those trapped in the horrific cycle of abuse.
“And to help us all look out for those who need help, we have created a new campaign and we have created symbol of hope – a handprint with a heart on – so that people can easily show that we will not tolerate abuse as a society, and that we stand in solidarity with victims of domestic abuse.”
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said her organisation was “grateful for the Government’s support at this critical time”.
And she added: “We have worked around the clock to ensure our national helpline and frontline specialist services remain open and accessible to women experiencing domestic abuse.
“What is needed now, more than ever, is to ensure every woman experiencing domestic abuse is aware of the confidential support available.
“We hope the Government’s campaign will reach the tens of thousands of people experiencing domestic abuse, helping send the message - you are not alone.”
But while Labour and the Lib Dems are backing the new campaign, both parties have called on the Government to go further in its support for victims.
Labour’s newly-appinted Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds MP said: “Labour will be supporting the #YouAreNotAlone campaign and a specific helpline is a positive development as is the technology support.
“However, these government measures do not go anywhere near far enough to provide the emergency support necessary to sustain these vital services, as Labour has called for.”
He added: “There needs to be real cross government collaboration to support this sector and this should include ring-fencing some of the Chancellor’s recently announced charity funding to support domestic abuse services and the wider violence against women and girls sector.
“Labour will be speaking with organisations from across the sector next week and work with them to see what more is required to keep some of the most at risk people in our communities safe throughout this crisis.”
Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine meanwhile urged the Government to work with hotels to boost refuge spaces for those fleeing domestic abuse.
"This announcement is of course welcome, I am relieved the that the Home Secretary is taking steps to tackle the terrifying rise in domestic violence,” she said.
"However, the Home Secretary can still go much further. For far too many people, their home is not a place of safety. Many thousands of people are in the horrific position of being isolated in the same place as their abuser.”
Ms Jardine added: "The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Home Office to work closely with hoteliers so that their hotels can be used as emergency accommodation, with the Government covering the costs.
“The Government must act now to ensure that anyone who feels threatened has a guarantee of shelter."
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can be reached on 0808 2000 247