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Surge in coronavirus domestic abuse cases needs ‘urgent’ attention of Cobra, MPs tell Priti Patel

Home Secretary PritI Patel is being urged to set up a new cross-government taskforce on domestic abuse.

3 min read

Ministers are being urged to ramp up their support for victims of domestic abuse amid a surge in cases during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Home Affairs Committee is demanding a “comprehensive, cross-governmental” strategy to tackle domestic abuse during the outbreak and beyond — and wants cases raised at top-level Cobra meetings on the pandemic.

The new report from the cross-party group of MPs comes after domestic abuse charity Refuge revealed that calls to its helpline had soared to 49% above average in mid-April.

Meanwhile research by Counting Dead Women estimated that at least 16 domestic abuse killings took place in the three weeks after lockdown was imposed - double the average measure over a 21-day period in the past decade.

The Government has already unveiled a raft of measures to try to support abuse survivors, including a £2m funding boost for charities and a new public awareness campaign aimed at reassuring victims that support services remain available.

But the Home Affairs Committee is calling on ministers to go further, with Home Secretary Priti Patel urged to personally take charge of a “formal cross-government working group” on the issue and spell out how victims will be able to access services once lockdown is eased “and the need for support is likely to be acute”.

"Urgent action is needed to protect victims and prevent perpetrators from exploiting the lockdown to increase abuse" - Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper

“Ministers from across Government should be involved alongside the Domestic Abuse, Victims’ and Children’s Commissioners, as well as consulting frontline providers,” the Committee says.

And they add: “The action plan should be a core part of Government emergency planning led by [government emergency committee] COBR.”

The group of MPs is demanding specific plans to boost outreach so that victims can be contacted; measures to ramp up provision of housing and refuge centres for those fleeing abusive partners; and a “criminal justice response” to tackle perpetrators.

“The national strategy should be backed up by action plans produced by local councils as part of their emergency planning to prevent and address domestic abuse at a local level,” they say.

Launching the report, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said: “Staying at home is an important part of the strategy to prevent coronavirus from spreading and save lives, but for some people home isn’t safe. Urgent action is needed to protect victims and prevent perpetrators from exploiting the lockdown to increase abuse.
“There are already alarming signs of the rise in domestic abuse. Our cross-party Committee is calling for an urgent action plan from Government setting out practical measures to tackle domestic abuse as an integrated part of the fight against Covid-19.”

She added: “We are calling for new emergency funding for support services, new ways for victims to access help through supermarkets and pharmacies, outreach visits to known vulnerable households, support for children and a new guarantee of safe housing for anyone needing to leave their home during lockdown because of abuse.

"The national public information campaign is welcome, but the Government now needs to go much further and set out a full cross-Government Covid-19 action plan on domestic abuse.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can be reached on 0808 2000 247

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