Domestic abuse was a shameful rot in our communities long before the pandemic – with lockdowns it’s getting far worse
As long as Covid is with us, so is a heightened risk of complex domestic abuse cases, writes Jess Phillips MP.
For people living with a domestic abuser, the stress and fear of lockdown is unbearable. The government must learn the lesson of the last few months and implement a clear, well-resourced plan for addressing these crimes.
In March, the phrase ‘lockdown’ became part of our everyday vocabulary. The government introduced measures to try and slow down the spread of Covid-19, and most people across the UK had to remain at home. There were some that predicted a second pandemic waiting in the shadows of the health crisis; a domestic abuse pandemic. And sure enough, they were right.
Horrifying statistics quickly started to emerge. There were 16 suspected domestic homicides in the first few weeks, a 50% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, a 300% increase in traffic to the website – and a comprehension dawned. What happens to those for whom ‘stay at home’ means they are trapped with the person they are most frightened of? It soon became clear that for people living with a domestic abuser, the stress and fear of lockdown is unbearable. And the danger very real.
8 months later and we are in a second national lockdown. The government was far too slow to act in the Spring, and it is absolutely vital that these mistakes are not repeated. We now know what we are dealing with; as long as Covid is with us, so is a heightened risk of complex domestic abuse cases. That is why we need a clear, well-resourced plan for addressing these crimes.
No one should be forced to choose between staying with their abuser or sleeping on the streets
The government must learn the lesson of the last few months. The domestic abuse and violence against women and girls sector is on its knees; it desperately needs support.
Delays, short-term funding and uncertainty has meant services have been unable to plan ahead, or recruit and retain the staff that are needed for the surges in demand Covid-19 continues to create. Specialist organisations, including ‘by and for’ services, that support black and minority ethnic victims, migrant victims, LGBTQ+ victims, male victims and disabled victims, are struggling to manage their increasing and ever more complex workload.
I am deeply concerned about certain groups not being able to access support services or refuge; migrant women with the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition attached to their immigration status in particular. In England in 2019/20, almost 4 in 5 migrant women were turned away from refuges due to the NRPF condition. That is why Labour has called for the suspension of No Recourse to Public Funds. During the Covid crisis, charities have reported the number of victims in need soaring. This desperate situation cannot be repeated; no one should be forced to choose between staying with their abuser or sleeping on the streets.
I am equally worried about children. Before lockdown, over 800,000 children in England were living in abusive households. Children’s charities and organisations are united in their grave concern at the lack of availability of specialist community support for child victims of domestic abuse. Even before the pandemic, provision was patchy, sometimes non-existent, and the situation is worsening.
60% of service providers that responded to Women’s Aid Covid-19 survey stated that they needed to reduce or cancel their service offer for children. Another survey from SafeLives stated 42% of frontline domestic abuse services felt that they were not able to effectively support child victims during Covid-19. These statistics speak for themselves; this Government is failing these children.
Domestic abuse was a shameful rot in our communities long before the pandemic. But for some, this period of our history has led to an escalation of abuse and violence in their homes. In the midst of second lockdown, and knowing the barriers to escape, help and support such restrictions bring, Labour implore the government to act urgently and comprehensively. We must learn the lessons of the last 8 months. Lives depend on it.
Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence.