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We need targeted measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill to improve support for survivors through the coronavirus crisis and beyond

Reports this week indicate that calls to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse helpline increased almost 50%, writes Christine Jardine MP. | PA Images

4 min read

The Covid-19 crisis has added incredible urgency to the issue of tackling domestic abuse. The priority right now must be to ensure anyone who finds themselves at risk of harm can get help.

Stay home, stay safe seems like the perfect message in this Covid-19 crisis. But for too many people home is far from safe, and lockdown brings an additional threat rather than offering security. And the escalation in domestic abuse we are seeing as a result presents us with another national emergency which demands an immediate response.

Reports this week indicate that calls to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse helpline increased almost 50 per cent, whilst traffic to the National Abuse Helpline website shot up 150 per cent through the crisis. Tragically, the number of women and children killed in the first three weeks of lockdown stands at 16 – the highest figure for this period in over a decade.

The need to act could not be more pressing. Every life lost represents a catastrophic failure.

Earlier this month, I was joined by MPs across the political spectrum in writing to the Home Secretary to demand immediate action to improve support for survivors of domestic abuse through this crisis.

We called on the Government to pay for empty hotels to be opened to those at risk. 

We sought guarantees that local authorities have access to ring-fenced funding to ensure existing refuges and support services stay open.

We asked the Government to make clear that the “stay at home” rule should be disapplied for those at risk of abuse.

These asks have not changed. Some progress has been made – for example, many hotels have opened their doors to survivors – but support measures remain piecemeal and something of a postcode lottery.

We must continue to do everything in our power to protect those at risk of abuse and to make sure people know where to go for help, both through the current crisis and in the longer term.

Today the Government is at last moving forward with the long-overdue Domestic Abuse Bill – first promised three years ago. Liberal Democrats will play our part to bring this badly needed legislation into law as soon as possible, but we will also strive to ensure that the legislation is as robust as possible when it comes to protecting survivors.  

In 2012 the UK signed up to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence or “Istanbul Convention”, setting out minimum standards for support for survivors of abuse. Eight years on, this has still not been enshrined in UK law.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is a step forward in paving the way for ratification, but we must keep up pressure to make sure that the Government delivers on this promise.

Ratification of the Convention is just the beginning. To meet its terms, we need to see targeted measures in the Bill to guarantee support for everyone directly and indirectly impacted by abuse, not least children and young people. We are calling on the Government to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to explicitly recognise the trauma suffered by children who witness domestic abuse at home.

By the same token, we will continue to press the Government to provide the £195 million needed to expand the number of Rape Crisis centres in the UK to 150. This will be essential if we are to make sure everyone can access the support that should be theirs by right. We cannot afford for people to slip through the cracks.

We are also demanding specific protections for migrant women, to ensure fears over immigration status are not a barrier to reporting violence or seeking sanctuary. We need to see a firewall between the police and the Home Office, so that survivors who report abuse do not have to fear that their personal information will be used for immigration enforcement purposes. Migrant women must also be able to access to the lifelines provided by publicly funded shelters, rape crisis centres and other support services. It is vital that no one is deemed ‘ineligible’ and turned away.

The Covid-19 crisis has added incredible urgency to the issue of tackling domestic abuse. The priority right now must be to ensure anyone who finds themselves at risk of harm can get help.

Looking to the future, the Domestic Abuse Bill offers an opportunity to dramatically improve how we support survivors. We must ensure that we grab this opportunity with both hands to guarantee justice and support for all those affected by this terrible crime.


Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West and Liberal Democract spokesperson for home affairs. 

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