While millions of people are doing the right thing and following the instructions to stay at home, for those trapped in relationships with violent and abusive partners home is simply not a safe place.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, many women and girls were sadly victims of domestic abuse in our country. There is a genuine concern that these devastating crimes, which generally happen behind closed doors, will rise over the coming days, weeks and months as a result of the social distancing restrictions in place.
We must act to support vulnerable victims now, so they don’t have to suffer in silence at home. That’s why I have written to the home secretary, Priti Patel, calling for urgent government action to ensure everything possible is done to prepare for an increase in cases ensure additional support for victims and survivors is available.
Thankfully, we have not yet seen an increase in reports of domestic abuse in London, but evidence from other countries shows there has been at least a 30 per cent rise in incidents while restrictions have been in place. There are already reports from police forces elsewhere in the UK suggesting they are experiencing increased calls relating to domestic abuse. We must act now.
Helplines set up by charities and frontline services supporting victims of violence against women and girls have told me that demand on them is increasing. It’s vital that the government takes urgent action to address this issue, and that ministers to do everything in their power to provide help to victims and to the critical frontline services and staff that are providing crisis support.
At the same time, dangerous offenders need to be brought swiftly to justice – this pandemic cannot provide cover to perpetrators of serious violence. Ministers must put in place a coordinated response to ensure domestic abuse organisations receive the support they need to maintain services throughout this crisis, and that victims are reassured that fleeing abuse is an acceptable reason to be out of the home.
I have asked the home secretary to urgently convene a national working group comprising police, service providers, funders and other government departments, to urgently introduce extra support for victims of domestic abuse and an approach which works for the current crisis. While the £1.6bn the government has committed to local authorities is welcome, this is being variously described as support for rough sleeping, social care, child protection and domestic abuse. I’m seriously concerned that only a tiny fraction of this fund has been allocated to directly supporting victims of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls services.
I‘m especially concerned about survivors of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds and who will now face additional challenges to fleeing abuse and seeking out support. Victims, who are also some of the most vulnerable people in our society, often have a long wait for help. This can’t continue. I’m pushing the Government to remove the condition.
We are taking action already in London. We’re working with partners so that those who are subjected to abuse have safe options of support and a way to access secure accommodation. I’ve invested £1m from City Hall to the London Community Response Fund to create an ‘easy to access’ process for organisations across the capital to receive emergency financial support.
But we can’t do this alone – we need the government to do the right thing now and make financial support accessible to these most vulnerable clients and their dependents. Ministers must do all they can to protect victims and ensure that we have zero tolerance to domestic abuse during this crisis.
The freephone, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247
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