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Domestic violence support services need urgent emergency funding amid “alarming” signs of a rise in abuse during the coronavirus lockdown, MPs have said.
The Commons home affairs committee warned that without urgent action “we will be dealing with serious consequences for a generation”.
Calls to Refuge increased by 49% in the week leading up to April 15 compared to the average prior to the pandemic, the committee found.
And visits to the charity’s website trebled in March compared with the same month last year in a worrying sign that the lockdown could be trapping victims and leading to more abuse.
The Men’s Advice Line meanwhile saw a 16.6% increase in calls and research by Counting Dead Women has calculated that at least 16 domestic abuse killings took place between March 23 and April 12, double that of an average 21 day period in the previous decade.
Committee chair Yvette Cooper 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.”
Any action plan should include funding for support services, measures to improve outreach and prevention, a boost in housing and refuge accommodation and proposals for a criminal justice response, the MPs said.
Support services now need “urgent and direct funding” as part of the £750m of support chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined for charities or victims will be put at greater risk of harm, the MPs said.
Home secretary Priti Patel was also asked to sponsor the expansion to supermarkets and other retailers of the safe spaces scheme which offers help through pharmacies for victims who are unable to use the phone at home or talk to friends.
Councils meanwhile should be proactive in visiting families and households where there have been domestic abuse incidents in the past or where there are vulnerable children.
Local authorities, schools, police and other child welfare professionals should work together to find “smarter” ways to enable face to face contact.
“Things are particularly hard for vulnerable children,” Cooper said.
“We can’t abandon them in the middle of this crisis.”
The six-month time limit on reporting some offences common with domestic abuse, such as harassment, assault and battery should be extended to help victims who may be unable to raise their abuse with the authorities during the lockdown, the MPs said.
Local authorities meanwhile need to ensure there is adequate alternative temporary accommodation, with police struggling to secure domestic violence protection orders that prevent an abuser from returning home or having contact with a victim for up to 28 days due to the requirement to provide an alternative address.
The committee also called for “clear government leadership” on securing hotel and hostel accommodation for victims and ringfenced support for refugees and services for additional costs and loss of income related to coronavirus.
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
- The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership by Women’s Aid and Refuge): 0808 2000 247
- In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
- In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
- Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321