Since the UK lockdown was announced government messages have told us that if we are at home, we are safe. This is far from the truth for so many women and children suffering at the hands of domestic abuse. The nature of isolation has given abusers the tools to exercise and to excuse coercive and controlling behaviours. Consequently, it is harder for survivors of abuse to reach out and get help during this time.
Women’s Aid has reported an increased demand for their Live Chat service, with a rise of 41 per cent in contacts. To gauge the extent to which coronavirus has disrupted access to these vital support services, Women’s Aid surveyed 45 local womens’ refuges, outreach services and helplines. Worryingly, 84 per cent of these services said they had to reduce or cancel one or more services, and over one third of refuge providers said they have had to reduce or cancel refuge services. Just under 70 per cent said they were concerned about future loss of income and fundraising, and 67 per cent said they feared increased demand going forward.
Suzanne Jacob, Chief Executive of Safe Lives Charity, criticised the Chancellor of Exchequer, Rishi Sunak on his £750m pledge in emergency funding for charities. She said:
“The worry is a very tiny amount will be going to lots of different places and there will be nowhere near enough to provide for life-saving domestic abuse services.”
On 11th March, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced an extra £2 million to aid online support services and helplines for domestic abuse. However, in an official statement from the Women’s Aid press office, it has been stipulated this amount does not go far enough.
“It is still not clear how our national network of domestic abuse services, who deliver life-saving refuges and a range of other community based support, will benefit from the Chancellor’s announcement earlier this week. We are calling for an immediate cash injection of at least £48+ million to ensure domestic abuse services, who face increased costs from working remotely and tackling staff shortages, can cope with COVID-19. Funding must be delivered simply and fairly to services, without a lengthy and bureaucratic process that will exclude smaller services who lack the resources to apply.”
The effects of underfunding and cuts to domestic support services over the decade have been exacerbated during this crisis. To this point, local authority spending on refuges has been cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017, forcing several to close their doors to what is a safe haven for so many women and children. Now is the time for the government to step up to the mark on domestic abuse support and ensure these crucial services are continually funded.
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