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Women locked down with their abusers need refuge

The UK's Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities calls for action for the women who can't stay home

03 Apr 2020

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In ‘normal’ times at least two women a week were killed by a partner or ex-partner. While the country faces this pandemic, we face another crisis. Countrywide it has been reported that cases of domestic violence have risen during the lockdown, with some areas reporting as much as a 21% increase in just two weeks. As social distancing and self-isolation continues without a foreseeable end, we must work with urgency to curb this trend.

The government has various modelling to slow the spread of coronavirus cases, Labour wants to work with the government to address the rise in domestic violence and child abuse. I am calling on the government to introduce immediate emergency measures to combat the increasing levels of abuse linked to the crisis because every day this action is delayed another life is put at risk.

This pandemic, according to the Women’s Budget Group, hits women the hardest economically. Women are more likely to be affected by social distancing measures as they are more likely to be employed in service sectors or on insecure and zero-hour contracts. As such, many find themselves locked in at home with their abuser in highly volatile situations feeling as though they have no choice but to stay put in the current climate.

Although the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has clarified that victims of domestic abuse will be allowed to leave their homes, this comes as little comfort to those that feel they have nowhere to go to. This government has ignored women’s interests for far too long and the last ten years of austerity has affected women’s refuges across the country. Like other public services, this pandemic has thrown the underfunding of refuges into the spotlight – funding for women’s refuges has been cut by 25% since 2010 – with as many as 50 councils receiving no funding at all in this time. We have sadly seen 50% of specialist services closed in London alone and around the country hundreds of women are turned away from refuges because of a shortage of beds. Women’s Aid estimate that funding support in a safe and sustainable national network of refuges requires £173 million annually, a fraction of the £66 billion domestic abuse costs society every year. The government must tackle this.

Last week, Solace launched an emergency appeal to raise £150,000 so that no woman should be ‘forced to choose between domestic abuse and coronavirus’. After all, lockdown measures have been taken to keep people safe, not put them in harm’s way. It cannot and should not be left to overstretched and underfunded charities and refuge centres to fundraise to tackle this crisis. As I said in Parliament on Wednesday, if the Chancellor is true to his word in doing whatever it takes, victims of domestic violence must have a safe place to go. 

The Prime Minister must pledge an immediate injection of funds into refuge centres. The government must introduce emergency measures to deal with the rising cases, which should include a public national TV, radio and print campaign to raise awareness. This should include new safe and discrete ways to raise the alarm just as they have in France where you can now report abuse in pharmacies

Victims of domestic abuse will be allowed to leave their homes, but this comes as little comfort to those that feel they have nowhere to go to

Dawn Butler

Refuge centres must be properly funded, the police need to be adequately resourced, and access to specialist services should be available round the clock for those suffering.

The government must also give assurances that equality impact assessments will be carried out at three-monthly intervals and guarantee transparency of reporting around the adverse impact coronavirus is having on individuals protected under the Equality Act.

The simple fact is the government should have been more responsive at an earlier stage, learning lessons from international reports showing the correlation between rising domestic violence cases and Covid-19. Women’s lives are in danger and it can’t be left to cash-strapped refuges and charities alone to support them.

There’s no justifiable excuse not to act. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to give due regard to reduce inequalities or prioritise women’s lives.