The number of people – particularly women – seeking help for domestic violence soared during the coronavirus lockdown. We’ve known that for a while. But there has been an assumption that as lockdown eases, so will the pressure for abuse victims. New figures from the charity Refuge suggest that this assumption is wrong.
In June, the National Domestic Violence Helpline saw a 77 per cent increase in calls, while there was a 54 per cent rise in the number of women needing a place in a refuge from the last week in June to the first week in July.
As I wrote in the magazine in April, charities were worried that even if they were given enough funding to cope with the rise in demand for their services during lockdown (which they weren’t), they wouldn’t be able to cope with their own second wave of cases, as lockdown restrictions eased and victims found it easier to ask for help and flee violent partners. That is where we are now, and there is little sign that the government has recognised the scale of the problem. The additional funding provided by the government during lockdown wasn’t enough to meet the demand for refuge space before the coronavirus crisis hit, let alone after.
This is an odd situation because the government is currently taking its landmark Domestic Abuse Bill through parliament, and you’d therefore expect that there would be plenty of funding around to ensure that the legislative work is matched by resources. You might also expect that ministers would have given greater consideration to abuse when planning lockdown, or indeed to include the Domestic Abuse Commissioner – a post created alongside the Bill – in Cobra meetings on the crisis. None of these things happened.
The government is now trying to move on from lockdown and get Britain moving again so that the economic damage caused by coronavirus doesn’t worsen. All the measures announced so far are also aimed at preventing the second wave of the virus that Boris Johnson fears. There needs to be a similar strategy towards domestic abuse that doesn’t presume that the end of lockdown means the end of a problem.