Home Affairs Select Committee issues direct call on Government to act now on VAWG to prevent “devastating consequences”

The Government response must match the scale of the crisis and the accompanying surge in domestic abuse says Select Committee Report

Today (27 April 2020) the Home Affairs Select Committee have published their report on “Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus): domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home”. The report is drawn from written and oral evidence from the Violence Against Women & Girls sector, and many of our members have contributed.

Sarah Green, Director of End violence Against Women Coalition says:

“We were heartened by the clear, and numerous, recommendations included in the report – many of which we have previously called for. This report sets out a direct call on the government to act. Not only does the Committee set out the desperate situation faced by individual victims, as well as specialist support services, it lists a number of tangible actions our government must implement to help prevent abuse and increase the safety of women and girls.

“To ignore these recommendations would be actively choosing to run the risk of further murders, suicides, and long term harm of women and girls. We have spoken of the secondary abuse disaster that we face alongside this COVID-19 crisis, a pandemic that serves to emphasise inequalities and hit those most marginalised the hardest.

“This is why we we welcome the emphasis on the need to abolish No Recourse to Public Funds for survivors, to ringfence funding for specialist BME services, as well as the recommendation of how the government must go further in implementing a full cross-Government strategy on domestic abuse to cover both the period of lockdown and the period immediately after lockdown, when need for support is also likely to be acute.”

As the Report itself states:

“ Without strong action to tackle domestic abuse and support victims during the Covid-19 pandemic, society will be dealing with the devastating consequences for a generation.”

Read the Full Report, with its 24 recommendations here.

Summary of Key recommendations:

CROSS GOVERNMENT STRATEGY

  • The Government needs to set out a full Covid-19 cross-Government strategy on domestic abuse to cover both the period of lockdown and the period immediately after lockdown, when need for support is also likely to be acute. A formal cross-Government working group must be established. The strategy should include steps on ensuring access to information and support; outreach and prevention; funding for support services, including specialist and BAME services; provision of housing and refuge accommodation; and a criminal justice response.

FUNDING

  •  Support services for domestic abuse and vulnerable children need urgent and direct funding support.  The Government should provide an emergency funding package that recognises the needs of, and is accessible to, both generic providers and those small, specialist, targeted services which are best equipped to help individuals from protected, vulnerable or minority groups, and people with additional needs. We would encourage the Government to consider whether the Tampon Tax might contribute to this support in the short term.

  •  The Government should provide a ring-fenced allocation within the promised £750m fund for charities to cover organisations supporting people at risk of abuse, including children. It should also confirm the arrangements for timely, fair and equitable distribution of this fund. We call on the Government to guarantee that all services will be able to apply for funding, regardless of size and whether or not they have an existing relationship with the Government, a local authority or PCC; that the application process will be simple; and that decisions will be made quickly.

NO RECOURSE TO PUBLIC FUNDS

  • It is vital that BME and specialist services get the funding they need at this time, and any individual with No Recourse to Public Funds status should, following referral from a domestic abuse service, be entitled to access state support during the coronavirus crisis, regardless of their immigration status. We will look further at issues relating to NRPF status in our future work.

PUBLIC MESSAGING

  • Clearer messaging within COVID-19 campaigns on how domestic abuse or the risk of abuse constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave home while lockdown measures are in place. The messages should be communicated widely and inclusively, in multiple languages and formats including easy read and British Sign Language. The campaign should also include a child facing element.

  • The progress which has already been made towards a Safe Spaces model to offer help through pharmacies was welcomed. The Government should sponsor a scheme enabling victims of abuse to contact support services through supermarkets and other retailers too. It is essential to act creatively, both nationally and locally, to find new ways to offer access to support during lockdown and to share, encourage and spread effective initiatives.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

  • The police, Crown Prosecution Service and Courts need to work together to ensure that Domestic Violence Prevention Order cases are heard swiftly. Local authorities need to ensure that their domestic abuse action plans include provision for alternative temporary accommodation for perpetrators if that is needed to apply DVPOs and keep victims safe.

  • The Government should ensure that legal aid is granted automatically to domestic abuse victims in respect of any application for protection during the lockdown.

ACCOMODATION

  • Clear Government leadership should be brought to the task of securing hotel and hostel accommodation for victims in all parts of the country, as national coordination is needed to meet the scale and urgency of the challenge, and so that anyone needing to leave their home during lockdown because of abuse can be guaranteed a safe place to stay. The Government must also ensure that the existing network of refuges remains sustainable for the long term by providing ring-fenced support for the additional costs, and loss of income, incurred by these services as a result of coronavirus.

  • Government funding for support services and refuge accommodation must include specialist provision and must ensure that BME services can continue and expand to meet any increased need.

  •  We recommend that priority need for settled accommodation is extended to survivors of domestic abuse.

CHILDREN

  •  Children’s direct experience of domestic abuse should be recognised in the definition of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Bill.

  • Children’s support services need to be maintained during the Covid-19 crisis.

  • In order to safeguard the most vulnerable children, face to face contact remains the most effective approach. The coronavirus crisis has created new challenges in doing that and therefore we would urge local authorities, schools, police and other professionals involved in child welfare to work collaboratively, to find smarter ways to enable face to face contact to happen

  • We are concerned about the numbers of vulnerable children who would be eligible for school places who have not taken up places. Contact should be made to assess whether additional support is needed at home and whether vulnerable children not in school are safe at home. Funding, additional staff and PPE should be supplied to these services to facilitate swift progress with home visits. Leadership is also required from Government to continue the development and clarification of guidance for local authorities and social services on contact with families in crisis outside school.

 

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