Caroline Pidgeon writes: When home is a place of danger

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There is a very long list of people who are struggling at the moment due to the impact of coronavirus and measures in place to slow its spread, in addition to the many people who are suffering directly from the virus itself.

That list stretches from self-employed people who are worried about how they will pay their household bills in the weeks ahead through to people sleeping rough every night in our town and city centres.  We are now facing a situation where some foodbanks are struggling to cope and many local and national charities are worried about how they can even continue to maintain their core services, due to the severe hit they are now taking in fundraising activity.

Of course almost everyone is now facing new working arrangements and many (myself included) the challenges of home schooling. Facing long queues and shortages at our supermarkets is a new experience for households across the country.

However let’s be honest with ourselves.

While these are worrying times for everyone, there is a chasm between being inconvenienced and facing changes in your daily routine and the real suffering being faced by specific sections of our communities.

And there is one group in particular that should not be overlooked at present, and that is victims of domestic violence.

For many people home can be a place of real danger, rather than a place of safety.

There are no reliable prevalence data on domestic abuse but the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) probably offers the best data available. An estimated 7.9% (1.3 million women) face some form of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018, and an estimated 28.9% (4.8 million) of women aged 16 to 59 years have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16 years.  And these are figures for just England and Wales.  Violence against men is also a reality that should not be overlooked.

Think hard about these statistics and just imagine what it is like for someone in a violent relationship who is now restricted from leaving the home.  They could easily be your direct neighbours.  Almost certainly there is someone in this situation just a stone’s throw away from your home.

At the last Mayor’s Question Time, immediately before the lockdown started, I raised this issue with Sadiq Khan and to his credit he at least recognised the size of the problem facing the capital.

Sadly some of the worst fears about the rise in domestic violence have already turned out to be true as the Guardian has reported this week.

The national domestic abuse helpline, run by the charity Refuge, has reported a 65% increase in calls last Saturday compared with the same day the previous week. Traffic to its website and use of web chat facilities have increased as well. Smaller helplines focused on family courts and male victims of violence have also reported increased calls.   These trends will almost certainly continue.

The evidence of rising domestic violence is not just restricted to the UK.   In France its Interior Minister is reporting a 30% increase in domestic violence since the country went into lockdown on the 17th March.

So what can be done?

Well to start with, at a national level we need a significant and immediate increase in funding for support services for victims of domestic violence.   Local authorities have always struggled to provide adequate services, so any initiative to quickly tackle the rising problem must come from central government.

We should also learn from France and seriously consider offering victims of domestic violence hotel places.  Most hotels are empty at the moment and many refuges are already seriously crowded.  It is a practical initiative that could provide the immediate support just at a time when it is most needed.

Of course domestic violence will not go away when we turn the tide of coronavirus and the real challenge is to ensure we have proper support services all year round and that domestic violence is effectively challenged.

But in the meantime we must do what we can to tackle this increasing level of violence and even deaths.  Actions must be taken now.

Finally if you are a victim of domestic violence, or know someone who is, I hope this link with details of organisations and helplines for victims of domestic abuse is useful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Caroline Pidgeon is the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

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