Domestic abuse charities say calls for government support for victims has been met with silence, despite a dramatic surge in demand for their services since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown.
At least 16 women have been killed in the UK as victims of domestic abuse since lockdown began on March 23rd, according to calculations by Counting Dead Women. The site is run by Karen Ingala Smith, and it records the killings of women by men in the UK.
In the same period over the last ten years the average number of women killed in domestic violence situations is five.
Her figures are taken from confirmed deaths in media reports, and has been used by Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, in a remote session with MP's.
Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity reported a 700% increase in traffic to its website in a single day on April 9th as the situations of many worsened.
Overall they have seen a dramatic increase in the weekly average contacts and calls to their helpline of 66% and a 950% increase in web traffic compared to pre Covid-19.
While lockdown rules were altered after campaigning from charities to try and protect domestic abuse victims, allowing them to break lockdown in exceptional circumstances, overwhelmed domestic abuse charities insist more needs to be done.
But when Southall Black Sisters reached out to the government to fund a programme that would rehouse domestic abuse victims, they didn’t get a response.
Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, told The Mirror she was: “Disappointed, very disappointed that the government didn’t respond to that call at all.
“We were so disappointed when hostels and hotels had come forward saying that they were willing to provide bed spaces at very minimal costs just to cover their running costs and the government didn’t respond at that time.
“We eventually managed to get the mayor of London to agree to provide some funding to provide for the hostel scheme in London and it’s practically full.
“What’s particularly concerning for us is that only 20 of those units (70 in total) were made available to migrant women with no recourse to public funds.
“ Boris Johnson was asked by the liaison committee about his strategy around the crisis and one of the questions that was put to him was does he understand the effect no recourse to public funds had on families, and he didn’t have a clue. He didn’t even know what it was.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill had its second reading in May and approaches the committee stage in June but there is concern it doesn’t go nearly far enough, and “completely” excludes migrant women from its reach.
“None of that money is explicitly for no recourse women and they remain one of the most vulnerable groups,” she added.
Rebecca Hitchen, Campaigns Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition mirrored calls for more action, saying:
"The increase in domestic abuse was entirely predictable at the start of this crisis, and why we called for emergency funding for services, for experts to be involved in decision making and a clear strategy from the government.
“Tragically a number of women have been killed by male violence during lockdown and there are many more suffering harm and abuse.
“We know that there is an epidemic of violence against women and girls that exists alongside this COVID-19 pandemic.
“Much more needs to be done to tackle all forms of domestic abuse and sexual violence so that more lives aren't cruelly taken."
When asked why the Home Office responded to Southall Black Sister's plea for funding, a spokesperson said:
“The Home Secretary has prioritised tackling the risk of domestic abuse during the pandemic, including launching the #YouAreNotAlone campaign, announcing a new code word scheme and providing £2 million funding for helplines and online services to support victims.
“£76 million has been announced by the Government to support charities helping the most vulnerable during the pandemic, including victims of domestic abuse. The Government has also committed to reviewing its overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse, including those with no recourse to public funds.”