Dame Vera says focus must be kept on those put at risk by COVID-19 lockdown

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, has welcomed new measures aimed at helping those suffering, or at risk of, Domestic Abuse announced today by the Home Secretary – but has urged they should represent the start of a comprehensive support package.

This afternoon (11 April) the Home Secretary Priti Patel led the Government’s daily news briefing, alongside Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Stephen Powis, Medical Director of NHS England.

During the press conference Ms Patel detailed the changes in the types of crime police have recorded since the lockdown began highlighting that while overall crime has dropped by 21 per cent the situation had “amplified” danger for others and calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 120 per cent over one 24-hour period last week.

She announced a number of measures the Government is introducing to help those suffering from Domestic Abuse which included:

  • £2m for help lines and online service to support victims;
  • Plans to look at sourcing alternative accommodation for victims who may need to leave their homes; and,
  • A new publicity campaign aimed at raising awareness and reassuring those who may be isolated as a result of abuse that help and support is available.

Responding to the move Dame Vera said: “I welcome the acknowledgement that the lockdown is creating a situation of increased risk for those who are experiencing Domestic Abuse and that for many their home is not the safe-haven it should be.

“The measures the Home Secretary has announced are certainly a start, but we must maintain focus on – and funding for – this vitally important issue,” she said.

Dame Vera believes the launch of a publicity campaign is a “positive” move as it would help raise awareness but she wants the practical measures to go further saying: “I would like to see this extended to offer other initiatives which will enable victims to discreetly make others aware of their situation in locations still accessible, such as supermarkets or pharmacies similar to schemes in other European countries.”

Dame Vera continued: “I am also pleased specific money has been earmarked to support helplines and online services as well as provision of electronic equipment so crucial in keeping them running. But it has to be recognised the helplines are first part of a chain of interlinked support services which help victims suffering abuse – these need support too.”

Responding to Ms Patel’s assurance the Home Office was looking at ways to provide alternative emergency accommodation for those victims who have to leave their homes, Dame Vera said: “I was impressed with the speed at which the Government moved to house homeless people to protect them; this can and should be replicated as a matter of urgency for those people suffering abuse at home who need a safe space to leave.”

As well as discussing domestic abuse the Home Secretary also mentioned the increase in online child sexual abuse, and the reported rise in fraud cases.

She also referenced the £750m that the Chancellor made available to charities last week but gave no further detail about how it would be allocated.

Dame Vera continued: “It is looking increasingly likely the lockdown will be extended which mean thousands of people will remain at increased risk.

“Together with my colleagues in the charity sector, I will continue to work to ensure they are given the help and support they need while this epidemic continues,” she concluded.