The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales Dame Vera Baird QC has given evidence to parliament’s Home Affairs Committee during a session examining how the Home Office has responded to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Dame Vera, alongside the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield and Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, appeared via video link to give an assessment the impact the pandemic is having on their relevant sectors and to provide an update and the effect of lock down measures.
She opened by saying it was important to recognise that in order to “save lives in this pandemic we are asking people to stay at home with people who will damage them” a statement which was echoed by Ms Jacobs who described Domestic Abuse and the lockdown as a “deadly combination”.
During the session Dame Vera stressed the importance of innovation while people’s movements are restricted saying “we have a responsibility to ensure we think of everything we can creatively to reach out to a needy public who are in this position to protect us… nationally and locally”.
She suggested replicating a scheme operating in France and Spain where workers in Pharmacies and Supermarkets are trained to offer help or support options for those suffering from abuse can seek help by using a recognised code word or phrase – similar in concept to the “Ask For Angela” campaign.
Or that food retailers consider adding a button on their sites which could alert authorities if some needs assistance but is unable to make contact any other way.
Dame Vera also highlighted the need for a change in the way the £750m the Government pledged to help charities is allocated as the current method risks smaller more specialist charities missing out.
She said: “I am very worried indeed about smaller charities in particular BAME charities, men’s charities, LGBT and those for disabled people because of the way the package of funding is going to be allocated following the Chancellor’s announcement.
“At the moment the Ministry of Justice has sent a note to PCCs [Police and Crime Commissioners] asking them to identify charities who they think might need help from this fund which they already commission.
“But many smaller charities are often not funded by the PCC and so if they just use that method of funding we will miss an enormous number of charities which need to be given urgent help now,” she said.
She went on to call for the Government to ring-fence money specifically for Domestic Abuse charities.
Dame Vera ended the session by proving the committee with a shocking figure saying “Counting Dead Women has got to a total of 16 domestic abuse killings in the last three weeks – we usually say there a two a week – that looks to me like five a week. That is the size of the crisis.”
To which Ms Cooper responded: “That is a very sobering and powerful evidence.”
Speaking afterwards Dame Vera said: “I was grateful for the opportunity to speak to the committee of behalf of victims, and to be able to highlight the very worrying situation that isolation has created for some people.
“Victims may feel trapped, and very much alone at this time, but I want to reassure everyone we are working for you – and help is available if you need it. Not everything has shut down and you are not alone.”
The three commissioners were followed by representative from Refuge, Women’s Aid, the NSPCC, and Imkaan – a women’s organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and minoritised women and girls – who spoke about what they were experiencing as a result of the Coronavirus crisis.
You can watch the session here