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MPs battle epidemic of abuse

‘Devastating impact’ is facing C-19 generation if urgent action not taken

SOCIETY will face “devastating consequences for a generation” unless urgent action is taken to tackle rising domestic violence under lockdown, MPs have warned. 

In a report published today calling for a full action plan from the government, the Commons home affairs select committee said that domestic abuse has soared since the coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed last month. 

Over the first three weeks of the lockdown between March 23 and April 12, there were at least 16 killings of women and children in domestic situations, according to campaigning organisation Counting Dead Women. 

And charities have reported a huge rise in calls, up 50 per cent, to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline while victims have been trapped in lockdown with their abusers. 

The MPs’ report said that the cross-party group had received evidence that incidents are not just becoming more frequent but also more complex and serious, with “higher levels of violence and coercive control.” 

Earlier this month Home Secretary Priti Patel launched a public-awareness campaign “highlighting that if anyone is at risk of, or experiencing domestic abuse, help is still available.”

But the MPs insist that ministers need to go much further to turn the tide on domestic violence. 

“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,” they said in the report.

A full action plan must cover supporting front-line services with urgent funding and should be extended beyond the lockdown period, MPs said. 

Housing support and refuge accommodation for women fleeing violent partners must also be made available and capacity increased, the report said. 

Charity Refuge, which gave evidence to the committee, said it especially welcomed this recommendation, as the need for increased funding “has never been greater” after a decade of Tory austerity that has decimated front-line services. 

“All women who need to escape during lockdown and beyond must be assured of a safe place to stay with specialist support,” said Refuge chief executive Sandra Horley. 

“The ‘stay at home’ measures are, of course, a critical part of the government’s strategy to save lives during this crisis; but it is important to look at the implications of those measures when home is not a safe place,” she said.

“For many women, isolating with an abusive partner is a matter of life and death — in a very different way.”

Twenty-three refuges provided by charity Solace Women’s Aid in London were completely full last week, demonstrating the urgent need for more services.

Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: “The emotional, physical and social scars from domestic abuse can last a lifetime. 

“If we don’t act to tackle it now, we will feel the consequences of rising abuse during the coronavirus crisis for many years to come.”

The report follows many calls by charities for greater action from the government to tackle this devastating knock-on effect of the lockdown. Earlier this month Women’s Aid sent a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed by 24 charities, urging him to put the issue at the heart of the coronavirus response. 

The charity warned that the number of domestic-abuse killings was likely to increase, an upsurge that has been seen in other countries. 

Such warnings seem to have materialised, with deaths over the first three weeks of the lockdown averaging at five per week compared with an average of two before. 

New figures from the Metropolitan Police have shown the scale of the problem. The London force reported that officers have made an average of 100 arrests a day for domestic-abuse offences during the lockdown. 

In the six weeks up to April 19, more than 4,000 arrests were made across London, a 24 per cent rise compared with last year. 

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins, said: The government has prioritised those at risk of domestic abuse in this national health emergency.

"This has included a dedicated national campaign to provide practical help to victims, and supporting charities by giving them the funding and the resources they specifically said they needed to help people through this crisis.

“We are taking action across government. Alongside the #youarenotalone campaign, we are increasing funding to boost online services, helplines and technology support at the request of charities, and I am working with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner about how they can use the Government’s £750m fund to further support victims.”

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