1.1. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically-led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.
1.2. Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.
2.1. Domestic abuse is a horrendous crime, which can have a long-term and devastating impact on families and particularly children. It can take the form of psychological, physical, sexual, emotional or economic abuse, and occur in a wide range of domestic settings.
2.2. The coronavirus outbreak is a particularly worrying time for victims of domestic abuse. In particular, the social-distancing measures required could have a serious effect on domestic abuse victims and expose them to those perpetrating the crime.
2.3. The isolation of families could exacerbate domestic abuse, as victims of abuse will have to remain in the home with perpetrators. It is vitally important this is recognised, and we do everything possible to help tackle domestic abuse.
2.4. Many councils are working closely with their partners in the police, health services and wider domestic abuse sector, to reassure people at risk and provide support and guidance. For example, some good case studies include Devon and Cornwall, Southwark and other London boroughs, St Helens, Sutton, Middlesbrough and South Yorkshire Police.
2.5. We welcome the Government’s campaign #YouAreNotAlone which helps to provide consistent messaging across the entire domestic abuse sector, including national and local government, the police and healthcare services to emphasise that, regardless of the coronavirus restrictions, help is available for domestic abuse victims and the police will respond to any emergency calls.
2.6. The Government’s announcement that an additional £2 million will be provided to immediately bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support, is also positive. Detail of how this funding will be distributed to support the sector will be critical. It was also be vital that the funding made available for domestic abuse services matches and keeps pace with the level of need identified by the wider domestic abuse sector.
2.7. We will continue to work closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the wider domestic abuse sector and partners to help tackle this important issue.
3.1. The LGA was concerned that the social-distancing measures required to prevent the spread of coronavirus would have a serious effect on domestic abuse victims and perpetrators, with the isolation of families exacerbating domestic abuse as victims of abuse were required to remain in the home with perpetrators.
3.2. We know that other countries that are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak have reported an increase in domestic abuse cases.
3.3. Sadly, this has been borne out in the UK too, with the UK National Helpline reporting a 25 per cent uplift in people calling the helpline since lockdown measures began.
3.4. Some domestic abuse victims may feel it is not safe to reach out for support, for example by calling the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, as they are living with the perpetrator in the home. This is demonstrated by the fact that alongside the uplift in calls to the helpline, domestic abuse services have seen a significant uplift in the use of their online services and webforum support services.
3.5. There will also be an impact on refuges and emergency accommodation, due to those having to social distance/self-isolate if they are presenting symptoms. Government guidance has been provided to help refuges continue to remain open for domestic abuse victims, but the sector has highlighted the need for additional support and resource.
3.6. It is important to highlight that domestic abuse is a hidden crime, so the uplift in calls to the National Helpline or the police will only be part of the picture. Sometimes domestic abuse victims will not disclose their experiences of abuse to the police, and will choose to turn to friends, family or colleagues. They may feel it is more difficult to reach out to these support networks during the COVID-19 outbreak, so there will be a significant number of disclosures not being made.
3.7. On average domestic abuse victims experience 50 incidents of abuse before getting effective help, so it is vitally important all agencies are working together to reassure domestic abuse victims they can reach out for help and support.
3.8. We are also receiving reports from councils that referrals to children’s social care have fallen since ‘stay at home’ guidance was issued. Councils receive, on average, almost 1800 referrals per day,[i] and anecdotal evidence suggests that referrals have fallen by more than half in some areas. This raises concerns that, without the regular oversight of professionals in schools or medical settings for example, some children may be at risk of abuse or neglect in the home that cannot currently be picked up in the normal ways.
4.1. There needs to be consistent messaging across the entire domestic abuse sector, including national and local government, the police and healthcare services to emphasise that, regardless of the coronavirus restrictions, help is available for domestic abuse victims and the police will respond to any emergency calls.
4.2. We have therefore welcomed the Government’s new public awareness raising campaign, under the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, which aims to reassure those affected by domestic abuse that support services remain available.
4.3. Agencies need help to raise awareness of the domestic abuse support services available. It is also welcome that the Home Office is working with charities and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to provide an additional £2 million to immediately bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support, and that the Chancellor confirmed that some of the allocated £750 million to support the charity sector through the coronavirus crisis will be available to charities supporting victims of domestic abuse. Detail of how this funding will be distributed to support the sector will be critical.
4.4. We need to ensure that children know they can reach out for help if they are living in abusive households. Any frontline professionals working with vulnerable children or speaking with them on a regular basis will be assessing risk within the home and taking appropriate action. Similarly, where professionals such as the police are working with a family experiencing domestic abuse, risk assessments should be taking place to establish whether it is safe and appropriate for any children to remain in the household.
4.5. It is also important during this time that consideration is given to ensuring those who may have contact with families, including neighbours and volunteers, know the signs of abuse or neglect and understand how to report concerns. The #TackleAbuseTogether hashtag has been used to share information on social media about this, including from the Department for Education and local authorities.
4.6. Employers can help support domestic abuse victims as well. The Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse has put together a helpful toolkit for employers to help support domestic abuse victims during the COVID-19 outbreak, which is available on their website. This should be shared widely.
4.7. We want to be encouraging friends, family and neighbours to reach out to the National Helpline if they are concerned about anyone’s welfare or, in an emergency, to call the police.
4.8. We should all promote the Bright Sky app by Hestia which provides support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know.
4.9. It’s important that support services are accessible for all domestic abuse victims. Some people may not have access to the internet or to social media, they may require translation services, or have other accessibility requirements. Funding for specialist support services will be vitally important.
4.10. We need to call on the Government to support domestic abuse services and continue to raise awareness about this important issue.
5.1. It is important that we target perpetrators to prevent their abusive behaviour from escalating. The Respect campaign #NoExcuseforAbuse helps perpetrators recognise their behaviour has become abusive and asks them to call the helpline and reach out for support.
5.2. We need continued strong partnership working between the police, health, housing, local government, the voluntary and community sector and the Government to help support domestic abuse victims – and tackle abusive behaviour.
5.3. This includes good information-sharing between agencies and comprehensive data collection: monitoring the number of calls to the police and the national helpline, as well as local services.
5.4. Multi-agency safeguarding arrangements are also considering local arrangements for protecting children at this time, ensuring that the key safeguarding partners (councils, police and health) and other agencies, including schools, are prioritising resources and amending their activity to keep children safe.
5.5. It has been positive to see the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) sharing resources through its coronavirus bulletins on tackling domestic abuse and child abuse.
6.1. Alongside the national campaign #YouAreNotAlone, councils and their partners have been raising awareness of the local domestic abuse services available. Local authorities have been working with the police and the wider domestic abuse sector to ensure domestic abuse victims are reassured they can reach out for help and it will be available. It would also be helpful if police services could support further signposting and widely publicise how a victim of domestic violence can obtain their help, for example, that an individual can call 999 and press 55 once connected to obtain assistance without the need to speak
6.2. Whilst a lot of community support is continuing, some services have needed to adjust how they deliver programmes. For example, some perpetrator programmes that normally provide one-to-one training sessions now have to be delivered over the phone or via videolink.
6.3. We understand the refuge and emergency accommodation sector is also having to adjust to the new social-distancing/self-isolating measures as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. As a range of vital facilities such as bathrooms and kitchens are communal areas, this has presented some challenges for residents who are presenting symptoms and who are required to self-isolate.
6.4. The LGA will continue to work closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the MHCLG, and the wider domestic abuse sector and partners to help tackle this important issue.
6.5. Councils have reported significant issues in accessing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for children’s social workers, which can make home visits and responding to the needs of victims challenging. For example, one council reported a case in which a social worker went into a home to remove a young child at risk without any PPE. The parents were spitting at them claiming they had COVID-19. The accompanying police were in full PPE as were the A&E staff that received the child. While the social worker continued with their job and ensured the child was safe, we are concerned that experiences such as this suggest an undervaluing of the workforce and risk their resilience.
7.1. It is positive the Government has published guidance and advice, as well as funding and support for domestic abuse charities and providers. Over the coming weeks, all agencies will need to work together to ensure support is available for domestic abuse victims and they feel able to come forward and seek help.
7.2. Other countries have highlighted concerns about the increase in domestic abuse during the coronavirus outbreak. It would be useful to learn from these international examples to see if there’s any further provision that could be put in place or examples of best practice we can learn from.