UK

Coronavirus: Government pledges £76m for abuse victims

Stock photo of injured woman defending herself (Picture posed by model) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There is evidence of rising violence during the lockdown (picture posed by model)

The government has pledged to spend £76m to support vulnerable people who are "trapped in a nightmare" at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the new funding would help vulnerable children and victims of domestic violence and modern slavery.

He also announced the launch of a taskforce which will aim to support rough sleepers after the lockdown.

More than 105,000 coronavirus tests were provided on Friday.

The total number of reported coronavirus-related deaths in the UK now stands at 28,131 - an increase of 621 on Friday's figure.

The funding package will help community-based services that work with victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and modern slavery, as well as vulnerable children, in England and Wales.

This includes the recruitment of additional counsellors for victims of sexual violence.

It will also go towards the provision of safe accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse and their children, and further support for vulnerable children, in England.

There has been a "surge" in violence in the weeks since the lockdown was introduced, a report by MPs said.

It found there has been a rise in killings, while the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge are up 50% after three weeks.

Speaking during the government's daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Jenrick said: "For some in our society these [lockdown] measures involve sacrifices that none of us would wish anyone to bear."

He stressed that victims will not be breaking the law if they need to seek help outside the home during lockdown.

The domestic abuse charity Refuge said it was "pleased" with the government's announcement.

Chief executive Sandra Horley said the previous housing requirements "risked women having to make an unthinkable decision - to stay with an abusive partner or risk homelessness".

She added that the package "will help to plug some of the gaps left by a decade of austerity cuts".

Sally Field, chairwoman of Woman's Trust, said she welcomed the announcement "somewhat cautiously" because it is not clear how charities will access the funds.

Women were being turned away from refuges even before the lockdown, she added, and the sector needs "long-term sustainable funding" in order to provide safe accommodation.

She added that she expects an "exponential increase in calls for help" after lockdown because victims are unable to reach out for help while they are at home.

Image caption Mr Jenrick said that, as a father of three girls, he "cannot even imagine women and young children being put in this situation"

Mr Jenrick also said that 90% of rough sleepers known to councils have been offered accommodation and that the government is "determined that as few people as possible return to life on the streets" after the outbreak.

Dame Louise Casey, who is already leading a review of rough sleeping, is to oversee an effort to ensure rough sleepers have safe accommodation while self-isolating, and to work with councils on the provision of long-term support.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said he was "delighted" to see ministers "seize the opportunity" to make sure those helped during the pandemic do not return to rough sleeping.

"We look forward to working closely with the task force to provide as many people as possible with a home of their own," he said.

'Appalling abuse'

Earlier, Harry Potter author JK Rowling announced she is donating £500,000 to Crisis and £500,000 to Refuge, which supports victims of domestic abuse.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption JK Rowling said too many people were losing loved ones

The £76m funding pledge comes days after MPs debated the Domestic Abuse Bill in Parliament.

The bill brings in new protections for victims and proposes the first government definition of domestic abuse in England and Wales, including financial abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour.

On Tuesday, the government announced it would spend £3.1 million on services supporting children who witness "appalling abuse" at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

But Labour said this fell "woefully short" of what was needed and proposed amendments to the bill that would see 10% of the £750 million charity support package announced last month ring-fenced in a fast-track fund for domestic abuse charities.

MPs also said the bill must do more to ensure that there is adequate accommodation for victims who flee their homes. Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott called on the government to house them in vacant hotel rooms during the lockdown until decent alternatives could be found.

During Saturday's briefing, Mr Jenrick said the government will "work with refuges to make this option available to them" where necessary.

  • For more information on organisations that can help if you are experiencing domestic abuse, visit BBC Action Line.

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