Covid-19: Rape and domestic abuse support services to get extra £40m

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An extra £40m of government funding has been announced for support services helping victims of rape and domestic abuse in England and Wales.

Ministers say the money will allow more staff to be recruited, the expansion of helplines and remote counselling.

But charity Refuge called it another "short-term pot of funding" and said a more long-term approach was needed.

Domestic abuse has increased across the UK and the world during the coronavirus lockdowns, organisations have reported.

The United Nations called the global increase in domestic abuse a "shadow pandemic". In the UK, charities say there has been a surge in demand for services, while police forces have also recorded a rise in incidents.

Earlier this month, the UK's domestic abuse commissioner - whose role was set up last year - warned that demand for services was only going to increase further.

media captionCoronavirus: Domestic abuse - ‘You’re with each other 24/7'

The Ministry of Justice said the £40m - which will be available from April - includes:

  • £20.7m for local sexual violence and domestic abuse services, in a bid to cut the amount of time survivors have to wait for support
  • £16m to recruit about 400 more independent advisers. These provide emotional and practical support for victims, as well as guidance through the criminal justice process, the government said
  • £2m for smaller organisations that specialise in helping victims from black and minority ethnic communities, the LGBTQ+ community, or victims who are disabled
  • £1.3m for remote services, including £800,000 for a digital tool that helps victims apply for emergency protection from the courts

The government said local services that are male-specific will see their funding increase by 60%, after a "significant increase in demand for support from men and boys".

It has also launched a new advertising campaign called #ItStillMatters to raise awareness of how victims of sexual violence know where to get help.

image copyrightMOJ
image captionThe advertising campaign is aimed at victims of sexual violence

"For many victims this pandemic has been an inescapable nightmare in which they often feel trapped and at greater risk of harm," said justice minister Alex Chalk.

"Their protection remains an absolute priority and this funding, backed by our new campaign, should mean no victim is left to suffer alone."

The government also encouraged people to take part in a national survey about violence against women and girls.

Responding to the announcement, charity Refuge said it hopes to use some of the £40m to pay for its independent advocates who help victims. Demand for these services is expected to increase as courts work to clear the backlog of cases, it said.

"Never before have so many survivors of domestic and sexual abuse come forward for support than during the Covid-19 crisis," said Tracy Blackwell, from the charity.

But she added: "However, this is another short-term pot of funding which cannot meet the urgent need for a sustainable funding strategy which provides for all specialist services - including Refuge's National Domestic Abuse Helpline which needs additional long-term funding to deal with increased demand."

Meanwhile the Local Government Association, which represents local councils, welcomed the funding and said councils had previously called for extra help.

media captionAsk for Ani: Government minister explains new scheme

The number of domestic abuse offences recorded by police in England and Wales has increased during the pandemic, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest.

But the ONS said such offences gradually rose in recent years so it cannot be determined if it was related to the pandemic.

For information and support on domestic abuse, contact:

  • Police: 999 press 55 when prompted if you can't speak
  • Refuge UK-wide 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
  • Welsh Women's Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
  • Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriages 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414
  • Men's Advice Line 0808 801 0327

Online webchats and text services are also available.

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