Covid: 'Growing demand' for domestic abuse services in England

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Demand for domestic abuse services is likely to increase further as England heads into another lockdown, a government watchdog has warned.

Domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs fears refuges and other services - which are often run by charities - may run short of cash.

She is calling on the government to guarantee funding for the organisations as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill.

The current "stay at home" rules do not apply to people fleeing domestic abuse.

The government did increase funding for domestic abuse services during the first national lockdown last year amid concern over a big rise in violence in the home.

But Ms Jacobs said long-term funding for services remained "precarious" and "varies from area to area".

She added: "Demands on these services will only increase. These are lean operations with everyone working at full speed."

One in five offences - more than a quarter of a million - recorded by police during and immediately after the first lockdown in England and Wales involved domestic abuse, according to the Office for National Statistics.

What is in the Domestic Abuse Bill?

  • Better protection for those fleeing violence, with a new legal duty on councils to provide secure homes for them and their children
  • The first legal definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour
  • Recognition for children as victims of domestic abuse and an end to the so-called "rough sex defence" in court cases

Ms Jacobs, whose role was created by the government last year, is concerned about a similar picture developing this time.

She said charities had seen a "big increase" in calls from neighbours, friends and loved ones worrying about potential victims.

There have also been reports of perpetrators lying to employers about having Covid symptoms so they could stay at home with their victims.

This highlights how difficult it may be for people to escape and how vital it is that services like refuges are available, said the commissioner.

Lockdown restrictions have severely curtailed people's interactions with teachers and other professional bodies who often play a vital role in spotting cases of suspected abuse.

Ms Jacobs called for the Domestic Abuse Bill - set to become law later this year - to include a statutory duty to fund community services, which are said to provide support to around 70% of people experiencing domestic abuse.

The bill already places a duty on local authorities to help victims of abuse, but does not guarantee additional funding.