Coronavirus: 'More homes needed' for domestic abuse victims

Rachel Williams
Image caption Rachel Williams was shot by her estranged husband at a hair salon

A domestic abuse campaigner wants empty properties to be opened up to deal with an expected rise of fleeing victims during the coronavirus lockdown.

Rachel Williams, 48, who was shot by her estranged husband Darren in a Newport hair salon in 2012, fears not enough refuge space will be available.

She has written to the first minister and a 196,000-signature petition calls for action from the prime minister.

The Welsh and UK governments said extra funding was being made available.

"We're not going to have enough refuge spaces," said Ms Williams, who founded Stand up to Domestic Abuse.

"It's no good when the horse has bolted. We need to get a good plan in place now.

"I want the Welsh Government to work alongside the local authorities to commit to finding four empty properties and self-contained units that can take four families, near an already established refuge.

"They can come under the care of the refuge that's already established because we're not going to have anywhere for these people to go when they're fleeing from domestic abuse and violence."

Both survivors and experts have claimed strict government rules to stay home to stop Covid-19 spreading are "likely" to cause a spike in domestic abuse cases.

Charity Refuge said the National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown began on 23 March.

Welsh Women's Aid said last year 512 survivors were unable to be supported in refuge because of lack of service space, capacity or resources, and warned it expects to see an unprecedented increase in demand for refuge and communities support services.

Financial pledge

Gwendolyn Sterk, head of public affairs and communications, said the charity was "very concerned" that front-line services were not getting the funding they need to prepare for that influx of provision.

She added: "We've been calling on the Welsh Government and local authorities to make sure that the funding to services gets to the front line swiftly so that they can prepare for the pandemic of survivors that we will have coming forward, post the lockdown."

The Welsh Local Government Association said authorities were working to procure additional accommodation in all areas to meet the increased needs of many people during and following the crisis.

A spokesman added: "This includes rising numbers who are victims of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence."

Last week the UK government pledged to spend £76m to support vulnerable people who are "trapped in a nightmare" at home.

It is not yet clear exactly how much of it will come to Wales and the Welsh Government said details of the funding package were still being worked through.

However, it said it has provided £10m for emergency accommodation and support for those who need it during the pandemic.

A spokesman added: "We are aware people are at greater risk of domestic violence during the lockdown and need more support.

"We are working with local authorities, hotels and the third sector to ensure access to safe and appropriate housing."

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