By Debbie Stuart, Director of Independent Living & Better Lives
The Guardian newspaper recently reported that calls to the UK’s domestic abuse helpline had risen by 66% during lockdown, visits to the website increased by 950% and demand for beds in refuges has rocketed.
Sadly we have to agree with those figures. We have seen a marked increase in the number of victims of domestic abuse since lockdown began. Even more sadly, these cases have involved children witnessing the abuse first hand, which can have a huge impact on their future as well as their mental health.
“With colleagues often being the eyes and ears in our customers’ homes, we’ve been unable to do that in person, but our work has carried on regardless, acting on information received by the police from neighbours and the customers themselves.”
Each of our areas has different local service to help victims and their families to either stay safe in their homes, or flee.
We have installed silent alarms in victims’ homes so they can get help if needed. The alarm is raised with our Life24 operators (a service we provide to help customers to remain independent and stay safe) who listen to what is happening and call the police.
We work in partnership with the police, social services, health visitors, local authorities, independent domestic violence advisors, schools, advocates and many other statutory and voluntary agencies to ensure a package is in place that suits the individual circumstances.
We’ve also seen an increase in the number of customers who have fled domestic abuse. We’re supporting them to settle into new homes, apply for grants and help with furniture and appliances, and advising them on how to keep their address a secret. It’s a scary time for them and so they need our support, reassurance and discretion to make them feel safe and able to move forward.
Our support during lockdown had to move to online and by phone, and although it hasn’t been ideal (it’s so much better to see someone in person), in most cases we’re achieving the same levels of support as before. Multi-agency meetings have moved online and are just as effective in support planning.
As an organisation we support the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Make a Stand pledge, launched in 2018, and are committed to providing support for people experiencing domestic abuse.
We don’t just provide homes, we offer extra services for those that need them, to help people change their lives for the better.
One of our customers said:
“Gina helped me move to a house closer to my family and support network because of a situation I had been in. She went above and beyond to help things go as quickly as possible and smoothly, also to keep me out of any other situations that might have happened.
“She has helped me and my children get our lives back and I am so grateful for it!
“I can’t say enough how happy and better I am now, also so thankful for everything and everyone who helped.”
Anyone suffering from domestic abuse can call the 24 hour National Domestic Abuse helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247 or visit the Women’s Aid website. If you suspect a family member, friend or neighbour is suffering from domestic abuse, please speak to the police by calling 999 or 101.