MPs have demanded an urgent cross-government action plan on how to tackle increasing levels of domestic abuse under the lockdown, warning that without intervention, “society will be dealing with the devastating consequences for a generation”.
In a report published on Monday, the home affairs select committee calls for a raft of measures from the government, including an emergency package of funding for support services for domestic abuse victims and vulnerable children.
The cross-party committee recommends that the government legislates to remove a time limit on prosecuting certain offences to ensure perpetrators of domestic abuse during the lockdown do not get away with their crimes.
The government should sponsor the broadening of a “safe spaces” model to allow victims to access support via supermarkets and other retailers, it adds.
Multiple support services have reported a surge in calls to helplines, while the Metropolitan police said they had made 4,093 arrests for domestic abuse offences – an average of about 100 a day – since 9 March, when people with coronavirus symptoms were asked to self-isolate.
The domestic abuse bill returns to the Commons for its second reading on Tuesday.
The committee’s chair, Yvette Cooper, said: “Staying at home is an important part of the strategy to prevent coronavirus from spreading and save lives, but for some people home isn’t safe. Urgent action is needed to protect victims and prevent perpetrators from exploiting the lockdown to increase abuse.
“There are already alarming signs of the rise in domestic abuse. Our cross-party committee is calling for an urgent action plan from government setting out practical measures to tackle domestic abuse as an integrated part of the fight against Covid-19.
“We are calling for new emergency funding for support services, new ways for victims to access help through supermarkets and pharmacies, outreach visits to known vulnerable households, support for children, and a new guarantee of safe housing for anyone needing to leave their home during lockdown because of abuse.”
She added: “Things are particularly hard for vulnerable children. We can’t abandon them in the middle of this crisis. Local authorities, schools, the police and other professionals involved in child welfare need to ensure they are working together to contact and visit homes where children are at risk.
“This isn’t just about supporting victims in periods of lockdown. When restrictions are eased and victims try to leave or to return to normal life, the threat to them could be even greater and the need for support will be acute. The emotional, physical and social scars from domestic abuse can last a lifetime. If we don’t act to tackle it now, we will feel the consequences of rising abuse during the coronavirus crisis for many years to come.”
A pioneering project called Counting Dead Women has recorded at least 16 domestic abuse killings of women and children between 23 March, when the lockdown began, and 12 April.
While the committee welcomed a public information campaign launched by the government this month, the report says ministers need to go further with a full action plan led and coordinated by the home secretary, Priti Patel.
A cross-government strategy would need to cover support services, housing and the criminal justice system, the report says, and should extend to the period immediately after the lockdown is lifted when the need for assistance is likely to be acute.
“Without strong action to tackle domestic abuse and support victims during the Covid-19 pandemic, society will be dealing with the devastating consequences for a generation,” the report says.
It says the plan should include access to information and support, prevention and outreach, housing support and refuge accommodation, as well as a “strong criminal justice response”.
In particular, it says support services for domestic abuse and vulnerable children need urgent and direct funding, otherwise victims will be put at much greater risk of harm.
It urges ministers to set up an emergency funding package, ringfenced within the £750m fund that the government has promised for charities dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
The home secretary previously announced £2m of funding for domestic abuse helplines and online support, while £600,000 of funding will go to six charities that specialise in supporting victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
The safeguarding minister, Victoria Atkins, said: “The government has prioritised those at risk of domestic abuse in this national health emergency. This has included a dedicated national campaign to provide practical help to victims, and supporting charities by giving them the funding and the resources they specifically said they needed to help people through this crisis.
“We are taking action across government. Alongside the #youarenotalone campaign, we are increasing funding to boost online services, helplines and technology support at the request of charities, and I am working with the domestic abuse commissioner about how they can use the government’s £750m fund to further support victims.”