03 February 2021

Calls for domestic abuse support workers to be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccine

03 February 2021

Domestic abuse support workers are answering helpline calls from home while their children study to make sure victims get the help they need during the coronavirus lockdown, MPs have heard.

Domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs outlined the lengths staff were going to in order to keep support services running amid the pandemic.

Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, she reiterated calls for staff at refuges and community-based domestic abuse services to be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine alongside emergency workers so services could work to full capacity.

There is no-one “waiting in the wings” to take over work if staff, who have an average caseload of more than 40 people at any one time, are off sick or having to self-isolate, she warned.

These are people who are taking helpline calls at home when their children are trying to study in the other room

Describing the current situation for domestic abuse victims as “extremely serious”, Ms Jacobs said there had been an increase in demand for refuge accommodation, particularly after periods of lockdown.

She told MPs the workforce was a “relatively small number” but “pretty stretched”, adding: “I imagine that we could vaccinate them, at this amazing rate of vaccinations that we have, within an hour.

“It would be so important for these services… who are under a lot of strain and… who have been working exhaustedly over the last year, to have that in place so that they can keep open as much as possible all of the services that we have and be safe about it.

“These are people who are taking helpline calls at home when their children are trying to study in the other room.”

Ms Jacobs also called for the Government to “keep up the momentum” on public awareness campaigns and revived calls for long-term sustainable funding for the sector.

Lucy Hadley, head of policy and campaigns at charity Women’s Aid, warned the impact of abuse taking place now could be felt into the “next decade and beyond” because of the time it can take victims on average to build up courage to reach out for help.

She told MPs: “Our latest data, from a sample 27,000 survivors in England, shows that the average length of abuse they experienced before accessing a domestic abuse support service was six years.”

On Tuesday, committee chairman Yvette Cooper described indications of a rise in domestic abuse reports to charities throughout the pandemic as “deeply troubling” and warned this showed “no sign of abating”.

Calls and contacts logged by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 34% to 114,986 between April and December, compared to 85,771 for the same period in 2019, figures provided by Ms Jacobs to the committee suggest.

The helpline also made 3,785 referrals for emergency refuge accommodation during this time.

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