This lockdown throws into sharp relief why it’s essential that domestic abuse survivors are guaranteed the right to a safe home, write Rosie Duffield, Neil Coyle and Bob Blackman
It has been just over a month since we were told we must stay at home to help slow the spread of coronavirus and to keep ourselves, and others, safe. Whilst staying at home all day, every day presents challenges for us all, for some it’s likely to be frightening and incredibly dangerous.
Since the outbreak began and our lives as we know it changed, domestic abuse charities have recorded a surge in pleas for help and support, with the National Domestic Abuse Helpline reporting a 49% increase in calls. Tragically, the Counting Dead Women Project told MPs last week that 14 women and two children were killed in the first three weeks of lockdown, which is the largest number of killings in a three-week period for 11 years. This new reality has trapped people with their abusers, with lockdown adding another layer of risk, as the means of escape are restricted and support services are scaled back. This is greatly exacerbated by the current legal framework which leaves people fleeing abuse facing the very real prospect of becoming homeless.
There is a clear connection between homelessness and domestic abuse. In the last year over 23,000 families and individuals who asked their local council for help with housing had experienced domestic abuse. It is therefore deeply concerning that there remains a distinct lack of housing provision for survivors in the government’s emergency response or in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which had its second reading today.
No one in our society should become homeless because they have had to flee domestic abuse. We would expect that anybody experiencing abuse should be able to go to their local council and be offered a safe, permanent home. Even more so during a global pandemic.
Since the outbreak started, we have seen barriers lifted that once stopped people from accessing a safe and settled home – such as the low levels of housing benefit which did not cover the true cost of rent. We now need government to turn its attention to housing policy for people fleeing domestic abuse, as at this very minute, people are still being asked to prove they’re vulnerable before they can be considered eligible for help with finding a safe home.
In normal circumstances asking people to jump through these legal hoops and provide evidence of their abuse is not only callous, it is also incredibly traumatic. The impact of the lockdown measures being in place also make it near impossible for survivors to gather the kind of evidence needed such as a crime reference number, especially as many people are frightened of reporting abuse to the police.
The ground-breaking Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) has placed a huge emphasis on preventing homelessness, but we must recognise that for survivors of domestic abuse being able to prevent their homelessness is not always possible. Particularly as people are often forced to seek help when they have fled a dangerous situation and returning home would put them at further risk.
We know many people will remain trapped in a dangerous, life-threatening situation, or be forced to face the devastating impact of homelessness, with nowhere to rebuild their lives. We cannot let this happen, especially when we have the means to fix it.
Ensuring survivors of domestic abuse have safe and stable housing is an essential measure now and always. That is why we, alongside the All Party-Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, are calling for the Domestic Abuse Bill to be amended so that anyone fleeing domestic abuse is guaranteed a safe home. The amendment, which has strong cross-party support, is our chance to put survivors first. We must not miss it.
The virus has further exposed how victims of domestic abuse do not have a right to safe housing, but by working together across the House we have the chance to provide a lifeline for those whom home is no longer safe.