As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, we’re just realising the scale of its social consequences. Like in many crises, the more vulnerable in society are the ones paying a higher price.
This crisis has highlighted striking inequalities in people’s housing conditions, particularity in London. But it’s has also revealed another pandemic – that of an unparalleled level of domestic abuse.
Stay at home measures have sparked a universal understanding of what it means to be locked down at home, and how dangerous this can be for those trapped with someone who controls or harms them.
Since the beginning of lockdown, there has been a surge in domestic abuse. There has been a 50% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge, and 35% increase in calls to Men’s Advice Line. Domestic homicides have more than doubled in the first three weeks of lockdown, hitting a sad record of the highest number of women killed in 11 years.
Difficult choices – staying at risk, or becoming homeless
For many of us choosing between staying at risk of harm or becoming homeless is not a decision we would ever even imagine we’d have to make. But for some this is a stark reality. Now more than ever it’s vital to join forces across organisations and sectors to prevent people from having to choose between homelessness and violence.
Safer London has been working relentlessly to continue operating the Pan-London Housing Reciprocal. This service helps people at risk of violence to move to a safe place without losing their social tenancy. With the housing crisis in London, it’s often the only way for people affected to access long-term affordable housing, which will enable them to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced.
However, the Reciprocal can only facilitate moves if housing providers continue their activity during lockdown. That’s why we’re calling for councils and housing associations to prioritise victims and survivors of domestic abuse in their social housing lettings and transfers, including through reciprocal moves.
Initially some councils and housing associations decided to stop moves altogether, but we’ve witnessed some really innovative practice. This includes offering virtual video viewings, electronic signatures for tenancy contracts, and keys left at safe drop off points. Some of this good practice could even be taken forward in the future, as it saves professionals and tenants time and effort.
Those fleeing abuse must have access to safe housing
The Government announced a landmark change in housing policy, granting anyone fleeing domestic abuse a priority need for emergency housing support, along with additional funding for support services.
However, it should not take a pandemic to provide safe emergency housing for people fleeing abuse. In partnership with other women and homelessness sector organisations, we have developed key asks to ensure the needs of women relying on emergency housing during Covid-19 are taken into account.
These key asks call for women-only emergency bed spaces, suitable and affordable move-on options, and more funding for domestic abuse and sexual violence services to support women in emergency accommodation during and after the pandemic.
We’ve already seen some action taking place. In London the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime has partnered with organisations across the city to create a new emergency accommodation pathway for those fleeing violence it the home. Together, the partners have set up crisis accommodation for up to 82 survivors of domestic abuse.
This is something Safer London helped to set up and we’re proud to continue to be support Solace Women’s Aid, Southall Black Sisters and Hestia in the delivery of this pathway.
Solace Women’s Aid and Southall Black Sisters are managing a 70 unit hostel space, accessible to women fleeing abuse including women with No Recourse to Public Funds.
To refer in or enquire further you can call their helpline directly on 0808 801 0650 open between 10.00am – 4.00pm or contact via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hestia are managing 12 units in another locations, accessible to women fleeing abuse including women with multiple needs.
To refer in or enquire further you can call their helpline on 0808 1699 975 open between 10.00am – 4.00pm or contact via email email@example.com
Looking ahead, beyond the pandemic
The response to Covid-19 so far has shown that with political will, great progress can be achieved quickly. Huge efforts by homelessness charities and local governments at the beginning of the lockdown showed that ending rough sleeping is possible. National partnerships have been implemented such as Boots pharmacies providing safe spaces for domestic abuse victims to ask for help when they are not safe to call from home.
We have a unique opportunity to ensure that these efforts and achievements go beyond the pandemic and that no one is trapped in unsafe housing by fear of being homelessness. The Domestic Abuse Bill going through parliament will be instrumental in making these changes across departments. We also need far-reaching measures in the housing sector including extensive investment in social housing to provide an inclusive and affordable housing system for all.
Clementine Traynard, Domestic Abuse, Housing and Policy Manager