There has been a worrying growth in domestic abuse during the Covid-19 lockdown. The government’s response has been poor, says MARY HULL, but Labour has an important role to play.
Much has been written in the press recently about the worrying growth in reported incidents of domestic abuse during the current Covid-19 crisis and lockdown, not only here in the UK but across the world.
While this is not a surprise, it is deeply worrying and speaks volumes about a continuing culture that allows those with power and control to exploit their position.
Abuse can happen in any relationship and is not the sole preserve of men, but statistics indicate it is still predominantly a gendered crime of men against women. Even when it happens in same sex or non-binary relationships, it follows patterns of ‘male’ patriarchy, as sociologists Catherine Donovan and Marianne Hester argue in their book, Domestic violence and sexuality what’s love got to do with it?
This is very much an international issue. A recent Women’s Aid report highlighted police figures that suggest domestic abuse incidents have tripled in China during the lockdown, and Italy has experienced a similar spike. In the UK there have been 15 domestic abuse-related deaths in recent weeks (and there are likely to be others that have not been labelled as such).
While welcome, home secretary Priti Patel’s recent contribution of £2 million to domestic abuse agencies in the UK is a pittance in the face of the massive cuts they endured during austerity.
Refuges are struggling at the moment – running a refuge for women and children while maintaining social distancing is a challenge and staff are stretched.
Interestingly, despite assertions in the media, many local domestic abuse agencies in the north east and other parts of the UK are finding their helplines quiet and referrals low. This is perhaps more worrying than the reverse and may well be the calm before the storm when restrictions are lifted.
Many of women’s usual avenues for reporting are not available at the moment – there is limited access to GPs, pharmacies, hospitals and community centres, and even contact with friends and wider family is difficult or distant. Women with no recourse to public funds are in a particularly difficult position – even when they can access services, many of those cannot take them on due to lack of funding.
The Labour Party has a role to play here by reconnecting with communities, being part of ‘Domestic Abuse Champion Networks’ or ‘Ask Me Ambassador’ schemes, fundraising for local services, or raising awareness via existing structures, such as Covid-19 Mutual Aid support groups. All this lends strength to the change in culture needed to reduce domestic abuse.
These are roles the Labour Party has traditionally taken on, both nationally and internationally. Now is the time, more than ever, to take them on again.