Mayor invests further £1.5m in safe accommodation for victims of domestic abuse during coronavirus lockdown

Sadiq’s emergency response has already secured accommodation for 82 victims across the city, needing to flee home, and new funding from City Hall will enable victims to access specialist support, food and medicines.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today announced a further £1.5million emergency response fund to provide victims of domestic abuse with safe accommodation and support if they need to flee their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the Government’s lockdown measures were introduced on Monday 23 March there has been a 25 per cent increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline and, in the capital, domestic abuse-related incidents have increased by nine per cent compared to the same time last year[1]. Refuges and specialist services in London are struggling to meet the rise in demand, facing a shortage of bed spaces across the city.

The Mayor wrote to the Government at the start of the lockdown to highlight his concerns that incidents of domestic abuse could rise during the pandemic, calling for urgent action to ensure everything possible is done to prepare for an increase in cases and that additional support for victims and survivors is available, as stretched frontline services are placed under additional pressure.

From City Hall, the Mayor’s newly established £1.5m emergency response fund will provide urgent crisis support to survivors of violence against women and girls. This is on top of the £59 million the Mayor has invested in tackling violence against women and girls. The new fund has helped secure new urgently needed, safe accommodation across the city for victims of domestic abuse who are in danger and need to leave their homes - for example, those experiencing violence or controlling behaviour, forced marriage or being physically threatened by their child. 

Accommodation, including houses, flats and hostels, for up to 82 victims of domestic abuse have already been found - safe spaces where victims and their children can self-isolate and get support including mental health, legal and social care help, as well as food and medical supplies starting from today (Monday 4 May) and throughout next week.  

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “During this pandemic, for those feeling unsafe or experiencing violence, home is not a safe place. It is vital that those who are scared and face the prospect of self-isolating with someone who is violent, threatening or controlling, have urgent access to safe and secure accommodation.

“Working closely with frontline services and charities and together with the generous support of Londoners who have worked with us to make these empty properties available, we have secured new accommodation to provide vital shelter for victims during this period.

“We have seen a rise in domestic abuse over the last few weeks of lockdown and an increase in calls to helplines across the country. My message to those who feel threatened or unsafe and are suffering silently in their own homes is that the police are there for you. If you are in danger and you need to phone 999, you should do so, and if you need help you can also call the national domestic abuse helpline who will be there to speak to you.”

London’s Independent Victim’s Commissioner, Claire Waxman, said: “There are sadly many people who are in abusive relationships or who face a daily threat in their own home, locked in isolation at risk of harm or injury. It’s vitally important that any victims in London suffering violence and abuse know that they will be able to leave and have somewhere safe to go. The stay at home guidance is clear that you can leave your home if you are at risk of injury or harm. This investment from City Hall will not only offer a safe haven for victims of domestic abuse but crucially ensure survivors and their families can access vital support services and be able to safely follow the public health guidance.”

Pragna Patel, CEO, Southall Black Sisters, said: “Approximately five weeks ago, Southall Black Sisters led a call for the Government to urgently provide safe accommodation to all those needing to escape domestic and other forms of gender-related abuse and violence. We are delighted that the Mayor of London has heeded our call and has agreed to fund crisis accommodation made available by a leading hostel provider. The project will help to form a much-needed critical safety net for abused women and children including vulnerable migrant women who cannot access welfare support even in this time of unprecedented crisis. We hope that the model of support that we are developing in London will be replicated around the country and that the government will do the right thing by underwriting the additional costs needed to meet its human rights obligations to keep all women and children safe and protected.”

Fiona Dwyer, CEO, Solace Women’s Aid, said: “We are really concerned about women living in isolation with their abusers and the challenges they face keeping themselves and their children safe.  We saw a 49 per cent rise in calls to our London Advice Line the week before lockdown and since then have been working with a growing number of women who have managed to leave their abuser, all of whom have been considered at high risk of further harm.

“Never has the need for safe accommodation been greater and we are relieved that yet again the Mayor of London has stepped up and delivered this ground-breaking model of support at a time of crisis for women and children in London.

“Solace also brings to the emergency fund, vital counselling and a package of critical welfare support. We thank Julia and Hans Rausing for their generous donation making a major contribution to this lifesaving service.  This means, together with the Mayor’s fund, women and children coming to us with nothing, can be made safe and receive the help they need to recover and rebuild their lives, free from domestic abuse.” 

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive at Hestia said: “During the Covid-19 lockdown we have seen a surge in calls to Hestia’s referral line and downloads of our Bright Sky app and reached a point where there were no more spaces left in our refuges across London. The urgent need to provide more refuge spaces right now, and as lockdown restrictions ease and more victims are able to leave, is now being met. We are pleased that in just a matter of weeks Hestia has been able to open new domestic abuse refuges with support and funding from the Mayor of London so that victims can become survivors and not statistics.”

Commander Sue Williams, the Met's lead for safeguarding, said: "The Government’s stay at home directions are vital in controlling the spread of Coronavirus and protecting our NHS. However, for some people home is not the safe place it should be and these restrictions may leave potential domestic abuse victims at greater risk.

“The Met is absolutely still here for Londoners. Nobody experiencing any form of domestic abuse should feel they have nowhere to turn for help and with no option but to suffer in silence. Anyone who needs to leave their home to escape abuse will not be penalised for breaching the “stay at home” instructions – they will be supported.

“We are entirely committed to protecting people at risk and we continue to proactively target repeat and wanted offenders. If you are being victimised call 999 – you can have confidence that you will get the support and protection you need, and that officers will deal with offenders.

“If you have reason to believe that a family member, friend or neighbour is a victim of domestic abuse, we would urge you to contact police or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 – your call could protect someone from serious harm or save a life.”

References: 

[1] Met Police: The number of recorded domestic abuse incidents has seen a year-on-year rise – there were 17,275 incidents recorded between 9 March and 19 April; a 9% increase on the same period in 2019.