Solace calls for cross-Government strategies to respond to the impact of Covid-19 on violence against women

Solace calls for cross-Government strategies to respond to the impact of Covid-19 on violence against women to prioritise safe accommodation, community- based support, and counselling and therapies for women and children to recover and rebuild their lives. Solace submitted written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into the Home Office’s ongoing preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus) on the 4th February 2021.

When the first lockdown was announced we, like many in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector, saw an increase in calls and emails to our helpline and foresaw the lack of movement in the temporary accommodation sector that would mean women would be unable to move on from refuge during lockdown, leaving us with little capacity to meet the increase in need. The week before lockdown was announced we were receiving around two referrals for every refuge space we flagged on the national database, which is standard, but by the time survivors had been locked down for four- and five-weeks enquiries spiked, and we were getting around four enquiries for every refuge space that became available.   

With funding from the Mayor of London and the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust, Solace worked in partnership with Southall Black Sisters (SBS) to set up an emergency hostel providing crisis accommodation with specialist support to women and children fleeing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), across London during the Covid-19 pandemic. The crisis project opened in May with specialist support provided by several Ascent Advice and Counselling partners for women housed there, and with SBS providing specialist support for women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). The crisis project has been funded by MOPAC to continue at a reduced scale until June 2021, with one-third of spaces allocated for women with no recourse to public funds. The project had accommodated 135 women and 62 children up to November 2020 and continues to operate at full capacity. 

The calls we have been receiving in recent months and throughout the pandemic through our advice line, echoed by other organisations in the Ascent Advice and Counselling partnership, are often from women in greater distress and with higher needs, including an increase in suicidal ideation. The increased complexity and needs of callers means that the advice line is unable to support as many women despite an increase in demand.

Despite now being in the third and potentially the longest lockdown, commencing 5th January, there were no further announcements for emergency funding until the end of January to meet the ongoing and increasingly complex needs of people living with abuse and violence under extreme circumstances. While we welcome the Ministry of Justice announcement of a further £40 million from April 2021, we have not yet received details of how the funding will be allocated and we are less than two months from the end of March.  

The average length of time women in Solace services experienced their current abuse is 6 years and 4 months. As we are now looking at double dip recession, and further job losses when the furlough scheme ends in March, we are facing further exacerbation of the conditions associated with an increase in VAWG and when survivors do get support, their needs are likely to be higher and more complex for some time.   

We therefore echo the Committee’s previous recommendation for an ongoing strategy, which should be reflected in the Home Office’s longer term VAWG strategy, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s planning for the implementation of the Domestic Abuse Bill, and in the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England’s long-term plan for mental health provision. All of these strategies should prioritise safe accommodation, community- based support, and a range of counselling and therapies for women and children to recover and rebuild their lives.  

Read the full submission 

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