LONDON: An influential parliamentary committee of British lawmakers on Monday called for urgent action from the government over a surge in domestic abuse cases amid the coronavirus lockdown, with London alone registering 4,093 arrests in the six weeks up to April 19.
The House of Commons' Home Affairs Committee found that calls and contacts to the UK-wide domestic abuse helpline run by the charity Refuge were 49 per cent higher in the week prior to April 15, than the average prior to the pandemic.
Staying at home is an important part of the strategy to prevent coronavirus from spreading and save lives, but for some people home isn't safe.
Urgent action is needed to protect victims and prevent perpetrators from exploiting the lockdown to increase abuse, said Committee Chair Yvette Cooper.
There are already alarming signs of the rise in domestic abuse.
Our cross-party Committee is calling for an urgent action plan from government setting out practical measures to tackle domestic abuse as an integrated part of the fight against Covid-19, said the Labour Party MP.
The Committee calls for a comprehensive cross-governmental Covid-19 strategy on domestic abuse, both for lockdown and the period afterwards when needs may be high.
The strategy should combine awareness, prevention, victim support, housing and a criminal justice response, backed by dedicated funding and ministerial leadership.
The Committee also calls for new schemes to ensure that victims can access urgent help during lockdown when they may be unable to use the phone at home or talk to friends, including by expanding the "Safe Spaces" model piloted in pharmacies to include supermarkets and other retailers.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel had recently launched a public campaign with a symbol of a heart in the hand, spread through the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, as she urged the public to speak out against domestic violence.
"Coronavirus has opened Britain's enormous heart and shown our love and compassion for one another as we come together to help those in need. I am now asking our nation to embrace that compassion and community spirit to help those suffering from domestic abuse," the Indian-origin Cabinet minister said in reference to the campaign.
The Commons Committee welcomed the move but stressed that the government needs to go further.
Cooper added: We are calling for new emergency funding for support services, new ways for victims to access help through supermarkets and pharmacies, outreach visits to known vulnerable households, support for children and a new guarantee of safe housing for anyone needing to leave their home during lockdown because of abuse.
The emotional, physical and social scars from domestic abuse can last a lifetime. If we don't act to tackle it now, we will feel the consequences of rising abuse during the coronavirus crisis for many years to come.
Research by domestic abuse monitoring group Counting Dead Women calculated that at least 16 domestic abuse killings of women and children had taken place between the lockdown period of March 23 and April 12, double that of an average 21-day period in the last decade.
Earlier, the Metropolitan Police had also launched an appeal asking victims to feel confident about speaking out as it noted there were 17,275 incidents recorded between March 9 and April 19 a 9 per cent increase on the same period in 2019.
"The Covid-19 restrictions and stay at home' instruction is vital to managing this public health crisis, but unfortunately it has also left current and potential victims of domestic abuse even more vulnerable and isolated, said Met Police Commander Sue Williams, who is leading the force's response on the issue.
I want to stress that the Met is still here for Londoners no-one who is experiencing domestic abuse should feel that they have to suffer in silence. The Covid-19 pandemic does not mean that victims can't count on us, or that we won't keep being proactive in bringing offenders to justice.
Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, added: Sadly evidence from around the world has shown that lockdown' restrictions have led to a rise in domestic abuse cases, and we have seen an increase in calls to helplines across the UK.
This is why it is vital that victims have safe spaces to flee to and that specialist support services have the capacity and resources they need to deal with any rise in cases."