Hotels and charities urge government to support domestic abuse survivors
Hotels and over 30 charities have issued a joint call on the government to help women and children escape domestic abuse as the latest statistics suggest the rates of abuse are rising.
It comes after Women’s Aid reported a 41% increase in users visiting its Live Chat between 26 March and 1 April compared to the previous week, as well as a marked increase in visitors across all its digital support services .
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Women’s charities are concerned that people will be trapped in abusive households unless alternative accommodation is made available to them.
Last week Southall Black Sisters  and Compassion in Politics  wrote to hotel chains asking them to open up rooms to those fleeing abuse, including domestic abuse and sexual violence . They report that the response from hotels - including some of the country’s largest chains - has been overwhelmingly positive. However, they say that the hotels now require financial support from the government to underwrite the costs of opening their rooms and providing meals to occupants.
The organisations have now written to the government asking for them to step in and provide that financial support as a matter of urgency . They point to the example set by the French and Italian governments who have both put in place similar measures.
The letter has been endorsed by a coalition of organisations, including Women’s Aid Federation of England, Solace Woman’s Aid, Women for Refugee Women and Fawcett Society. It also has the support of the London Victim Commissioner and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.
The letter says:
“We believe that the offer made by the hotels/hostels represents a vital opportunity for the government to work with the women’s sector and with hotels to deliver a national action plan on VAWG and Covid-19. As of today, hotels and specialist services are ready to support abused women and children. We are waiting for the government to play its part. The government must guarantee the immediate safety of those at risk of abuse.”
In addition to the letter the groups have released an anonymised quote from one of the hotel chains that has been consulted by the charities. The name of the chain is not disclosed to reduce the possibility that perpetrators of abuse might be able to track down a survivor’s location.
Jess Phillips MP, Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, said:
“We need the government to act now to provide the necessary funding to keep women and children safe. This is an urgent national issue that needs an urgent national response. Every passing day puts someone else at risk. Charities and the private sector have pulled together to offer solutions to deal with the rising cases of domestic abuse - now we need the government in order to deliver them.”
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, said:
“We are into the third week of lockdown and already over a dozen women and children have died at the hands of abusive partners and family members. Covid-19 is not just a medical crisis but a social, economic and human rights crisis. The hotel-hostel sector is ready and willing to help keep vulnerable women and children safe. Why is the government not ready? How many more deaths must we see before the government wakes up to this new reality?”
Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, said:
“The government has - rightly - mobilised huge resources in response to Covid-19 but there is a gaping hole in their strategy: the plight of women and children trapped indoors with a domestic abuser. Without action we will witness more abuse, more violence, and more deaths. We have hotels and charities lined up but the government is dragging its feet. We need action now to protect those who are trapped and in danger."
A spokesperson from one of the nation’s largest hotel chains said:
“We recognise and support the need to help domestic abuse survivors at this critical time. We also understand the urgent need for this to happen and the emotional and physical cost of not doing so. However, we simply cannot do it without government support. We urgently need them to underwrite for us the basic financial costs involved in opening our hotels so that our staff can be un-furloughed and paid, in addition to the right support and security resources being provided to those who come to us for sanctuary.”
A domestic abuse survivor who recently contacted Southall Black Sisters said:
“I feel depressed, alone. I can’t call my family to come round anymore, as I don’t want to put them at risk. I’m getting more and more anxious that [my husband is] going out when he shouldn’t be. I’m having to negotiate with him when I don’t want to, and I don’t know when he’s going to retaliate.”
Fiona Dwyer, CEO of Solace Women’s Aid, said:
“We are in uncharted waters when it comes to supporting women and children living in enforced isolation and lockdown, but we know that a safe place to stay can be the difference between life and death for a woman fleeing violence and abuse. The Government must act now so no more women die as a result of abuse during this crisis, that they always have somewhere safe to go.
 Southall Black Sisters is one of the UK’s leading women’s organisations for black and minority ethnic (BME) women. Established in 1979 we went on to set up an advice, resource, campaigning and advocacy centre with a particular focus on South Asian women. Whilst based in West London, we have a national reach. Our work by its very nature addresses issues of multiple or intersectional discrimination, involving the simultaneous experience of race, sex and other forms of discrimination. The bulk of our work is directed at assisting women and children - the overwhelming victims of domestic and other forms of gender-related violence - obtain effective protection and assert their fundamental human rights. For more: southallblacksisters.org.uk
 Compassion in Politics is a cross-party organisation working to put compassion, cooperation, and inclusion at the heart of politics. For more: compassioninpolitics.com
 Full letter here:
To Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick, Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, and Rt Hon Therese Coffey MP,
We write to you as a group of concerned organisations and individuals working to support abused women and children to access safety and protection in this period of national crisis.
As you are aware, there has been a rise in domestic abuse cases linked to the Coronavirus lockdown [a]. The enforced isolation has meant that many women and children are more likely to be trapped in abusive situations. This can lead, and has led already, to increased homicides. Since the lockdown was announced on 23rd March 2020, 12 women and two children have been killed by abusive partners and family members, mainly in their homes. There may also be another four homicide cases to add to this list [b]. Although it is still early days, women’s organisations like Southall Black Sisters have already reported increased anxiety and fear amongst the women they support. Some organisations have also noted an increase in referrals. For instance, the charity Refuge highlighted a 25% increase in calls to the national helpline in the first week of the lockdown [c]. Women’s Aid reported a 41% increase in users visiting its Live Chat between 26 March and 1 April compared to the previous week, as well as a marked increase in visitors across all its digital support services [d]. We fear that isolation also puts vulnerable women and children at greater risk of suicide and self-harm.
To meet what is a growing gap in protection, on Friday 27 March, many of uscalled on hotels to offer safe accommodation to women and children experiencing abuse [e]. Working with Jess Phillips MP, Chair of the APPG on Domestic Abuse, we have now received overwhelmingly positive responses from a range of key hotel and hostel providers, who are willing to make accommodation available for survivors of abuse and violence across the UK at hugely subsidised rates (to cover their running costs). Private hotel and hostel providers are ready to work with the women’s sector to provide safety for those who need it most.
In Europe and elsewhere, countries have responded to spikes in domestic abuse in various ways. In France, the government is already accommodating domestic abuse victims in hotels and has set up support in shopping centres and alert systems in pharmacies nationwide [f]. In Italy, the public prosecutor in Trento has confirmed protections for victims of assault, in mandating that perpetrators of assault will have to leave their homes rather than their victims [g]. In Australia, the Perth government is considering using hotels to house domestic abuse survivors and the national government has announced 150 million Australian dollars specifically for domestic abuse support services [h].
The UK is yet to see any such co-ordinated and coherent national government-led strategy and action plan, including a clear public awareness campaign to support all abused women and children across the country. The government has stated that it has allocated an emergency fund worth £3.2million to support ‘rough sleepers and the homeless’ [i]. The Home Secretary has said that £1.6bn has been made available to local authorities, which includes support for victims of domestic abuse,[j] but there is no specific guidance to local authorities to use the funds to ensure the safe exit of those trapped in abusive homes, including abused migrant women subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition and women who do not have leave to remain (such as refused asylum-seekers).
On Wednesday 8 April, the government announced further measures to support the entire charity sector. Whilst this is welcome, our concern is that it is still not clear what proportion will be given to specialist domestic abuse services to meet additional support costs, and it does not address the problem of securing safe accommodation. More needs to be done to truly step up and protect these women and children.
It is, as a result, unclear how local authorities are responding, but we are worried that abused women and children remain at risk. Southall Black Sisters was recently alerted to a shocking case in which the police and social services told a woman and her child at high-risk of harm, to ‘stay put’ in an abusive household in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, instead of supporting her exit. Social services told her that it would offer ‘counselling’ to her abusive husband instead. At local and regional levels, there has been no coordinated effort taken by local authorities to develop and put into place an immediate and effective action plan to protect abused and vulnerable survivors. Even where some action has been taken, it is inconsistent, ineffective and lacking in economic viability, with councils left to pay commercial rates for accommodation that they have sourced. There appears to be confusion and chaos on the ground.
For all these reasons, we request that the government makes an immediate commitment to underwrite the costs of hotels and hostels willing to offer accommodation to women and children who experience abuse, including migrant women subject to ‘no recourse to public funds’ and without leave to remain. This must be accompanied by additional funds to specialist services to provide support to women in such accommodation.
We make this demand, along with the wider call for emergency funding to ensure specialist services can continue current levels of service delivery amidst this crisis.
We believe that the offer made by the hotels/hostels represents a vital opportunity for the government to work with the women’s sector and with hotels to deliver a national action plan on violence against women and girls and covid-19. As of today, hotels and specialist services are ready to support abused women and children. We are waiting for the government to play its part. The government must guarantee the immediate safety of those at risk of abuse.
We urge you to act now before more women and children come to harm.
We look forward to your response.
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics
Claire Waxman, London Victim’s Commissioner
Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime
Nicki Norman, Acting Chief Executive, Women’s Aid Federation of Englan
Fiona Dwyer, CEO, Solace Women’s Aid
Dawn Jeffrey, Director, Welsh Women’s Aid
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Women’s Budget Group
Maureen Connolly, CEO, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid
Sarah Green, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
Baljit Banga, Executive Director, Imkaan
Umme Immam, Executive Director, The Angelou Centre
Natasha Walter, Director, Women For Refugee Women
Estelle du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women
Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society
Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive, nia
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO, Surviving Economic Abuse
Rena Sodhi, Interim Director, London Black Women’s Project
Nik Noone, CEO, Galop
Gurpreet Virdee, Director, Women and Girls Network
Harriet Wistrich, Director, Centre for Women’s Justice
Vivienne Hayes, CEO, Women’s Resource Centre
Donna Covey CBE, Chief Executive, Against Violence and Abuse (AVA)
Sandhya Sharma, Group Coordinator, Safety4Sisters North West
Loraine Masiya Mponela, Chairperson, Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group
Lisa-Marie Taylor, CEO, FiLiA
Jemima Olchawski, CEO, Agenda
Christine McNaught, CEO, FWT – A centre for women/Coventry Women’s Partnership
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)
Alison Moore, CEO, Refugee Women Connect
Jo Todd, CEO, Respect
Zlakha Ahmed, CEO, Apna Haq
Shaminder Ubhi, Director, Ashiana Network
Kate Allen, CEO, Amnesty International
Councillor Dr Kindy Sandhu, Coventry City Council
Sarbjit Ganger, Director, Asian Women’s Resource Centre
Vicky Marsh, Trustee, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) Manchester
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