Second lockdown reignites domestic abuse fears

For survivors of domestic abuse, a second period of lockdown in England brings added misery. Calls to the national domestic abuse helpline run by Refuge are rising week on week.

During the first lockdown, Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day, while a separate helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse seeking help to change their behaviour received 25% more calls after the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Charities are warning that the coronavirus restrictions will leave vulnerable people in fear of being trapped indoors with their abusers, as movement is curtailed in the run-up to Christmas.

Rosita Ellis is a UNISON activist and also volunteers as a Domestic Violence Champion in Oxfordshire.

“The spring lockdown saw groups supporting victims of domestic abuse reporting a spike in violence and calls to helplines. The month-long restrictions could again place households under strain, even though anyone seeking help is exempt from the rule.

“A recent report from Women’s Aid, A Perfect Storm, highlighted that two-thirds of women said they felt they had no one to turn to during the lockdown earlier this year. We are concerned that another national lockdown will again make it harder for survivors to escape to safety.”

UNISON South East has developed a model domestic abuse policy for branches, to encourage employers to properly support staff experiencing domestic abuse, which is more pressing with so many employees working from home through the pandemic. Please speak to the Area Organiser working with your branch if you need support with implementing a domestic abuse policy in your employer.

Vicki Gibbs, Area Organiser in our Equalities team, will be running a webinar for activists, Dealing with Domestic Abuse, on 25 November, on the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This webinar is open to all activists in the region and will enable you to support members who are experiencing domestic abuse.

Vicki said:

“We know that victims of domestic abuse are being denied access to life-saving counselling and support services following record government funding cuts – figures show that one in four domestic abuse refuges have lost all government money for therapeutic support, with state funding at its lowest ever levels.

“As a UNISON rep or co-worker you may have the greatest opportunity to help – you have a pretext to ‘go behind closed doors’ and check in with people via a phone or video call. People will be acting differently because of social distancing, isolation, and anxiety, but you need to be aware of the possibility of abuse. It’s better to sensitively check than make assumptions. 

“If you suspect someone is being abused, be sensitive – keep the lines of communication open to reduce isolation. Remember someone may not be able to speak freely if their abuser is monitoring their exchanges, so ask if they can talk freely before you ask if there’s anything wrong.

In the UK, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is White Ribbon Day. You can find out more and download resources here.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, contact the free 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline number – 0808 2000 247 – run by Refuge, or you can visit the website