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PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION

FEATURE ARTICLE

UK FIRMS FACE UP TO THREAT OF DOMESTIC ABUSE AS MORE STAFF WORK FROM HOME

Companies are offering training for staff and support including paid leave and emergency accommodation.

The tragic story of a manager who tried and failed to save his employee from domestic abuse has stayed with Elizabeth Filkin. “He did his best, but he didn’t know what else to do,” she said.

 

Filkin, the director of Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse, a business network that raises awareness of the crime, says the manager offered support to his employee after becoming concerned that she was being abused. He said he go to the police with her, but she said she had a plan in place and was fine.

A few days later the woman’s partner killed her after he discovered she was planning to leave. “It was devastating for that manager, and all of the employees,” says Filkin, whose network has enlisted more than 60 firms since lockdown began.

 

The shift to more flexible home working has been hailed by some as a game-changer for working parents and cited as one of the few potential positives for women from the coronavirus crisis. But as more companies consider making working from home a permanent goal, campaigners and politicians including the former prime minister Theresa May have warned that home is not a safe space for every worker.

Shocking statistics revealed back in April by Home Secretary Priti Patel, show that domestic violence has surged since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.

The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, 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.

In this region alone, West Midlands Police dealt with more than 4,000 domestic violence cases in the first month of lockdown alone – it’s believed to be the highest monthly figure on record. 

One company determined to tackle the subject are Chamber Platinum Member, Dudley based Lawrence Cleaning, who have worked closely with The Haven in Wolverhampton to implement a domestic abuse policy for the business.

The Haven supports women and dependent children who are vulnerable to domestic violence, homelessness and abuse, and Lawrence Cleaning have worked alongside team member and campaigner, Samantha Billingham, founder of SODA, (Survivors of Domestic Abuse), herself a survivor, having overcome her own experiences of domestic abuse.

Director of Lawrence Cleaning, Deborah Lawrence told Prosper, “Raising awareness of domestic abuse and recognizing the signs so support can be given to a victim is my personal aim. 

“I understand from working closely with Sam that this can happen to anyone regardless of gender, religion or economic status, and I felt I needed to know what to do as an employer to help recognise the signs and offer support to a victim. 

Deb continued, “We took advice from various support groups and established a policy that will help our staff understand the different forms of abuse, educate them on what signs to look for and show as a business how we can safely reach out to them so they know they are not alone.”

 

“Sadly, 51% of victims do not tell anyone in their workplace, feeling ashamed of their situation.”

Faced with having to keep staff safe while overhauling work practices, a growing number of firms are now offering more support including paid leave and emergency accommodation, while also training public-facing staff to spot the signs of domestic abuse and offer help to those in distress.

Each year 2 million people in the UK are affected by domestic abuse, and during the lockdown, there was a sharp increase in incidents as victims were trapped at home with perpetrators.

For more and more firms the penny is dropping that they need to act, says Suzanne Jacob, the chief executive of SafeLives, who provides training to help managers and other employees recognise tell-tale signs of domestic abuse and offer support.

“During lockdown, we have seen an increase in major firms stepping up and investing in domestic abuse awareness training and resources,” she says. “It’s hugely encouraging because domestic abuse is not a private matter, it is a crime that is enormously damaging, so employers have a duty of care to take it seriously.

Victoria Derbyshire: My father was violent - I understand the terror of lockdown

Journalist and TV presenter Victoria Derbyshire told the BBC’s Panorama programme in August about her harrowing upbringing at the hands of a violent father.

“When the prime minister told us all to stay at home because of the coronavirus, one of my first thoughts was for those living in abusive households – women, men and children, essentially trapped, forced to stay inside week after week. What would happen to them?

She went on to say, “Spending the last few months finding out about the reality of domestic abuse under lockdown has been shocking - but I’ve met women who’ve courageously escaped during the most challenging circumstances.

 

“I’ve spent time inside refuges which were full, meeting support workers on the ground who were under pressure and talking to people who were subjected to levels of abuse they often hadn’t experienced.” 

 

Many larger firms are now implementing a range of measures to protect staff. The law firm Linklaters, for example, worked with Safe Lives to create a new policy and support package and now provides emergency accommodation and up to 10 days’ paid leave. It has also partnered with the charity Surviving Economic Abuse.

“We want to send a clear message to any of our people living with abuse that they are not alone, we care, and the help they need is available to them,” said David Martin, a global diversity and inclusion partner at the firm.

 

The housing association Stonewater has been awarded Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance accreditation after improving specialised schemes to support people fleeing domestic abuse, after increased demand during the lockdown. Aviva is training staff to help clients who might be victims of domestic abuse and has introduced a package of measures to help staff.

 

“We’re helping our frontline colleagues to know what to do if they take a distressing customer call or have concerns that something isn’t quite right,” says Danielle Harmer, Aviva’s chief people officer. “Domestic abuse comes in many forms, and as an insurer, it’s crucial that we spot the warning signs whether the abuse is physical, psychological or financial.”

 

Victims can also find sanctuary in shops, after the UK Says No More campaign set up a network of safe spaces during the lockdown, including in Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons pharmacies. They simply need to ask to use the consultation room and are then provided with specialist domestic abuse support services and national helplines.

 

But according to Nicole Jacobs, the domestic violence commissioner for England and Wales, still more companies need to urgently tackle the issue, and the government should be forcing them to do so. She argues that the UK should learn from New Zealand, where employers are required by law to provide 10 days of paid leave to survivors of domestic abuse.

 

“Some employers have started to offer this on a voluntary basis, and I call on the government to place a legal duty on employers in this country to provide this kind of support,” she says. “A workplace can become a lifeline for survivors and a place of respite and safety, but equally, employers who fail to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse can add to the anguish faced by those subjected to it.”

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