On 9 November 2023, Liz Davies KC, instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre, submitted questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid.
Questions were put in three areas relating to the decision-making and planning for the rise in domestic abuse during lockdown.
The inevitable rise in domestic abuse during lockdown
The first question was around the general rise in domestic abuse as a result of social isolation and lockdown. That there would be a rise in domestic abuse, in terms of increased incidents, new perpetrators and victims, and increased severity, was foreseeable, in that there was evidence from China and other countries and it was a matter of obvious common sense. The Government was also warned as potential victims of domestic abuse anticipated & feared consequences of lockdown. Calls to Solace advice line rose by 117% in March 2020, in advance of lockdown.
Given that, Priti Patel was asked why the Home Office did not start to plan for that rise earlier than 26 March, after the Prime Minister’s address to the nation and the start of lockdown. Priti Patel replied: “We were working with Louisa Rolfe at the Metropolitan Police and within our policing call frameworks as well early on in anticipation, as I said, even — lockdown, post lockdown, the surges that would come within helplines, and also the inevitability of the consequences of domestic abuse, violence, vulnerabilities. So I would absolutely say particularly with policing colleagues, and that’s predominantly where our equities were at the time in the run-up to lockdown, there were a range of discussions taking place within the Home Office and with policing colleagues.”
No Recourse to Public Funds – a Triple Threat to survivors
The next question related to the disproportionate impact of domestic abuse on those subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds condition. It was foreseeable that victims subject to domestic abuse & with NRPF conditions on their leave to remain would face a triple threat – the double threat faced by all victims of domestic abuse of coronavirus plus domestic abuse in lockdown – with the addition of fear of destitution if they left. That is because the NRPF prevents women who claiming public funds in the form of welfare benefits or homelessness assistance from local authorities.
The government was extensively lobbied, from early in the first lockdown throughout the whole of 2020, that the NRPF condition should be suspended during the pandemic. Notwithstanding this, the Government took an intentional position to not suspend NRPF. Priti Patel was asked whether suspending the NRPF condition, to help victims trapped in abusive relationships, would have been the humanitarian thing to do during the pandemic.
Priti Patel replied: “We could get into a wider debate about the implications of suspending that condition, because there are then legal implications. If you suspend a condition for a period of time, if you then reinstate those conditions, it then takes — and I do recall reading advice at the time, some of the legal challenges just around suspending — it may seem straightforward to organisations lobbying for that change, but I do specifically recall receiving advice at that time saying that it would be legally challenging to then go back and restate. And I appreciate, the organisation you’re representing, the position that you take around no recourse to public funds, but obviously that condition exists for a reason.
“You’ve asked specifically around accommodation and housing provision. My understanding at the time was that MHCLG in particular were providing funding, so that — it’s not just the Everyone In policy, which clearly I do recall that existed there for good and proper reasons, because homelessness — that we have to protect people that were homeless, but specific funding for refuges so that they could provide that provision that was deemed to be so essential and that was raised at the time.”
The third question was around the funding that had been announced on 2 May. £76 million additional funding to support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, vulnerable children and their families & victims of modern slavery. £29 million allocated for domestic abuse, £15 million from MoJ, £10 million from MHCLG and £2 million to be allocated by the Home Office. That money came after extensive lobbying && indeed threat of legal action. By then domestic abuse charities were dealing with unprecedented numbers of calls to their advice lines & refuges were full.
The money does not appear to have been allocated until 19 June 2020.
Priti Patel was asked, given that the key time was March, April and May 2020, why did it take so long for the funding to be released, and was that not too late. She was also asked whether the money announced on 2 May was only made available after a sector-wide campaign and threat of legal action, rather than the Government initiative.
Priti Patel said: “It took time to do the allocations and […] I can’t remember why, but I think there could have been some Treasury processes around that which could be why. Secondly, I think we may have had — we’ll have to go and check the record — a system where organisations, including organisations such as Southall Black Sisters and Solace Womens Aid, could then apply directly to the Home Office. That might’ve taken time, that could be why the money was not allocated. But we’d have to check the record as to what the processes were around that, because having an allocation of funds from the Treasury does not automatically mean they go out immediately, there are various organisations we were speaking to.
“I had been in touch with, for example, it could have been Women’s Aid, who specifically wrote to me at my request where I’d asked them for a breakdown of the type of funding that they needed and what that would be used for. So understanding how this money could be allocated resourcefully, to provide the direct and additional help that was really needed, was certainly part of the process that we were undertaking at the time.”
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