On 29 November 2023, Liz Davies KC and Marina Sergides, instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre, submitted questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid.
Questions were put in areas relating to domestic abuse as a public health matter, key workers, equality impact assessments (EIA), and government messaging on domestic abuse during lockdown.
Questions from Liz Davies KC to Dominic Raab MP
Equality Impact Assessments (EIA)
The first question Liz Davies KC asked Dominic Raab was about his opinion on equality impact assessments (EIA) and – in relation to a ‘deep dive’ meeting he chaired on 29 April which looked forward to the end of lockdown – if any consideration was given to the possibility of domestic abuse emerging if couples self-isolated for 14 days.
Dominic Raab replied: “I think it’s an important objective, of course, to see the disproportionate impact on members of our society, or specific communities, of measures we’re taking or indeed the pandemic as a whole. Whether the EIAs discharge that effectively I think is a moot point.
“[…] We were certainly — I certainly remember reflected on the fact that the lockdowns had a varying effect on, if I can put it this way, family harmony. You had quite a few people, if I could say this, typically middle class families — and I heard a lot of this in my own constituency — for whom lockdown was an epiphany moment because they spent more time as a family. Now, there were all sorts of challenges and hardships, of course, but there was something rather positive about that. I think there were also, we were very conscious, would be other communities and households in other parts of the country where the experience was that actually the combustible nature of what was going on in the home, whether it was because of mental health challenges or whether it was because of domestic tensions and domestic abuse, where that was very different. Quite whether an EIA would have picked that up and what would it have told us that we could have done about it, I think is another question. But I don’t remember, and forgive me, on that specific deep dive of 29 April quite what the EIA said, or indeed if it was conducted.”
Responding to Dominic Raab’s comment, Liz Davies KC replied: “I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply this, but domestic abuse happens in middle class families as well as non-middle class families, of course.”
Government messaging around lockdown
The second question Liz Davies KC asked regarded an address to the nation Dominic Raab made on 16 April about the extension of lockdown for three weeks. During the address – delivered while Raab was acting Prime Minister – he did not mention the “You Are Not Alone” campaign launched by then-Home Secretary Priti Patel five days earlier, nor inform domestic abuse survivors that they could leave home during lockdown.
Dominic Raab replied: “Inevitably, you have a very limited period of time because actually those press conferences were also supposed to be about taking questions, not just talking to the public, so inevitably we couldn’t contain every caveat to the headline advice; it just wasn’t manageable. I thought the Home Secretary had really spelt it out very clearly, we felt we’d landed that message. Of course you would always want to reinforce it, but there was probably a whole range of things where if I’d have gone down and itemised every element of the advice, we would have been there for a disproportionate period of time, and that wouldn’t have served the purpose of the press conference and landing the messages because I think people would have drifted off, frankly, and that was our experience if those became too unwieldy. So it wasn’t — I think we did land that message and I think we continued it in our comms more generally, and it certainly — because it wasn’t in every press conference or indeed that particular one didn’t — I don’t think it’s fair to read into that a deprioritisation or it being a lower level of importance.
“I think with all of those groups that suffered disproportionately you can always look back and think, “Well, I wish I’d have done — said a bit more”, but in the end we only had a limited space within which to craft our message and deliver it, and that was true at a whole range of points. You know, you inevitably have to editorialise your message. But certainly we were very mindful throughout that there was this, if you like, simmering issue of domestic abuse and that lockdown was clearly making it worse, and we wanted to try and make sure that the lines of communication practically were there for anyone that needed that critical help.”
Questions from Marina Sergides to Professor Jenny Harries
Prioritised testing for frontline VAWG workers
The first question Marina Sergides put forward to Professor Jenny Harries – England’s deputy chief medical officer during the pandemic – was whether workers in refuge accommodation or domestic abuse charities were prioritised for testing.
Jenny Harries replied: “I can’t answer that one directly. I mean, there are two issues there about key workers and who was a frontline worker and then, sort of, the implementation of the testing programme. There was quite a lot of consideration, I think, in NHS Test and Trace — again, I wasn’t there at the time — about where that risk lay and who needed to be tested. Obviously, there were many different use cases and there was a certain flexibility whilst working with directors of public health that if they wished to — you know, if they could identify groups because it would, as you know, vary in different geographies that they could direct testing in those cases. But I think that’s probably all I can say to help.”
Impacts of lockdown on domestic abuse
Marina Sergides’ second question to Jenny Harries asked what the government should have considered in relation to domestic abuse when deciding social isolation and/or lockdown measures, in the context of an example Sir Chris Whitty previously gave of people who had shielded before required then experienced loneliness and depression, resulting in clinical and public health problems.
Jenny Harries replied: “I think I probably have answered the question because in that particular case, to my mind, it is foreseeable and we can imagine what’s going to happen and I think you will probably be representing people who experienced those increases in calls just beforehand. And therefore I think some of the messaging was not as clear as it could have been to make sure that people understood that they could come out of isolation. There clearly was a course out and I think it was considered within that, I’m not sure that if I was somebody frightened, you know, in a domestic abuse situation and about to go into lockdown, that I would perhaps have clocked that the message that says “for an emergency” actually applied to me.”