Nearly one in ten domestic violence charities are running at “unsafe staffing levels” because of the coronavirus crisis.
SafeLives, which surveyed more than a hundred frontline domestic violence charities on the impact of the crisis, said that the virus had created an “unprecedented” set of challenges.
Demand for services has risen, while organisations have had to cope with large numbers of staff taking time off because they are affected by coronavirus or have to look after children at home now that schools are closed.
Just under a third of the charities reported that coronavirus had resulted in staff being forced to take time away from work, and 9% said that this meant they were dealing with unsafe staffing levels.
A further 24% of the charities, which currently have adequate levels of staff, said they feared that the situation will get worse in the next few weeks.
More than a fifth of charities said that they were not currently able to effectively support adult victims of domestic abuse. This rose to 42% of charities who reported that they could not effectively support child victims.
Over three-quarters of the charities surveyed said that they had been forced to reduce their services for domestic violence victims. This includes cancelling face-to-face meetings with vulnerable people and groups, as well as cutting attendance at court and reducing the availability of emergency telephone helplines.
Smaller charities under pressure
Liz Thompson, the director of external relations at SafeLives, told Civil Society News that smaller charities may face the greatest challenges, as they are required to change to totally new ways of working with people experiencing or at risk of abuse.
Thompson said: “Smaller services in particular, who are very used to doing face-to-face support, are having to switch at speed to supporting people online and on the phone, at a time when they haven’t got any office resources behind them.” Not all staff will have their own computers or phones set up to work remotely, she pointed out.
Charities may have to furlough staff
Thompson also said that domestic violence charities may need to make difficult decisions in the near future about furloughing staff under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“Organisations are faced with a decision where they might have to furlough, because they can’t afford to operate unless they do,” she said. “But operationally there’s more than enough work for every single person to do.”
The survey was conducted before the government scheme was fully up and running, but “anecdotally I think people are feeling that they will need to furlough people, even when there is work to do”.
SafeLives has called an enhanced role for the domestic abuse commissioner in the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and for urgent additional funding for charities supporting victims on the frontline.
The police have stressed that they will respond to 999 calls relating to domestic abuse as usual, regardless of coronavirus.