Too few businesses are aware of the signs of domestic abuse or have adequate policies in place to support survivors in the workplace, a government minister has said.
In an open letter to employers, business minister Paul Scully said companies needed to “burst the stigma” around domestic abuse, and called on firms to create safe spaces for individuals to disclose issues or look for help.
The first lockdown in March saw calls to domestic abuse hotlines increase by 80 per cent, he said, adding that this trend had continued into the current lockdown.
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Comparing the issue to mental ill-health, which was once taboo but is now widely addressed in many workplace policies, Scully said colleagues and managers were “often the only other people outside the home that survivors talk to each day and are therefore uniquely placed to help spot signs of abuse”.
“Whether it is providing a safe space to disclose issues, or helping put workers in touch with the right organisations, employers can be a bridge between a worker and the support they need,” he said.
The letter comes as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) review into workplace support for victims of domestic abuse prepares to publish its final report.
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Elizabeth Filkin, chair of the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA), welcomed the BEIS review, describing it as timely in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which had put both domestic violence and the role of businesses in tackling it into the spotlight.
“We have seen critical activity from our employer members to support their staff working at home who face domestic abuse, as well as a sharp rise in enquiries from businesses wanting help and guidance to put this support in place,” she said.
“Only through greater awareness among employers and staff of the damage done by domestic abuse and sharing employer best practice can we make a systemic change to the way domestic abuse is thought about and handled in the UK.”
EIDA has encouraged employers to take practical steps to support their employees during lockdown, including hosting links to support services on their intranets, making sure every employee working from home has contact with at least one colleague every day, and asking staff to download the Bright Sky app – which provides resources and information – on to their work phones.
Danny Harmer, chief people officer at Aviva, said lockdown had increased pressure on many people’s relationships, and urged employers to recognise that “home is not always a safe space”.
In July last year, Aviva launched a domestic abuse awareness and support policy. While goodwill is important, said Harmer, it is essential that employers get specialist help.
“In partnership with the amazing charity SafeLives, [we focused] on both colleague and customer support, helping our employees to identify the signs and offer best practice responses and guidance to customers and also to colleagues.” Harmer said. “Since then, more than 1,200 colleagues have completed the awareness training, and we continue to encourage our people to complete it.”
Harmer also urged employers to keep conversation going, noting that domestic violence was a complex issue and employer support needed to stay relevant.
Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helplines:
- England – 0808 2000 247
- Scotland – 0800 0271 234
- Northern Ireland – 0808 8021 414
- Wales – 0808 8010 800
- Ireland – 1800 341 900