On Wednesday 10 March, Barking and Dagenham Council launched its Domestic Abuse Commission Report. The Commission, which is a UK first, has brought together a panel of national experts and, chaired by Polly Neate CBE, CEO of Shelter, has been looking at attitudes to domestic abuse in the local community. The report, which is a culmination of 17 months of work, is intended to act as blueprint for others to follow in tackling this national issue, which has only been exacerbated by a year of lockdown caused by COVID-19.
The virtual event was attended by over 150 people including members of the Commission. Polly Neate, shared the key findings of the report, and Nicole Jacobs, the designated first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, highlighted the national context of this issue. The event also heard from local survivors of domestic abuse who shared their experiences.
Domestic abuse is a national crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to domestic abuse which has been described as a ‘shadow pandemic’. During the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020, Refuge reported a 50% increase to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline, and a 300% increase in visits to the helpline website. Local services report similar increases in demand.
It’s a key moment for domestic abuse too with the National Domestic Abuse Bill going to the House of Lords, and through its Domestic Abuse Commission, Barking and Dagenham has been adding to the national evidence base. Tackling this issue is a huge priority for the Council. Barking and Dagenham has consistently had the highest rate of reported domestic abuse offences in London and a 2017 and 2019 school survey found that 26% of Year 10 to Year 12 students thought it was sometimes acceptable to hit your partner.
The Commission has been led by survivors of domestic abuse who have co-produced the report and its recommendations. The report is structured around seven survivor-based outcomes which details what life should be like for survivors of domestic abuse in the borough. One of the key messages of the report is “We Believe You”. The Commission found that there was a culture of not believing survivors of domestic abuse amongst residents as well as professionals. One of its key recommendations is to create a culture change where professionals, and those in the community spread a message of “We Believe You”. The Commission also recommends that domestic abuse should be part of the council’s core business, with a ‘Domestic Abuse Impact Assessment’ that should be completed for each council decision. Core to the Commission’s recommendations is that those with lived experience of domestic abuse should play a key role in the council’s future approach to domestic abuse. A short film featuring three survivors of domestic abuse was also premiered at the event, which is available online: https://f.io/MqRKOtLW
Nicole Jacobs, the designated first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said: – “I have a lot to learn from this initiative and I hope we continue the conversation. The Barking and Dagenham Domestic Abuse Commission captures the ambition of where we want to go. Domestic abuse is everyone’s business and what we need is a coordinated community response and the ‘We Believe You’ approach.”
Polly Neate CBE, Chair of the Domestic Abuse Commission said: “Survivors of domestic abuse are met with disbelief and disadvantage wherever they turn, whether in their community or from professionals who should be striving to protect them and help them recover.
“This is not only the case in Barking & Dagenham, but everywhere in the country – the difference in Barking & Dagenham is there’s the will to change. This commission recommends a dramatic culture change, led by the council, but affecting the whole borough. I hope our recommendations will improve things for survivors both in Barking & Dagenham and more widely.”
Cllr Maureen Worby, Cabinet Member for Social Care and Health integration for Barking and Dagenham Council said: “Domestic abuse affects too many of our residents and I’m proud that as a borough, we have acknowledged that there is more to be done through launching this ground-breaking commission.
“Domestic abuse has been a priority for our political leadership but as this report highlights, we still have a long way to go. The commissioners have given us a way of moving forward, and I look forward to working with survivors of domestic abuse in our borough to improve our response to, and understanding of, domestic abuse. I will be championing the message of “We Believe You” through-out the council and beyond.”