The British government has announced a £76 million support package for the most vulnerable people in the UK who are being significantly impacted during the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown.
The funds will go towards helping people who are currently sleeping rough, and children in vulnerable situations, as well as victims of domestic violence, modern slavery, and human trafficking.
Making the announcement on Saturday, Robert Jenrick, the UK's housing and communities minister, acknowledged that the lockdown has posed significant risks for people who are not safe at home, who are are unable to access support networks, or who don't have a home.
“For some in our society these [lockdown] measures involve sacrifices that none of us would wish anyone to bear,” Jenrick said, speaking to the BBC. “For victims of domestic abuse it means being trapped in a nightmare."
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak added: "Whilst staying at home for a prolonged period of time is a challenge for us all, for some it poses a different kind of struggle, which takes place behind closed doors."
#COVID__19 affects everyone, but some of the most vulnerable in society - including victims of #domesticabuse - need our help and protection more than ever.👇 https://t.co/zEvGbwhn1V— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) May 2, 2020
The package will go to community-based organisations that already work with victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, or modern slavery, to help fund, for example, additional counsellors and safe accommodation. Funding will also be going to charities that work with vulnerable children in England and Wales.
Additionally, Jenrick confirmed a change to the Domestic Abuse Bill, that will ensure the victims of domestic violence are considered a priority by their council in being given access to local housing.
"This is a fully funded commitment, which will mean that no victim of domestic violence has to make the unbearable choice between staying somewhere that they know is unsafe, or becoming homeless," he said.
In response to the announcement, Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: "We strongly commend the government for making this life-saving change to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will ensure survivors have somewhere safe to call home."
"We see every day the devastating affect it has when people fleeing domestic abuse have nowhere safe to go, so we know this measure will be hugely transformative," he said, highlighting it as a "landmark moment for survivors."
As part of the same funding package, the government has launched a new initiative supporting people who are sleeping rough – with a taskforce dedicated to tackling the issue. Jenrick added that out of more than 5,400 rough sleepers, 90% of those “known to councils” have been offered safe accommodation in the past month, the Guardian reported.
Jenrick also stressed that anyone who needs to leave their home to escape an abusive situation and seek help will not be breaking the law or the lockdown rules.
“You are not alone, you do not have to stay at home, you can and should leave the home if you’re in danger," he continued. "Our outstanding police will be there for you. They will help you."
Parliament's home affairs select committee reported on April 27 that there were “alarming signs of rising domestic abuse” during the pandemic, and noted that domestic violence-related killings had doubled over the 21 days of lockdown.
🔔 BREAKING NEWS 🔔— Crisis (@crisis_uk) May 2, 2020
The Government has just announced that the #DABill will be amended to guarantee #ASafeHome to people fleeing #DomesticAbuse. A huge thanks and congratulations to everyone who has helped with our campaign; this news will change lives. https://t.co/dbY2lYVENi
Refuge, one of the UK’s biggest domestic abuse charities, has also reported a 49% increase in calls to its helpline over the three weeks; while another domestic charity Chayn reported that visits to its website had trebled in March.
As well as the government funding package, support for some of the most vulnerable in British society has come from elsewhere too this weekend, with author J.K. Rowling announcing a donation to support charities working with victims of domestic abuse, and people who are homeless.
On Sunday, Rowling gave a £1 million donation to the British charities Refuge and Crisis. "As ever in a crisis of this sort, the poorest and most vulnerable are hit hardest," she tweeted.