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BASW Statement: Domestic Abuse and Covid-19

Lock-down and social distancing have shown to have the potential to exacerbate domestic abuse and situations which were already high risk.

While Covid-19 is no excuse for abusive behaviour, such circumstances offer abusers increased opportunities to assert control and serve to intensify isolation, already a prominent factor in domestic abuse.

There are already a rise in reports of domestic abuse as well as an increase in the difficulties women and children face in accessing support[i].

Austerity has eroded services that should be available to the victims of domestic violence: support services, helplines, advocacy and space in refuges. Under the onslaught of Covid-19 some additional funding[ii] has been made available but the risk is that this small increase cannot even begin to make up for persistent cuts over the last ten years. The impact of the pandemic on domestic abuse is going to become more apparent and social workers need to understand the additional risks during Covid 19 and how women and children – and indeed, all survivors of domestic abuse can be identified and supported in the short, medium and longer term.

BASW calls for:

  • Increased resources to fund helplines and advocacy services.
  • Adequate resourcing of enforcement by the police
  • Increased resources for refuges and shelters
  • Capacity within the social work workforce to provide appropriate, trauma-informed support, now and as we move beyond lockdown
  • Women and children to have access to the devices and support they need to contact services remotely.

Domestic abuse is a scourge in society and thus a societal and political issue. Given its frequency, it can also be a personal issue. Domestic abuse also has a direct impact on social work practice, in relation to vulnerable children and adults, adults with a disability, older people and adults with a mental health problem.

Domestic abuse can occur in any income bracket of society but is particularly prevalent in low income households. Poverty tends to exacerbate exposure and capacity to leave. Domestic abuse can occur from female to male, and within LGBTQ relationships, but is predominantly perpetrated by men towards women. Women and girls in disadvantaged groups are disproportionately affected and face additional barriers to achieving safety.

Domestic abuse is the persistent and controlling behaviour by a partner or ex-partner which causes physical, sexual and/or emotional harm. Physical violence may, or may not be, part of domestic abuse. It is a pattern of behaviour rather than an isolated incident. Children living in households where domestic abuse occurs are not just affected by it, they can experience it directly and indirectly and can be seriously harmed by it.

For a more detailed background of understanding and intervention see: 

SASW (2020) Domestic Abuse and Child Welfare: a practice guide for social workers. Edinburgh: BASW


[i] After three weeks of lockdown calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline had risen by 49%. The number of deaths of women of women killed by a male partner have doubled - 16 people (14 women and 2 children) were killed during first 3 weeks – the highest level since 2011. Figures from Counting Dead Women.

[ii] The UK Government has made an extra £76 million available for domestic and sexual abuse, vulnerable children, and their families and victims of modern slavery. The Scottish Govt has made and extra £1.35 million to Scottish Women’s Aid and £226,309 to Rape Crisis. 

Further information