Domestic abuse has been referred to as a “shadow pandemic” by the UN, with the number of cases increasing significantly across the world throughout lockdown.
For many people suffering abuse, the respite of the weekday commute and being able to go to office were lost overnight. Recognising the signs of abuse and having the confidence to speak up and ask for help were already challenging pre-Covid. However, these challenges have no doubt been exacerbated in a remote working environment.
With one in four women and one in six men likely to experience abuse during their lifetime according to the Office of National Statistics, this is a critical issue that will impact many employers and employees across the country. Throughout the pandemic, many charities and helplines have reported a spike in calls; for example, domestic violence charity Refuge reported an increase in demand for its specialist domestic abuse services with online traffic jumping 800 per cent in July.
The issue is far reaching across the country, and companies have an important role to play in supporting victims of domestic violence within their business. Doing so should be prioritised to the same extent as other forms of mental and physical health.
Raising awareness and understanding of the issue will help drive more conversations in the workplace, which can help to reduce the stigma and encourage people to share their experiences. With many businesses exploring a longer-term switch to remote working, providing access to existing tools and resources so staff can speak to the right people and get the help they need will be even more important than ever.
There are a whole range of different materials available through external domestic abuse charities such as Hestia (download their Bright Sky app for practical advice and local support services, or their new Respond to Abuse app specifically for employers), and organisations such as the Employer’s Initiative on Domestic Abuse which provide a really useful forum for gaining insight and knowledge on domestic violence and for sharing examples of best practice.
At EY, we offered accredited training to some of our people to help them support individuals who may be impacted by these issues. We also provide information on the support available to all our people in key documents such as maternity policies. More broadly, our staff in the UK are able to access Independent Domestic Abuse Advocates — a service which connects people with specialists who can provide confidential, practical and impartial advice on domestic abuse, child matters, safety, housing, legal options and financial pressures, and guide individuals towards the support available.
There isn’t a one size fits all approach for supporting people impacted by abuse, and businesses alone cannot solve this problem. Starting the conversation on best practice with other companies and organisations, and acknowledging that more likely than not individuals may be suffering in silence within their business are key first steps.
For many businesses, making the issue a core part of their health and wellbeing approach can make a real difference.
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