Barking and Dagenham launches blueprint to address domestic abuse crisis

Shelter CEO Polly Neate is chairing the commission. Picture: LBBD.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate at the launch of the Barking and Dagenham Domestic Abuse Commission, which she chairs, in 2019. - Credit: LBBD

Barking and Dagenham Council is determined to drive the huge culture shift that experts say is needed in response to domestic abuse. 

The town hall’s new Domestic Abuse Commission Report is intended to be a blueprint for others to follow in tackling the national crisis, which has been exacerbated by a year of lockdowns during the pandemic.

The commission - the UK’s first - brought together a panel of national experts chaired by Shelter chief executive Polly Neate, who have been looking at attitudes to domestic abuse in the community.

Their report, the culmination of 17 months of work, was launched at a virtual event on Wednesday, March 10, which shared its key findings, highlighted the national context and heard from local survivors.

Ms Neate 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 and Dagenham, but everywhere in the country - the difference in Barking and Dagenham is there’s the will to change.

“This commission recommends a dramatic culture change, led by the council, but affecting the whole borough. 

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“I hope our recommendations will improve things for survivors both in Barking and Dagenham and more widely.”

Barking and Dagenham has consistently had the highest rate of reported domestic abuse offences in London.

A school survey in 2017 and 2019 found 26pc of students in Years 10 to 12 thought it was sometimes acceptable to hit your partner.

This included a third of males and almost one in five females.

During the initial stages of the Covid pandemic last March, charity Refuge reported a 50pc increase to its national domestic abuse helpline and a 300pc increase in visits to the helpline website.

Shelter chief executive chair Polly Neate holding a message to domestic abuse survivors that says: We Believe You.

Shelter chief executive and Barking and Dagenham Domestic Abuse Commission chair Polly Neate with the 'We Believe You' message to survivors. - Credit: Barking and Dagenham Council

The town hall says the borough's services reported similar increases in demand.

With the National Domestic Abuse Bill before the House of Lords, the town hall has been adding to the national evidence base through the commission.

Cllr Maureen Worby, cabinet member for social care and health integration, 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 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 detailing what life should be like for survivors of domestic abuse in the borough.

Cllr Maureen Worby announces the We Believe You campaign

Cllr Maureen Worby, cabinet member for social care and health integration. - Credit: LDRS

One of the key messages of the report is “we believe you”, as the commission found there was a culture of not believing survivors of domestic abuse in the community and among professionals.

The first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, 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.”

The commission also recommended that domestic abuse should be part of the council’s core business.

It said a domestic abuse impact assessment should be completed for each council decision.  

The core message of the recommendations is those with lived experience of domestic abuse should play a key role in the council’s future approach to the issue.

Cllr Worby said: “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' throughout the council and beyond.”

Visit https://bdagainstdomesticabuse.org/ to read the report.

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