The impact of COVID-19 on domestic abuse in Scotland

Popular discourse on the COVID-19 pandemic has often omitted the serious rise in domestic violence that came with the advice to ‘stay at home’ leading to increased potential for harm within the home, and far less opportunity to escape to safety.





Guy Stewart

Anna Wilde

Estella Browne

Sneha Tandon

Yew Jien Huey

Executive Summary

Between 2018 and 2019, the police recorded 60,641instances of domestic abuse in Scotland, where almost three-quarters of those reporting were women(Scottish Government). Prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic there existed an abundance of issues within current Scottish domestic abuse legislation, such asa dearth of migrant-specific aid policies, and a lack of available and accessible housing support. The pandemic has further exacerbated these problems.

Despite the introduction of Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Act 2018, and the attention towards Westminster’s proposed introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21, the lack of governmental response to the recent domestic abuse escalation has meant that, for survivors, reaching the point of reporting has become extremely difficult. The allocation of £4.25 million to domestic abuse resources has created no substantial improvement and lacks diversity; indeed, support services are no better-off financially. Moreover, the Equally Safe strategy has not adapted well to the pandemic, in no way meaningfully increasing survivors’ access to resources.

The Government’s response has been insufficient for two principal reasons. First, support for domestic abuse survivors was in crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite policy reform, more needs to be done to ensureequal support for all. Furthermore, the pandemic has only aggravated the problem: a UK-wide survey from August 2020 found that for 61% of women living with their abuser, the abuse had worsened(Women’s Aid). Emergency funding and support from the Government has failed to consider the complexities of the current crisis. For example, Women’s Aid has seen a dramatic increase in use of their services, and at later hours.

This paper proposes the Scottish Government take on a four-fold approach:

  1. Reach out tosurvivors: those who are without technology or who don’t speak English should not be excluded from getting help. The Government should also reduce the burden on survivors to seek help by providing discrete points-of-contact in accessible spaces, especially with changing COVID-19 guidelines.

  2. Implementation of subsidised shelters and refuges to reduce the strain on understaffed and overwhelmed services who provide accommodation to survivors.

  3. Comprehensive funding for support services that is consistent and long term. The allocation of funds should be presented clearly in transparent reports that are easily accessible as a ‘checks and balances’ measure.

  4. Efficient and equity-based financial support for survivors. This can be achieved through establishing clear and precise arrangements of how funds are passed from the top level down to the survivors.

We think it is important that all of these policies are informed by an intersectional perspective— a guiding principle in our discussion and suggestions.