Government must go further to ensure employers fully support victim-survivors of abuse

On 14th January, Business Minister Paul Scully published an open letter to employers on how they can best support survivors of domestic abuse. The letter follows a review by the government into workplace support which found very few companies are aware of the signs of domestic abuse and even fewer had any sort of policy in place.  

Here at SEA, we welcome many of the Minister’s suggestions that call for an empathetic and inclusive working environment that allows survivors to feel comfortable enough to speak out – we call this ‘creating invitations to tell’. The Minister advises employers to sign-post to experts and free resources available and the government has also announced a working group made up of trade unions, employers and representatives of victims to search for practical solutions that can be implemented in the workplace. All this is positive. Change can only come when we listen to, and believe, survivors. 

Yet listening is just the start. To truly transform a survivor’s circumstances, we must give them the right tools and resources to be able to break free from a perpetrator; we must help them rebuild their economic safety  so they can rebuild their lives. 

It is for this reason we do not believe that review went far enough. SEA, along with many others, supports calls to offer paid statutory leave for domestic abuse survivors – a policy that currently exists in Canada, New Zealand and the Philippines. 

We know that economic security is key to safety. Women who are unable to find £100 at short notice are 3.5 times more likely to experience abuse. Paid leave allows women to maintain economic stability  while seeking other forms of safety, such as a refuge, a hotel room or a more permanent place to live. Paid leave allows women to leave an abuser without the risk of losing a job; a woman should never have to choose between her and her children’s right to safety and her right to an independent income. On top of paid leave, SEA believes employers should consider putting in place an emergency fund and the government should offer cash grants to help make those crucial firsts steps to safety. 

Our research, The Cost of Covid-19: Economic abuse throughout the pandemic, has found that due to lockdown, working from home has made the lives of some victims even more difficult and even more dangerous. As the lines between home and work blur, it is more important than ever that employers are alert to the signs of domestic abuse and know how to respond. We particularly commend law firm Linklaters who offer staff experiencing abuse paid leave, paid accommodation, access to an emergency fund and fully confidential, one-to-one, expert advice from SEA to employees who need to fully and safely separate their finances from an ex-partner. Other private companies, such as Lloyds Banking Group and EY, have implemented impressive policies also, with support from organisations such as the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse and the Everyone’s Business project led by Hestia.

Yet essential support to victims of abuse shouldn’t be left to the lottery of whether or not an employer chooses to implement best practice. This should be a right for everyone.