EngagementCultureEmployers encouraged to “destigmatise” domestic abuse, says Paul Scully MP

Employers encouraged to “destigmatise” domestic abuse, says Paul Scully MP

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the role of employers in supporting victims of domestic abuse

HR professionals have a “huge and vital” role to play in providing workplace support for victims of domestic abuse but “should not feel the need to be experts”, according to Paul Scully MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state for small business, consumers and labour markets.

“For too long a lack of awareness and stigma around speaking out about domestic abuse has stopped workplaces putting in place the kind of help and support survivors desperately need,” he says.

In January, a governmental report found many employers lacked the confidence to know what to do to support employees experiencing emotional and physical abuse.

Employers can make a difference by “breaking down the barriers” that exist in reporting domestic abuse by “establishing an open, supporting environment where staff know they can come forward, said Lorraine O’Brien, CEO of the Employers Initiative for Domestic Abuse (EIDA), in an email.

Employers can make a difference by downloading the free Bright Sky app, which gives information on spotting abuse and has a directory of support organisations, as well as adding a list of support services to company intranets so they are easily accessible, O’Brien suggests.

“If there is one tiny silver lining to the pandemic, it is highlighting the role of employers in tackling domestic abuse,” said O’Brien. “It really is everyone’s business.”

Even having conversations with staff and relaying that the company is invested in providing a safe and supportive environment can make a difference, she said.

Such support can “literally save a life”.

Making a change

The pandemic saw demand for domestic abuse support services spike. Refuge reported a 65 percent increase in demand in its 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline during April to June 2020 and visits to its helpline website increased by 700 percent.

The Mankind Initiative, supporting male victims of domestic abuse and violence, reported calls from victims in June 2020 increased by 38 percent compared to previous months, while calls on behalf of the victims increased by 16 percent.

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Research by KPMG and Vodafone found the potential loss of earning per female victim of abuse is estimated at £5,800 each year, stemming from the negative impacts of career progression.

UK businesses lose £316m in economic output each year due to work absences related to domestic abuse.

EIDA saw a 36 percent rise in new members since the lockdown began.

“Enquiries and asks for support have really stepped up,” said O’Brien. “What’s great is our membership spans from big global brands to an inspiring range of UK SMEs.

“There is a lot to navigate but with the right training and support businesses can put a lot of very effective measures in place quickly and using not too much resource.”

Workplace policies around domestic abuse should be made visible as they are “no good if it’s just written down on a bit of paper and tucked away in a drawer or on a HR page or on an intranet”, says Sully.

The business minister describes workplace support as a “learning curve” and encourages employers to think about the type of training they have place for line managers and staff.

“HR should ask who can act as a champion, maybe it’s a member of staff in the team, or diversity network. HR doesn’t have to do all the work; they can just be a facilitator. Employees have a hugely important role to play in spotting the signs of abuse and pointing survivors to help.”

Scully encourages employers to access the toolkits and guidance available from EIDA, Women’s Aid, Save Lives and other abuse charities.

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