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How can I ensure my organisation is anti-racist? A 9 point action plan.

How can I ensure my organisation is anti-racist? A 9 point action plan.

In the days following the death of George Floyd, protests against racism have erupted over the globe. These protests move beyond a distain for police brutality into a rightful challenge to white dominated society. Many organisations are being forced to look with fresh eyes on what they have, or haven’t, done so far to prevent racism in their organisations. 

Many organisations want to be able to say not just that they are non-racist, but that they are anti-racist. It sounds cool, but what does it mean in practice? 

Having dedicated much of our work to increasing social equality and assisting organisations to develop and improve, we have outlined key steps for organisations keen to move from passivity to active change. If your leadership is serious about eliminating racism then read on. 

  1. Be clear about what racism is 

We need to stop thinking about racism as a binary thing: to be racist is bad: to not be racist is good. Obviously this is true, but if we are too binary about it then we focus on extreme incidents but ignore a lot of the micro-aggressions in-between. Acknowledging that everyone born in a country where racism exists will not be able to escape from it is a key step. Our white-privileged cultures mean that we have all absorbed messages about what skin colours are good and which are bad from a young age.

2. Get ready to be uncomfortable 

Remembering that leaders are duty bound to set the ethical tone from the top and have a huge impact over the culture of an organisation, it is crucial for the leadership team to be committed to this journey. 

If your leadership team is predominately white then it is almost certain that you will never have reflected on this whiteness. This means you will not necessarily have confronted your white privilege and the blind spots that come with it. Leaders tend not to be used to being humble, and acknowledging mistakes or blind spots, but that is exactly what you are going to have to get comfortable with if you are truly committed to this journey. At times it is going to feel extremely personal, and may induce visceral feelings of shame and guilt. But that is because it has to be. Get ready to be a better you, and to run a better organisation. 

3. Understand how bad it is right now

How can we fix what we do not understand? It is crucial to begin a learning exercise to understand your organisation with fresh eyes. You need to look at what is not always easily seen: where the power lies and how the power structures are supporting or incubating the lived experience of racism and white fragility

One of the first steps in understanding is finding out from your black staff and other people of colour their experiences. You need to understand the extent to which they feel personally safe, safe within their work, and safe to voice any concerns or issues within the workplace, the extent to which they trust senior leadership, and the extent to which there is racism and bias in your organisation. 

This research can be done internally, but it might be more appropriate and effective if outsourced to another agency. Safety and trust are the big indicators here. If there is any doubt about how safe and trusted your staff of colour feel then you might struggle to get them to talk to an internal team. What you do not want to do is cause trauma by the act of uncovering any racism in your organisation.

Coupled with all of this is understanding the dynamics of power in terms of white privilege. If you have a majority white workforce, it is crucial to engage with them to understand what their views are on race and bias. Key outcomes from this understanding exercise is an idea of the extent to which your white staff can acknowledge their white privilege and bias and the extent to which it is affecting the power structures and the culture of your organisation. 

4. Look at the full recruitment, retention and exit system

During your process of understanding, look at your full recruitment, retention and exit process. This starts before you even hire people: in the extent to which you are outwardly seen to be inclusive; it continues in how you frame your adverts: where you place them and how much effort you put into targeting black and minority people; it then proceeds through the hiring stage: in terms of your shortlisting criteria and who you shortlist, as well as, hire. 

If your black and minority ethnic employees manage to get through the various hoops to getting in to your organisation, it is important to know what roles they are doing and where these roles sit on the pay and seniority levels. You need to know if there is a race glass ceiling is in your organisation, and what and where the blockers are for people of colour as they move through their career in your organisation. Who gets mentored? Who gets encouraged into more senior roles? Has any diversity inclusion training been carried out with your white employees? If so, how often is it done and is it done with new recruits? Have you as an organisation started to have those difficult conversations about race and white privilege? If not, then this is an excellent time to start. 

Importantly, think about exit. What is the level of staff retention and turnover among your black and minority ethnic staff? What are their reasons for leaving or absences? There is a wealth of information about employees existing your organisation that will be crucial to delve into if you want to keep and promote your black and minority ethnic employees. 

5. Be prepared to make changes in your Board

If you have a predominately white board then you are in the majority of organisations in the UK: from the private to the public and charitable sector. Despite the legal duty  on public institutions, leadership teams continue to drag their feet on increasing colour diversity. Yet board representation is key if you want to take being anti-racist seriously. 

Look at the faces of your Board and senior leadership team and be prepared to make brave changes to its composition. As long as you have a majority white board you will be unable to effectively tackle your racial blinds spots, unconsciously affect organisational behaviour, and will be cocooned within a bubble of your white privilege. No matter what you do further down the organisation, if you don’t make changes at the top then you will lose credibility and accountability if your Board is all white. 

6. Remember that culture is key 

Whilst it may feel like a nice quick win to boost your representation, getting some differently coloured faces into your organisation will not fix a fundamentally racist institution. Never forget the power of culture. We set our culture by tacitly condoning racist behaviour by not confronting it, allowing it to circulate in jokes, stories or “banter,” and by not holding people accountable if they make mistakes, or even worse, if they practice racist bullying or humiliation. If your culture is racially toxic then any new recruits won’t stick around for long. 

7. Practice accountability

Your staff will only trust your actions if you demonstrate that you will hold people accountable if they breach inclusive values.  It is necessary to have clear monitoring, reporting and investigation channels which are appropriately resourced.  This may involve creating a new role or hiring a new member of staff and there should always be a Board member who holds ultimate accountability for this area.

The first thing these individuals should do is examine previous incidents.  What has happened to staff that have been accused of racial discrimination? What happened to the accuser? You should have appropriate recording keeping, procedures and monitoring in place for complaints, including an exit process with the opportunity to identify why an individual has left. This process must be accessible and non-threatening for employees to use.  

When dealing with grievances, it is key to ensure that they are managed effectively and with integrity.  Staff must be trained on diversity and inclusion policies and processes appropriately, starting with an induction when they join the organisation, and then on a regular basis.  Ethnic minority staff should be able to access regular supervision for guidance relating to discrimination or abuse. This would ideally be offered externally, from an independent source.  

8. Get your paperwork in order 

We’ve talked about recruitment and retention, but it’s also time to look at the facts and figures.  First, see what data you collect. Look at the ethnic composition of your staff, and how it varies depending on seniority or department.  Do the same with pay.  Are there equivalent terms, conditions and pay for workers carrying out similar work?  

You will find that the results are rarely simple: it’s not as straight forward as black workers holding fewer senior roles than white ones. Gender, sexuality, disability and many other factors may also play a role, which is known as intersectionality.  It is important not to oversimplify your results to make life easier, but instead recognise the multiple disadvantages that some of your staff will experience.  

Keep the results in mind as you examine your HR policies and procedures.  To what extent are they discriminatory?  Subjective criteria can lead to subtle discrimination in hiring and promotion. Even the best managers in the world will have unconscious (and conscious!) bias, which will influence the decisions that they make, and how they write a job advert.  Establishing objective criteria can help to ensure a fair playing field.

9. Put your money where your mouth is 

No, we don’t mean funding Black Lives Matter (although do that if you want!) What we are saying here is really look at your staff pay. Calculate your Ethnicity pay gap, and be prepared to make changes to salaries if you find that you have a large discrepancy between what your white and black/brown employees get paid. It’s nice to make donations but it is hypocritical if your own organisation does not look after its black staff. 

Putting your money where your mouth is, also means funding any necessary support structures, diversity focal points or offering other compensation to staff as you work to become anti-racist. Executive sponsors for race and diversity focal points need a budget, investigations into abuses need money, research into understanding your current situation requires money. If you are serious, you need to back up your words with tangible, well-resourced action. 

But whatever you do, don’t think you can just hire someone to come in and do everything for you quickly. Sure, get assistance, but with the understanding that any real change means the organisation fully buying in to the process, and all employees and the leadership team being ready to be uncomfortable before it gets better. 

Sadly you won’t get a medal at the end of the process, but your organisation will be all the healthier for everyone. 

Justice Studio is committed to anti-racism. We are currently evaluating the EHRCs inquiry into racial harassment in higher education and are working with the UK’s DFID on a safeguarding project that reviews and helps organisations to develop action plans to tackle racial and ethnicity bias and promote organisational safeguarding. We hope that this short guide can act as a good starting point for those organisations who are really serious about tackling their white privilege and join us in taking an anti-racist stance. If you want any more information about any of the above, or would like assistance with working through the steps, then please contact our Managing Director Marianne

Profile photo for Lily

Lily Bissett is the Director of Operations at Justice Studio.

Profile photo for Marianne

Marianne Moore is the Managing Director of Justice Studio.

Featured photo taken by Justice Studio staff at recent demonstrations in London, June 2020.

BAME groups and the pandemic: Our response to the government consultation on Covid-19 and protected characteristics

BAME groups and the pandemic: Our response to the government consultation on Covid-19 and protected characteristics

The Women and Equalities Committee recently called for evidence around the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on people with protected characteristics.

At Justice Studio, we are also concerned about emerging evidence of the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on BAME communities, and took this opportunity to provide evidence and key recommendations around the government’s approach to the Covid-19 crisis.

Covid-19 does not discriminate, but our social structures do: How the pandemic is exacerbating previous inequalities

From our previous research into the outcomes of black and minority ethnic (BAME) men with prostate cancer we know that supports for avoiding and recovering from illness, including access to information, healthcare, and underlying conditions related to environmental quality, have been historically prejudiced.

Ethnicity is not an absolute biological category, and so the differences in ethnic groups and coronavirus impacts are less likely to be the result of genetic predisposition, and more likely to result from societal, political and cultural marginalisation. Marginalisation existed before Covid-19, but is magnified by it.

BAME groups have been disproportionately affected in previous outbreaks and pandemics, and emerging evidence suggests the same is true of Covid-19.

Race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are reliable proxies for the complex socio-biological-environmental factors that determine health outcomes. An extensive body of research has documented how, in the UK and other white-majority countries, black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have borne the impacts of previous influenza epidemics.

Despite representing just 14% of the UK population, 35% of critically ill Covid-18 patients are BAME according to early analysis of available data.

Based on extant research and comparable studies, we are concerned that these disparities may be attributed to three primary factors:

First, there are disparities in the risk of exposure: Frontline workers, wage workers, and those in the ‘gig economy’ are disproportionately BAME individuals. Between 60% and 70% of healthcare and social workers deaths have been BAME individuals.

A very recent report states that while Asian and black personnel make up 10% and 6% of the NHS workforce, respectively, they account for 36% and 27% of known NHS worker deaths.

Second, there is reduced access to healthcare and factual information: Significant disadvantages related to socioeconomic factors and access to basic care and information compound risk factors. In addition to this, many underlying conditions relevant to Covid-19 severity (such as asthma) require self-management, which is more difficult to embed in populations with lower rates of health literacy.

Previous examples from influenza outbreaks find relationships between ethnicity and socioeconomic deprivation and health-seeking behaviour, particularly in access to antivirals during a pandemic. Further, alarming disinformation—such as rumours that people with dark skin are not affected by coronavirus—has gained traction on social media channels since January, and has been echoed by media personalities with little or no effort to dispel such myths.

Third, there is greater susceptibility due to underlying conditions: Emerging reports on the relationship between heart disease and Covid-19 include a letter published April 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine detailing five young and middle-aged Covid-19 patients. These patients had suffered large vessel strokes across a two week period, suggesting a relationship between Covid-19 and large vessel blood clots—even in patients without symptoms. Similar research in the Netherlands suggests the same results.

Heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure), both emerging factors in the severity of Covid-19 cases, are also correlated with lower socioeconomic status and with ethnic minorities.

In the UK, the burden of cardiovascular disease is higher among those with South Asian heritage, while occurrence of stroke is higher among African-Caribbean groups. Repeated studies show hypertension is greater in Afro-Caribbean men (30.8% in 2002) and women (34.4%) compared to white men (19.4%) and women (12.9%). Further, African-Caribbean ethnicity is associated with a hypercoagulable state and thus risk of venous thromboembolism, or clots in deep veins.

Together, these studies suggest ethnicity may be a predictive variable in determining Covid-19 health outcomes. Again, this is not due to inherent biological differences between groups, but because of environmental and social factors that impact different groups disproportionately.

It is also important to recognise that the severe cases involving blood clots highlighted above occurred in otherwise young and healthy patients with few or no Covid-19 symptoms, meaning those most affected may not be sheltering in place as they will not consider themselves at risk.

Environmental and ecological factors also exacerbate underlying conditions in BAME populations.

Environmental factors, including pollution and living conditions, are related to respiratory conditions, such as asthma. Asthma and related chronic illnesses are demonstrably influenced by socioeconomic status, and are more common in ethnic minorities.

Covid-19 affects breathing and respiratory systems and chronic asthma sufferers are considered at high risk for developing severe coronavirus symptoms. Importantly, many chronic breathing problems are caused by the pollution that characterises the poorest areas of the UK.

The inequalities that characterise BAME populations affect people with asthma, which is more prevalent in deprived communities.

Asthma is not only more prevalent in deprived communities, but those living in more deprived areas of the UK are more likely to require hospital treatment for asthma.

This is no surprise, given that 66% of human-made carcinogens are emitted in the 10% most highly deprived English city wards, which are also less likely to have access to green spaces and associated air quality benefits, and receive less spending on public transport.

Overcrowded living conditions also make social distancing measures less attainable and are more likely to affect BAME groups.

For example, among UK Bangladeshi populations 30% are considered to live in overcrowded housing. For black Africans and Pakistanis this is 15%. Some of the disparity shown in early studies of Covid-19 deaths and BAME populations may be accounted for by higher transmission rates in densely populated areas, such as large cities, where there is a higher BAME population.

Data around protected characteristics, including racial/ethnic disaggregated data in Covid-19 cases and mortalities, must be collected and analysed.

Previous studies on race, ethnicity, and viral outbreaks/epidemics have called for the collection of individual-level data on ethnicity during future pandemics, as well as qualitative research to examine reasons for disparities in health outcomes.

One recent report found none of the ten countries with the highest Covid-19 cases have reported ethnicity data; this includes the UK, where ethnicity has not been a required metric.

There is far too little data being collected around race/ethnicity and Covid-19. While death certificates may list country of origin, we understand that this is not shorthand for ethnic identity in any applicable sense, such as the way a person has lived their life, what groups they interact with, or what exposure that may have entailed.

However, we support early and emerging efforts to correlate self-identifying racial/ethnic categories with health outcomes and urge decision-makers to funnel resources toward furthering these inquiries.

Data collection must be followed with critical, systematic analysis to determine correlations between self-identified race/ethnicity and Covid-19-related health outcomes. Calls for urgent public health research into race and ethnicity with relation to Covid-19 has been very recently highlighted in leading journals. Much of this has drawn attention to comorbidity burdens relative to race and ethnicity, education and understanding around Covid-19, and social behaviours (such as interaction with unwell and holding social/familial gatherings).

We argue that responses must address racial/ethnic specificities.

At Justice Studio, we believe in research efficacy that takes into account the lived experiences and contextual nuances of peoples’ lives.

This must include close attention to, and sustained efforts to engage with, communities that have a historic distrust of authorities and health researchers such as BAME groups which is an understandable feature of research due to historic research abuse. Already during Covid-19 concerns arising from two French doctors’ suggestion that vaccine trials be undertaken on African populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo have left many UK black populations worried that any covid-19 research will involve injections or vaccines etc.

This is something that we encountered when recruiting for our purely qualitative peer research with older people, and steps must be taken to ensure that any research is transparent and non-abusive, invasive or exploitative. Previous research into health crises and race has made use of existing datasets to inform present-day decision-making. We support efforts to rapidly review data from previous outbreaks to save BAME lives today.

Justice Studio provides intelligence services to enable unions of nations, governments, and not-for-profit organisations better promote social justice.

All written evidence submitted to the Women and Equalities committee, including our submission, can be found here.

Featured photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.

“You don’t see many Hog Farms near the Country Club”: What is environmental racism and why is it critical to safeguarding?

“You don’t see many Hog Farms near the Country Club”: What is environmental racism and why is it critical to safeguarding?

Environmental conservation, along with equal access to a safe and clean environment, is fundamental to a fair and inclusive world. Unfortunately, our world is not fair or inclusive. Whilst a minority of richer white nations continue to consume at an alarming rate, posing serious food security risks if the population reaches above 9 billion, it is primarily people of colour who suffer as a result. In the USA, it is the black, Hispanic and native American communities that suffer disproportionality within the country from environmental pollution.

Environmental safeguarding is the process of monitoring social and environmental management so as to protect the welfare of people, particularly children, minorities or the elderly. Without serious consideration of environmental safeguarding, pressure will build up on forests, water systems, land, and many other natural resources of a particular region. These are the main assets for the livelihood of many of the world’s population below the poverty line.

Environmental racism

Protecting the environment must be done in a socially equitable way. Rather than viewing environmental safeguarding as a nice add-on (to international development projects, for example), we at Justice Studio consider it a priority. This is because environmental safeguarding is social safeguarding: historically, socially marginalised populations have also been disproportionately subject to pollution, land degradation, and other such byproducts of ‘development’.

In the US, for example, pollution is rife among Black, Brown and low-income communities. Landfills, coal plants, toxic waste dumps and industrial farms producing harmful by-products to the residents of these communities. Without viable access to healthy foods or healthcare, nor to adequate channels of protest or political influence, many environmentalists describe this as environmental racism.

Researchers from the National centre for Environmental Assessment found that people of colour were much more likely to breathe in polluted air than white people. Trump’s EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also found that environmental racism is a real and true concern, yet are continuing to rollback regulation over pollution.

A case study: Hogs and waste in North Carolina

In 2017, North Carolina resident Rene Miller launched a lawsuit against hog farming operation Murphy-Brown LLC. Among allegations against Murphy-Brown are claims of owning 80,000 Hogs on 7 different farms within a 2-mile radius of each other. These farms create what are known as lagoons, where the pig waste is collected. When these cesspools begin to reach capacity, the liquified contents are sprayed into a field across the road from Miller’s domicile.

And who are the people who have to live by these cesspools? You guessed it, they are black, Hispanic and native American communities.

There are more pigs than people in North Carolina. In one year alone, an estimated 7.5 million hogs in five eastern North Carolina counties produced more than 15.5m tons of faeces, according to a 2008 report by the General Accounting Office. If that doesn’t put a sour taste on your palate, consider the fact that there is no septic infrastructure to manage this waste.

A large pig farm can produce as much as 1.6 million tonnes of waste per year, an amount greater than many US cities. Meanwhile, air pollution from these farms has been strongly linked to asthma in children, alongside other health effects for the elderly or those with respiratory issues.

Negative health effects are linked to residing in close proximity to hog farms–health consequences that disproportionately affect the black, Hispanic and native American communities that have to live by them are huge. Yet due to farms’ location in rural areas where there is access to cheap land the local residents leverage less political power.

Geographies of inequality: “You don’t see many hog farms next to country clubs”

In an unjust world, marginalised populations suffer more than others as a result of dangerous environmental practices.

US senator Cory Booker recalled,

I saw first-hand in North Carolina how corporate interests are disproportionately placing environmental and public health burdens on low-income communities of colour that they would never accept in their own neighbourhoods.

Interview with The Guardian, 2017

Indeed, the number of hog farms in the Eastern part of North Carolina (a predominantly black region of NC) is increasing. Furthermore, they are spraying the excess hog waste into the air around these black communities. The rancid smell from this faecal mist will coat these towns and damage the lungs of its residents.

Don Webb, a 76-year-old ex-hog farmer now turned activist, stated that, “you don’t see many hog farms next to country clubs.” It is true, the environmental issue is currently an ‘out of sight out of mind’ problem. Thus, it is to no surprise that these farms are located in black and brown communities, disproportionately affecting those from minority backgrounds.

The correlation between lower income communities and high polluting corporations could be consequential for two main reasons: First, the residents may lack the political know-how to combat these corporations from damaging their communities. Second, these factory farms and other large polluters provide jobs, which these poor communities may need more than their will to complain. The latter is described, in a phrase coined by Robert D. Bullard, as environmental blackmail: when one must accept negative health consequences in order to have or keep a job.

Environmental safeguarding as social justice

Industrial Pig farms in North Carolina are one strong example of environmental racism, but sadly, they are not a solitary example; they are part of a pattern. As class and race are so closely related in the United States, poor rural areas with cheap land house black and brown communities. Similar patterns can be seen nationwide.

There are an abundance of articles linking racial geography and pollution levels. Factories producing high levels of emissions are predominantly placed in minority neighbourhoods. Those most heavily affected in these minority communities have little to no voice to be heard. When a person’s access to a clean, safe environment is connected to their race and socio-economic status, environmental safeguarding becomes a human rights issue.

It is an important standpoint of Justice Studio to listen very carefully to the people who are not heard. Therefore, it is paramount to fully comprehend racial disparities as well as to provide people of colour with a platform to voice their concerns in order to achieve social and environmental justice.

Preventing environmental racism is a crucial part of our safeguarding framework at Justice Studio, which we are using to good effect with DFID in Uganda. In our Safeguarding and Fiduciary Risks programme (SAFR) [MM2] racism is addressed at a government, organisational, community and environmental level. You cannot safeguard beneficiaries without acknowledging  how inseparable  a person’s wellbeing and livelihood is from environment. Safeguarding which does not address and dismantle racism is not safeguarding.

Xavier Ambridge Lavelle is a recent intern at Justice Studio and a politics philosophy and economics graduate from Goldsmiths. He has a passion for food, inclusivity and dismantling inequality.

Featured photo: Hog farm cesspool in North Carolina.

Is the lockdown an abuser’s best friend?

Is the lockdown an abuser’s best friend?

How Government policy on the Corona Virus colluded with domestic abusers

Many domestic abuse charities were dismayed when the coronavirus lockdown was announced, with no thought for how women at risk would be protected during this time. Rooted in the knowledge of how domestic abuse works, they could immediately see why this policy could provide carte blanche to the perpetrators of abuse if it did not have adequate safeguards.

In this blog, we outline our primary concerns and responsive actions in a collaboration between Justice Studio and Solace.

About Solace

Solace is the leading violence against women and girls (VAWG) organisation in London, supporting almost 23,000 women, men and children in the past year. Solace exists to end the harm done through Violence Against Women and Girls. Our aim is to work to prevent violence and abuse as well as providing services to meet the needs of survivors particularly women and girls. Our work is holistic and empowering, working alongside survivors to achieve independent lives free from abuse. The need for our services is even more vital during this difficult time.

Understanding how domestic abuse works is to see how government policy has exacerbated an already pervasive issue. There are a number of ways in which the government lockdown has unwittingly colluded with perpetrators: sanctioning control, rules and providing new excuses.

Domestic abuse is all about control.

As the Power and Control Wheel highlights, perpetrators do not need to use physical violence every day, and some never use it at all. Violence is used by perpetrators when they believe that other tactics are failing. Whilst domestic abuse is perpetrated by any sex, men are much more likely to use violence when they believe their tactics are failing, which is why so many woman are killed by their male partners. Other tactics that can be used by the abuser include sexual or financial control, bullying behaviour, denial and blaming the victim, and, crucially in this context: isolation.

Isolation tactics include refusing to look after the children if the victim wants to leave for work or other reasons, moving her to a remote place, and gradually distancing her from her support networks such as family and friends. With a policy dictating social isolation for all, the government have made this tactic much easier, and also morally sanctionable. It helps the abuser to see that isolating someone is acceptable, and not abusive. It plays into their distorted beliefs that isolation is really ‘protection.’ In this context, the government slogan ‘stay safe, stay at home’, implies you will be safe at home. For many women, this is simply a lie, and yet now the abuser has a government endorsed reason to continue.

The government have set a number of new rules in place as part of the C-19 lockdown, restricting how often people can leave the house and who people can and can’t see. In doing so, they are a larger embodiment of the way an abuser will sanction certain behaviours and disallow others. A perpetrator will see his partner as a possession and believe that she should obey him: the rules he imposes keep him knowing whether or not she is under his control. A victim might be told that she can only go out at certain times, to certain places, and that she is not allowed to see certain people. By mimicking this controlling behaviour at the national level, the government is setting a dangerous example for perpetrators.

As any victim understands, it is breaking the rules, whether these rules are clear to the victim or not, that will lead to an outburst. Sometimes she will deliberately refuse to comply, but most of the time she will unwittingly break a rule because the rules change arbitrarily. In either case, once the rules are broken, it throws the perpetrator into a sense of panic, and powerlessness: because the victim has asserted her own agency, it challenges his sense of control, triggering the desperate need to re-assert it. Sometimes his sense of control will be challenged by things that are nothing to do with the victim breaking a rule, but with the circumstances of the perpetrator’s life changing. Maybe he loses his job, puts on weight, or has to deal with the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. In any case, it is at these times that the perpetrator will do whatever he can to stay in control himself: by controlling his partner, including using violence.

Excuses: Of perpetrators, of government

Perpetrators of violence use excuses to justify this violence to themselves, absolving them of guilt. They will do this both before, and after the violence has occurred. Typically, they will tell themselves that the victim deserves it, that they provoked it, that the victim only responds to violence. With the draconian use of lockdown, the government allows any perpetrator to use the lockdown measures as justification for violence. Using violence is OK because I had to force her not to leave the house. Using violence is OK because it’s the only way to keep her in and to keep us safe.

On top of creating an enabling environment, the government is exhibiting the same kind of cognitive dissonance that simultaneously facilitates and disavows the abuse. With the one hand they say they care about stopping domestic violence through initiatives such as the Domestic Abuse Bill, and Home Office support, yet other actions and messages send an alternative message. The result is confusion, which is ultimately exactly the kind of state that most victims of abuse will find themselves in day to day, preventing them from being clear about what is going on in their lives.

The view from the frontlines

At Solace we saw a 49 per cent rise in calls to our London Advice Line the week before lockdown and since then we have been working with a growing number of women who have managed to leave their abuser, all of whom have been considered at high risk of further harm.

The statistics already give some indication of the dire situation for women experiencing domestic abuse during the pandemic. So far at least 19 women have been killed by my men during lockdown and the Met Police are answering roughly 100 domestic abuse calls per day.  There have been over 4000 domestic abuse arrests in London in the 6 weeks from 9th March – 24th April, a 24% increase compared to the previous year.

However, it is vital to highlight that the full picture is still unknown at this time; many women are still unable to report the abuse or escape from their homes.  The official figures offer only a glimpse into the reality of the current situation, which is likely to unfold in time, and we are expecting a significant spike in demand for our services when the lockdown is lifted.

Unnecessary risk, avoidable deaths

It is tragic and paradoxical that the risk of death as a result of lockdown policies is higher for some than from the disease measures are supposed to combat. Had the government been more strategic and more cognisant of what damage the lockdown would do, then we would not have been seeing the rising numbers of deaths that we have already seen. When government analyses the deaths as a result of the coronavirus, it needs to consider the deaths of innocent children and women at the hands of their partners in lockdown, and the responsibility its policy had for it.

Moreover, some other jurisdictions have chosen to act.  In some states in the US for instance, it’s the abuser who has to leave the home. In France, a man wears a tracker that ensures he can’t go within 5 kilometres of his target. Action at the policy level was clearly possible, but was not taken.

How is Solace helping during Covid-19?

At Solace, we are really concerned about women living in isolation with their abusers and the challenges they face keeping themselves and their children safe.  We are doing everything we can to ensure our doors stay open throughout this worrying time and to make sure women and children can still receive all the support they urgently need.

  • Our refuges are still open and providing life-changing and life-saving support to women with nowhere else to turn,
  • Our Advice Line team and all staff are answering the phones, so women have someone to talk to and;
  • Our community advocacy teams are working tirelessly to make sure, no matter where they are, London is safe for women and their children

Solace has been working with commissioners across London to develop an emergency response to the pandemic so women fleeing abuse have access to safe accommodation. In partnership with Southall Black Sisters, we have now launched The Covid-19 Crisis Project offering safe crisis accommodation with specialist support to women and children across London. Never has the need for safe accommodation been greater and we are relieved to be able to deliver this ground-breaking model of support at a time of crisis.

In additional to vital crisis service development, Solace launched an emergency appeal #StaySafeAtHome to ensure that our services could continue to run during this period and provide care packages of essential items to the women and children we are supporting. You can view a film outlining the appeal here.

From our specialist work, we understand the additional challenges women are facing right now while in lockdown. So, we’ve also brought together resources to help survivors, and those supporting them, at this critical time.

Staying safe during Covid-19: Action research with Justice Studio

As soon as the isolation measures were announced without proper safeguards we at Justice Studio feared for the lives of those whose homes are not safe. Now Justice Studio are working with Solace Woman’s Aid on a pioneering piece of research to understand the impact of the crisis on the domestic abuse sector and the women they help. Whilst it  may not save everyone this time around, we hope that the research will lead to better decision-making next time we face such a crisis.

24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Solace Advice helpline: 0808 802 5565 (London).



Fiona Dwyer CEO, Solace

Fiona Dwyer is the Chief Executive of Solace. She has worked with and for women and young people’s protection for over 17 years. She has also been a trustee at Rights of Women for the past 5 years.


Marianne Moore is the Managing Director and Chair at Justice Studio. As a consultant specialised in women’s rights, she has worked for a variety of clients including the UK Government, bodies such as UNICEF and the Council of Europe, and UK and international not for profit organisations.