Sadiq Khan has promised people fleeing domestic violence “we will make sure you receive the assistance you need” after unveiling new emergency accommodation for victims.
There has been a 25% surge in calls to domestic violence hotlines since the shutdown began as people find themselves trapped inside with a violent or controlling partner.
Many charities have found abusive partners are using social isolation and quarantine rules as another means of controlling their victim and preventing them accessing help.
On Monday, the first of 82 new flats financed by City Hall to meet greater demand became available in London.
The mayor told the PA news agency: “We have invested £1.5 million in this and the message to anyone who has experienced domestic violence and domestic abuse is ‘don’t suffer in silence’.
“Please ring the police, ring the charities, ring the helpline and you will receive the assistance you desperately need.”
NEW: Frontline services for survivors of domestic violence have struggled to meet the rise in demand since lockdown began.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) May 4, 2020
Today Iâve announced a Â£1.5million emergency response fund to provide victims of domestic abuse with safe accommodation.https://t.co/WLojPMYUzt
Mr Khan said that unlike London’s rough sleepers, helping victims of domestic abuse was not as straightforward as placing them in empty hotel rooms.
“When it comes to providing safe spaces for victims of domestic violence you have got to work with the experts because otherwise you are going to inadvertently place a victim in a place the perpetrator knows about,” he said.
“So we have worked with the experts over the last few weeks finding the right pieces of accommodation across our city in secret locations to make sure they are fit for purpose.
“It is important to provide the wraparound care you often need – it is not simply a safe place, it is also social care, legal support and mental health services.
“Some women have left their home with nothing at all so it is providing toiletries and clothes as well.”
Many of the flats are large enough to house families with children, Mr Khan said.
He added that the flats had been secured for at least six months, and leases will be reviewed before they expire to see if they need to be extended.
At the weekend, the Government announced a separate £76 million package to support people who are unsafe in their homes. At least £10 million will be for abuse victims in England.
Mr Khan said he wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel five weeks ago asking for extra funding for domestic violence charities.
“Now we finally have this announcement from the Government, we are going to be seeing how much of that money comes to London,” Mr Khan said. “We can then use that to help our support services scale up the help they are providing.
“It is heartbreaking when you hear about charities having to turn people away. Frankly speaking it just isn’t right in the 21st century for London to be turning away victims of domestic abuse and not be giving them the help they need to flee a home that is not safe.”
Asked about life after lockdown, the mayor said he hoped London would not return to “business as normal” and would use the lessons of the pandemic to bring about change.
Mr Khan said: “That means addressing some of the structural inequalities that have led to members of black and minority ethnic communities dying disproportionately.
“It means looking at zero-hours contracts and the gig economy, it also means looking at what the new normal means.”
He said he hoped the pandemic would also lead to more walking and cycling, accelerating plans to clean up London’s polluted air.
London’s independent victim’s commissioner, Claire Waxman, said: “It’s vitally important that any victims in London suffering violence and abuse know that they will be able to leave and have somewhere safe to go.
“The stay-at-home guidance is clear that you can leave your home if you are at risk of injury or harm.”
Commander Sue Williams, the Met Police lead for safeguarding, said stay-at-home guidance is vital for slowing the spread of Covid-19, but added: “For some people home is not the safe place it should be and these restrictions may leave potential domestic abuse victims at greater risk.
“The Met is absolutely still here for Londoners. Nobody experiencing any form of domestic abuse should feel they have nowhere to turn for help and with no option but to suffer in silence.
“Anyone who needs to leave their home to escape abuse will not be penalised for breaching the stay-at-home instructions – they will be supported.”