Theresa May: Forced home working could increase domestic abuse

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Media captionTheresa May urged the government to publicise changes to domestic abuse law

Former Prime Minister Theresa May has warned bosses not to make employees work from home after the lockdown, as this could increase domestic abuse.

She told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that household violence and bullying had risen “significantly” since March.

Mrs May added that many victims regarded work as a “safe place” and employers “need to think about that”.

The House of Commons passed the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill this week – it now goes to the Lords.

Covering England and Wales and first introduced last year when Mrs May was still in Downing Street, the bill would place a duty on councils in England to provide shelter for victims of abuse.

It also says children who hear or see the effects of abuse should be treated in law as victims, and introduces the first legal government definition of domestic abuse – including economic abuse and coercive or controlling non-physical behaviour.

Mrs May urged the government to “publicise” the bill’s contents if, as expected, it becomes law, so victims have a better idea of their rights.

“We have seen during lockdown the number of cases of domestic abuse significantly,” she added, saying: “It’s important that we don’t lose that momentum.”

The proportion of people in Britain working exclusively from home surged after the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March, reaching 38% in June, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It has since fallen a little, but many firms say they will encourage more home working in future.

‘Behind closed doors’

But Mrs May told World at One: “If you are a victim and suddenly find yourself at home all day every day of the week with your abuser, then that’s really difficult for you.”

Perpetrators were also more likely to offend in that environment, “as their coping mechanisms are no longer available to them”, she added.

Mrs May said: “What I don’t want to see is employers simply saying that everyone who can work at home should simply be doing so in the future, because if you are a victim of domestic abuse work is a safe place, and employers need to think about that.”

Domestic abuse had traditionally been seen as something that “happened behind closed doors”, she added, saying: “But it’s a crime. It’s not right that a human being should be subjected to this abuse and we need to make people aware of that.”

Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins has promised that measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill “will provide support to the victims and survivors of this horrendous crime so that they can go some way to feeling safe again”.

But campaigners say the legislation needs to include better protections for migrant women.

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