School of Social and Political Science

More accessible domestic abuse services needed across the UK, research shows


Analysis of UK domestic abuse services provided under Covid-19 reveals that several groups, including Black and ethnic minority groups and those in rural communities, struggle to access domestic abuse services.

A new report on the provision of domestic abuse services in the UK under Covid-19 has highlighted the need for more accessible services.

The research highlighted how, during the pandemic, the domestic abuse sector in the UK pivoted rapidly to the remote delivery of services in order to meet increased and increasingly complex demands.

This report was led by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19. Dr Claire Houghton of the University of Edinburgh's School of Social and Political Science was a key researcher on the study.

Inadequate provision for several groups

The report emphasised the continued value of hybrid and face-to-face support services in reducing barriers to domestic abuse support, with many victims benefiting from them. However, remote services were not equally accessible for all.

In particular, the research highlighted an inadequate provision of support services for several groups, including those with complex needs, in rural communities, black and ethnic minority groups, male victims, older survivors and children and young people living with domestic abuse.

Key factors and recommendations

Gaps in domestic abuse provision during the pandemic were attributed to a range of factors including closures of housing services, schools and courts, digital poverty, increased levels of mental health needs, and language barriers. More targeted funding, along with more flexible and rapid funding application processes, were found to be key to closing these gaps.

The study also identified a significant shift in thinking towards rehousing domestic abuse perpetrators so that women and children could stay in the family home, and this approach is currently being piloted in London.

Consistent messaging

The research revealed that over the last year, public messages and media coverage have increased public and government awareness of domestic abuse. However, messages need to be consistent – domestic abuse victims were initially influenced by the message to stay at home before the government changed its messaging. Researchers also recommended that resources are publicized wherever possible including at vaccination and testing centres.

Increased demand for services

The research follows a significant increase in demand for domestic abuse services across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Women’s Aid June 2020 Provider Survey highlighted that of 22 online support services, 90% had seen an increase in demand, with 81% of 31 telephone support services also witnessing high levels of calls.

Refuge, who operate a national domestic abuse helpline in England, also saw a 22% increase in calls to their service in the year ending March 2021, compared to the previous year (ONS, 2021a), with a 700% increase in individuals accessing their website between April and June 2020 (ONS, 2020).

This research was undertaken by the Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm at the University of Central Lancashire working with researchers at the University of Edinburgh and in partnership with domestic abuse organisations.

Professor Nicky Stanley, professor of social work at UCLan and lead author, said: “The pandemic has emphasised the need for all sectors and services to contribute to the task of responding to domestic abuse. Restrictions have prompted a widespread reflection on the experience of being confined to an abusive environment, and this broader awareness has sparked many examples of innovative interventions from a wide range of organisations and groups.

“However, domestic abuse services interlock with other services and the shutdown of housing services and delays in the justice system have increased demands on domestic abuse services and create blockages in refuges. Likewise, school closures meant that many children living with domestic abuse became invisible to services.  All public services need to take account of domestic abuse in responding to the pandemic and other such crises.”

Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales said: “This research has highlighted some key issues which domestic abuse victims faced during Covid including gaps in support services for several groups including Black and minoritised survivors.

“I am calling on the Government to create a dedicated funding pot of £262.9m over three years for specialist ‘by and for’ services that provide the most tailored support for marginalised survivors including LGBT+, Deaf, disabled and Black and minoritized victims as well as migrant victims and survivors.”

Notes on methodology

The research was carried out across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and involved expert interviews, stakeholder meetings, a call for evidence and a survey of regional domestic abuse coordinators.

The UK and international reports are available at:

Future research

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the UK team is collaborating with researchers in Australia, Ireland and South Africa to draw together learning about the global response to domestic abuse under Covid-19.