Jess Phillips: Coronavirus pandemic has set back women’s advancement in society

Harriet Line
·4-min read

Women’s advancement in society has been “set back” by the coronavirus pandemic, and will likely lead to more domestic abuse in the future, Labour MP Jess Phillips has warned.

The shadow minister for domestic violence said the economic independence, ability to work and career progress of women has been badly hit by the crisis.

She warned that the greater imbalance between men and women as a result would lead to “more domestic abuse in the future, not less”.

In an interview with PA news agency marking International Women’s Day, she said: “I think the pandemic has set women back in lots and lots of different areas and the level of risk will no doubt have massively increased during the lockdown, as opposed to the actual pandemic itself.

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“The lockdown will have massively increased people’s risk register at the same time as decreasing their opportunities for escape.

“But not even escape – escape is too big a term – their opportunities to be in front of somebody else, whether that is someone in the shop or a teacher in their kids’ class, or their social worker, their staff, their colleagues.

“We just have eliminated touch points that keep people safe and women’s risk assessments at home are based on those touch points and when they are removed the risk will have skyrocketed.”

She said the pandemic will not have caused more domestic abuse and made people “batter their wives” – but rather that the “availability to abuse and the level of abuse that they could commit will have massively increased”.

“The single thing that I think has set women back during the pandemic is actually going to be borne out – and it is the single thing that means that women are less likely or less able to escape and more likely to become victims of domestic abuse in the future – and that is their economic independence.

“Women’s economic independence, women’s ability to work, women’s ability to advance in their careers has definitely been put back by the pandemic.

“Women’s jobs are the first to go and they’ll be the last to come back, and we see over and over again all sorts of harrowing statistics about parents, mothers especially, being 10 times more likely to have lost their job or to be due to lose their job in the next few months.

“And the reason that victims of domestic abuse exist is because of the balances in our society between men and women, and so it is no small thing, but I imagine there will be more domestic abuse in the future, not less…

“(It’s) because women’s advancement in society has been set back by the pandemic and by the fact that there has been nothing targeted to appease that.”

She called for an employment scheme for women, akin to those for young people, to be introduced to deal with the jobs lost in hospitality and retail and other industries.

“When male politicians who are fathers stand on platforms and thank mothers for basically taking an economic nose dive – I don’t want your thanks, I want your governance,” she said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that programmes tackling domestic violence in England and Wales will receive an extra £19 million in his Budget on Wednesday.

But Ms Phillips said it was “very difficult to be grateful sometimes for the things that the Government do on domestic abuse because they broke them in the first place”.

“When they give you back a vase that they’ve put back together with tape, and they expect you to act grateful and dutiful for the broken vase that you have been given back when you gave them a vase that wasn’t broken,” she explained.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month suggested domestic abuse-related offences recorded by police forces in England and Wales rose by 10% in a year, despite overall crime falling in the pandemic.

Some 842,813 domestic abuse-related offences were recorded by police forces in England and Wales in the year ending September 2020 – up from 769,611 the previous year.

Meanwhile, figures provided to the Commons Home Affairs Committee suggested calls and contacts logged by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 34% to 114,986 between April and December, compared to 85,771 for the same period in 2019.

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