Between the launch of the insurance sector’s collaborative programme to welcome “career break” women back to the workforce and the increased societal spotlight focusing on the safety of women, the time is right for a discussion on how insurance professionals can combat domestic abuse. Boosting this conversation, the recent webinar “Stand-up to Domestic and Economic Abuse” saw a diverse array of speakers speak on the realities of domestic abuse and its far-reaching impacts.
Moderating the discussion was Dame Inga Beale, the first and only (to-date) woman to lead Lloyd’s of London and one of the founding members of EIDA (Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse). Beale noted that the scourge of domestic abuse has become even more concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic ,which has seen a surge in violence, particularly against women and girls.
“Recent research done by the Women’s Aid organisation has some worrying statistics,” she said. “It said that 67.4% of survivors of domestic abuse who are currently experiencing abuse say it has got worse since COVID-19. And 76% have told us that they are having to spend more time with their abuser… [So this] is really a call for action, a call for the insurance industry to get involved.
“[The industry] has the potential to play a big role in tackling domestic abuse, due to, like many other firms particularly in professional services, its nature of having both employees and colleagues, but also clients that you can put at the forefront of this. Raising awareness is a key part of tackling domestic abuse and insurance companies can do this both internally, as well as externally with clients and have a broader positive impact on society.”
Domestic abuse charities and helplines are vital, Beale said, but businesses can also play a potentially life-saving role in tackling domestic abuse.
Paul Scully, who is currently serving as the Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam, highlighted that the government is committed to doing everything in its power to support everybody suffering from domestic abuse. As business minister, he said, he wants to encourage employers throughout the UK to lift the light on this essential issue.
“Domestic abuse really is everybody’s business,” he said. “Our latest figures show that 2.3 million working-age adults experienced domestic abuse at some point over the last year. Having a job is absolutely key to helping victims rebuild their lives, and of course, their self-esteem but we mustn’t forget that abuse can go on for years and continue after the point of separation. And for those that are suffering from abuse, work is often the safest place to be.”
A Government report from January of this year showcased how much of a difference a supportive workplace response can make, he said, and he has been encouraged by the growing number of employers who are leading the way in developing policies and initiatives to support their staff and to raise awareness. One in four women and one in six men will be affected by domestic and economic abuse in their lifetime, he said, and organisations need to question just how many of their people they could make a difference to by embracing support initiatives.
Scully noted that accelerating holistic wellbeing programmes across the sector has gone a long way to teaching everybody that it is OK to ask people if they are OK. Whether it’s about bullying, mental health or stress, it is a natural part of the conversation to reach out to people and make sure they are OK, he said - and he wants to make sure the same is true when it comes to abuse.
“Purely from a work point of view,” he said, “there is clearly a productivity issue if someone is stressed in their minds, and their thoughts are elsewhere but it’s so much more than that. You can help your colleague and the people you work closest to [by] doing the right thing and signposting them on to professional help. But you may also save a life… by raising awareness on the early warning signs of emotional abuse, whether it’s manipulation, coercion, or deception that can often lead on to violence as well. You can really make a difference now with simple steps.”
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Sully and Lorraine O’Brien, CEO of EIDA, detailed some of the main steps that employers can take to protect their people - one of which is installing the Bright Sky app as standard on all company mobiles. This free mobile app connects victims of domestic abuse to advice and support services across the country. Business leaders should also make their staff aware of the #youarenotalone campaign and the ‘Ask for Annie’ codeword scheme which allows those at risk to discreetly signal their need for support.
There is an amazing initiative called the ‘Safe Space’ programme, O’Brien said, where an abuse survivor can walk into a pharmacy and access support services. Safe Spaces was launched by the domestic abuses charity Hestia and its UK SAYS NO MORE campaign in May 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Often a perpetrator of abuse will allow a victim to leave the house to go shopping and this could be their exit from that abusive situation if they are made aware of this programme. To find your nearest Safe Space, please visit the Safe Spaces website.
“So, why should you join EIDA?” she asked. “Well, it’s free to join and it’s crazy not to be a member because of the access that you will have to so many tools, to networking events, to shared practices. So, please read [our Charter] so that you understand the importance of signing up to EIDA and help us support victims that are in your workplace.”