We are in the midst of the 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence Against Women, a national movement to raise awareness and prompt action across the world.
Public Health England started the 16 days of action on 25 November when it signed the Public Health Responsibility Deal Pledge on tackling domestic violence in the workplace, stepping up to our responsibility to protect our own staff alongside our wider work on domestic violence prevention as a public health issue.
Domestic violence is defined as physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. Nationally one in four women and one in six men will endure domestic violence during their lifetime. It is estimated that domestic violence is as serious a cause of death and incapacity amongst women aged between 15 and 44 as cancer.
When I spoke to colleagues across PHE about domestic violence, I was touched by how many staff had been involved in supporting people enduring violence. Several had played an active role in helping neighbours, friends and family members move out of violent relationships and into safety. For many it had been about being a safe space for individuals to talk about what was happening, recognising the domestic violence and abuse, providing reassurance and signposting to specialist services and support.
But domestic violence doesn’t just stay at home; the impact on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing, emotional and physical health, comes with them into the office. For many people enduring violence, work is one of the few places where they can be safe from their abuser, although sadly there are some cases where the perpetrator works in the same organisation.
PHE has been supported by the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence (CAADV) to undertake an audit of all our policies and procedures and provide assurance that we are doing all we can to protect our staff from violence. We have developed internal webcasts and guidance documents to support line managers to respond if staff members disclose violence or abuse, and provide signposting to specialist services and support for all staff.
One of the innovations in our approach happened after an individual experiencing violence came to see Duncan Selbie and me. She works for a different government organisation, but wanted to share her experiences and challenges. From this meeting we recognised the potential financial barriers for individuals in work who need to leave an abusive partner. We have therefore rewritten our relocation policy to provide access to funds for individuals enduring violence as an option to support rehousing to a place of safety. We hope this will provide additional reassurance to PHE staff who are affected by domestic violence.
At a personal level I have been impressed with how readily staff across PHE have stepped forward to help us in this work and how many have shared their personal stories and experiences of helping others enduring violence. My hope is that the work we are doing will encourage any staff experiencing domestic violence to reach out for help, giving them the confidence that we will do everything we can to help them move into safety and continue to carry out their vital work for PHE.