‘We need the university to have a policy’ (Rachel Lawson, Research and Project Officer, The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Northumbria University 22/1/19)
Along with members of Human Resources and UNISON branch officers, several members of Northumbria UCU recently attended a training and information session on becoming part of Northumbria Police’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Champions Network. The excellent session was convened and led by Rachel Lawson, from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, at the direct request of Northumbria UCU.
The statistics and human stories relating to domestic violence are harrowing, and demand a response: 1 in 4 women (aged 16-59) will experience domestic violence and abuse at some point in their lives, and on average 2 women are killed by their present or ex-partner every week in the UK.
In addition to the explanation of some of these shocking statistics and harrowing stories, what emerged loud and clear from the session was how important workplaces can be in supporting people enduring domestic violence and abuse. Changes to the benefits system (especially Universal Credit) can facilitate abuse as money is paid to the ‘wallet not the purse’ of only one household member – many homes are now even harder places to live. Yet due to government cuts, domestic abuse services have been axed across the country, so the need for Champions in the workplace are vital. The session emphasised though that just because we are a university does not mean this need is reduced – while women clearly suffer most instances of it, the evidence shows (and Rachel emphasised), that domestic abuse can happen to ‘anyone’, anywhere, regardless of any class, creed, or occupation.
We learned that the workplace champion role was not about knowing the law chapter and verse, or being a trained counsellor. It was about being a first point of contact for victim-survivors if necessary, and being resourced and informed to help them have the confidence to be empowered to take control of their situation, which is all the more important when they may often feel they have none.
What role can the employer have? Well, to do the role to its best requires time for Champions to top up on training and networking – employers need to support this. Moreover, Champions will feel supported if they know there is a designated policy and framework to support them in their need. Even more important, victim-survivors will feel supported by their colleagues and co-workers, if they feel the issue is acknowledged and handled well in light of such a policy.
The implications of domestic violence and abuse for working life are profound and undeniable. Employers can make all kinds of reasonable adjustments to help support someone through or after domestic violence and abuse: these can include offering variations in work patterns or responsive flexible working, an understanding and sensitive approach to timetabling, and dispensations about having an online presence. But a clearly-worded, negotiated policy is required to put all this down in black and white, and help managers manage with care, and victim-survivors feel nurtured. Northumbria UCU commit to working with the university to help make this a reality. Helpfully, Rachel has a policy template which can easily be adapted to most organisations; indeed, many organisation in the region have already done this. We should follow their lead!
Northumbria UCU thank Rachel for her insights and resources and would recommend anyone else taking the opportunity to have Champion training.