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‘Allow people return to workplace to help them escape abusive relationships’ says Bramley councillor

Words: Richard Beecham

A senior councillor has warned that some people working from home will need to return to work as a first step to escape abusive relationships.

A recent report released by Leeds City Council claimed domestic violence rates have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic – it is thought that this is due, in part, to “forced coexistence” between households.

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This all comes while the authority is pressing ahead with plans to roll out “flexible working”, which will see many more of its staff members working from home after the Covid pandemic.

But Coun Julie Heselwood (Lab, Bramley) told a meeting of the council’s infrastructure scrutiny board that employers needed to continue the offer of working from an office to any staff in traumatic domestic situations. She said: 

“We have seen in the last 18 months a significant rise in domestic violence incidents. Most people are working from home, and people have been in houses and isolating together – this has increased domestic violence for both men and women.

“We are going to see the impact of that coming out of lockdown. People who have been working from home need to be given the option to come into the office. That may be the route they need if they have been suffering from domestic violence over the last 18 months because they have been trapped in a home with the perpetrator.

“They should come into the office and hopefully get the help they need.”

A recent report by Leeds City Council officers said a recent increase in domestic violence in the city was an “ongoing concern”, and that there had been a weekly average of 452 incidents reported to the police between April and September 2020.

This comes at a time when the council is reducing its office space, and instead offering “flexible working arrangements” to allow some of its staff to mix their work time between home and the workplace.

But Coun Heselwood also warned that working from home was causing some to work longer hours. She added:

“There have been reports written on how it placed that additional burden on women. We have had reports of some women getting up at 5am and doing a couple of hours work before the children get up, and having to home-school, then working until 11pm.

“While working from home works for (some people), for others it creates a burden.

“One size does not fit all and we need to have conversations to make sure we are helping people.”

Coun Sam Firth (Con, Harewood) added:

“When people want to work in the office they should be allowed to. I do want to make sure that we haven’t gone too far down the line of being too flexible in terms of more flexible work spaces rather than having desks or pods.

“I think that is certainly something I hope officers note.”

Coun Diane Chapman (Lib Dem) said:

“People may well change their minds over the course of the year. People may want to work from home now, but you may not want to do it when you have done it for another year.

“We are going to have to have some sort of flexibility on whether people can change their minds.”

A council report claimed that, according to a survey, around 30 per cent of its staff were unhappy at having to go into the office more often, and that this needed to be taken into account. An inquiry into council working arrangements is expected to take place “in the new year”.

The report added: “Future work on this will focus on estate realisation, office remodelling, hybrid meeting spaces and the costs associated with that and the provision of additional equipment to staff working remotely.

“A future evidence session is planned for later in the municipal year to be followed by a commitment to finalise the inquiry in the New Year. It is hoped that, restrictions permitting, future work will align with deployment of the new working arrangements.”

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