Digital and IT infrastructure is to be enhanced among the providers of services for domestic abuse victims as part of a £4.25m government funding package.

Upgrades to technology as well as training in delivering remote services will be part of an upscaling of national efforts to provide online support to women and children at risk of violence or abuse.

The measures were unveiled yesterday as charities and project groups highlighted the plight of victims whose abusers have discovered ‘more tools’ to harm them during lockdown.

The additional investment will help respond to an increase in demand from victims of abuse for support services during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

More staff, increased hours for centres and helplines, improvements to IT and new digital resources and training will all allow services to be up-scaled so that more people can quickly and easily access help.

Updated guidance, developed in partnership with COSLA, is also already being used by local authorities to keep women and children safe.

Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie said: “The greater risks to women and children of domestic abuse with referrals to frontline services increasing during the pandemic is a major concern. It is atrocious that this is the case but we are focused on ensuring that frontline services can meet the increased demand for support.

“This extra funding will help to ensure these vital services are still able to provide support to people across the country, and the scale and innovation of these projects will provide a lifeline to many women and families.

“Any kind of violence is unacceptable and the safety and wellbeing needs of women and children need to be protected – that is even more important during a pandemic. Police Scotland continue to prioritise domestic abuse cases so I would also encourage anyone suffering violence and domestic abuse not to hesitate to get the support they need.”

Dr Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “Our local Women’s Aid groups have shown extraordinary resilience and creativity in rapidly redesigning their services to continue supporting those experiencing domestic abuse throughout the pandemic. The challenges they’ve faced have been huge as COVID-19 has given abusers more tools to control and harm women and children.

“This injection of financial support will provide some much-needed stability for groups against a back drop of precarious, patchwork local funding. As lockdown and other measures ease, our local groups are anticipating even more demand for their specialist services as survivors begin to have more opportunities to seek support. Additionally, if faced with a second wave of the virus, this funding will strengthen the responses of groups and allow them to build on the progress they have made in delivering services remotely. This support from the Scottish Government will help local Women’s Aid services prepare to meet those needs and will mean that women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse can access the help and advice they want, when they want it.”

Among the recipients of the funds include Scottish Women’s Aid who receive £637,500 this financial year for ‘enhanced support for women, children and young people through affiliated groups’ and an additional £68,000 for ‘improving digital infrastructure and communications for affiliated groups’.

In total, 26 separate funding awards were made including Rape Crisis Scotland which received £676,584 for ‘additional capacity for support’, £31,712 for its helpline; £242,907 for its national advocacy project and £15,000 to refresh its services funding model.

According to a background paper on the COVID-19 aspects of domestic abuse and ‘other forms of violence against women and girls during Phases 1, 2 and 3 of Scotland’s route map [out of lockdown], “digital exclusion of some victims was a consistent finding” during the period.

Some organisations limited their face-to-face contact with victims, or online engagement with victims, due to concerns the victim might be monitored by the perpetrator, the report found.

It said: “Services observed some victims were disproportionately affected, namely those who did not own a smart device, those who did not have good telephone signal in their area, and those who did not have a Wifi connection. Women fleeing abuse who were housed in temporary accommodation were also disproportionately affected. Some women with school age children provided their smart devices to children to access online schooling, which left them without digital access.”

Other concerns were highlighted service providers unable to accept new clients over fears of the risks associated with remote working; one case referenced a manager who felt unable to accept women who remain with the perpetrator into remote sessions due to the risks for the victim and others of being monitored by the perpetrator.