WHAT kind of progress have we made in tackling domestic abuse? The honest answer is: mixed. Incidents of abuse increased for the second consecutive year in 2017/18; the justice system is also often not as quick as it could be in tackling cases when they happen. And yet, one council in Scotland has just taken a dramatically positive step towards tackling the problem.

The council is South Ayrshire which has become the first in Europe to approve the idea of “safe leave” for employees who have suffered domestic abuse. Inspired by legislation in New Zealand, the idea is that the council’s staff will be offered 10 days of paid leave to allow them to seek professional help, attend legal proceedings, seek safe housing or visit support agencies.

The council hopes the measure will mean their staff will be able to access help and support without it affecting their finances or them having to use up their holidays. It also hopes that safe leave could make a lasting difference to those who have been affected by domestic abuse.

It is an ambitious idea but the potential benefits are huge. For years domestic abuse was a hidden problem – to a large extent, it is still is – and that is because of the power of stigma and taboo. However, if your employer is willing to offer you time off to access the help and support you need, that could encourage people to be more open. The hope must also be that it will help raise awareness of abuse and violence more generally.

Other councils will now hopefully follow South Ayrshire’s example, but there is also a question about what government will do. The potential benefits of safe leave are clear and it is already working effectively in New Zealand so why not legislate to require all councils and all employers to ensure safe leave is available to their staff too? Telling anyone that you are a victim of domestic abuse is not easy but knowing you can potentially tell your employer and that they will help you access the support you need is a massive step in the right direction.