Women Fleeing Domestic And Sexual Violence As Refuges Are Shut Down
By Government Proposals
Over half of refuges could be forced to close their doors or reduce life-saving services if government goes ahead with plans for supported housing funding, says Women's Aid:
The lives of thousands of women and children will be put at risk if the government’s proposed plans for supported housing funding go ahead, a survey has found.
In little-publicised proposals, the government plans to remove refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system.
It would mean vulnerable women fleeing abusive partners will not be able to pay for their accommodation using housing benefit, the last guaranteed source of income available to refuges. On average, housing benefit makes up 53% of refuge funding.
Two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. Under the current spending model, Women’s Aid found 94 women with 90 children were turned away from refuge services in one day.
Whilst the Government's proposals mean that rather than being able to use housing benefit to fund refuges, the handing of a “ring-fenced” grant to councils for short-term supported housing: will be done.
However, and very importantly being left out by many media reports; is the fact that this does not exclusively cover refuges – it is also aimed at older people, homeless people, offenders, people with mental illnesses and drug addicts.
Earlier this year, Theresa May unveiled plans for a major consultation across government would result in the domestic violence and abuse bill, consolidating other relevant legislation and introducing new measures to help victims.
The latest threat to funding is a particular blow as campaigners and charities had been cheered by a government U-turn on plans that would have seen refuges hit by the housing benefit cap.
“If you have a new law that improves the criminal justice response, you can have the best police response in the world for a woman who is seeking to escape an abusive relationship, but if she doesn’t have the specialist services in her community to go to, then that response will be really undermined,” Katie Ghose, CEO of Women's Aid told the Guardian newspaper.
In response to an emergency Women’s Aid survey of refuge services in England, carried out following the announcement of the government’s plans to change the way they fund short-term supported housing, 39% of refuge services who responded said they would have to close their doors for good. A further 13% said they would be forced to reduce the number of bed spaces available.
Women’s Aid has estimated that would mean the loss of more than 588 refuge spaces for women and children fleeing abusive homes in the refuge services who responded to the survey. This would result in an estimated 2,058 more women and 2,202 more children trying to escape domestic abuse being turned away from the lifesaving services they desperately need.
One third of refuges in England responded to the survey, therefore this loss of provision is likely to just be the tip of the iceberg.
This comes on top of the thousands who are already unable to access a refuge service due to lack of available spaces. On just one day this year, 94 women and 90 children were turned away from refuge, while 60% of all referrals to refuges in 2016/17 were declined (Women’s Aid Annual Survey 2017).
The findings are released as the government is due to launch its consultation on the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill.
The government’s proposed supported housing reforms will mean:
* Over one third (39%, 30 out of 78) of refuge services who responded fear they will be forced to close down.
* A further 13% (10 out of 78) of refuge services who responded said they would be forced to reduce the number of bed spaces available.
* An estimated 588 bed spaces in refuge services who responded will be lost.
*An estimated 2,058 more women and 2,202 more children will be unable to access a place in the refuge services who responded.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“The landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure survivors and their children get the support they need to escape domestic abuse and rebuild their lives, but the government’s plans for supported housing funding risk undermining the Bill’s good intentions.
Demand for refuges already far outstrips supply and the proposed funding model could be the breaking point. Refuges will be faced with the awful reality of either turning more women and children away or closing their doors forever.
“On average, two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. A refuge is not just a bed for a night; it is a lifeline for thousands of women and children."
She concluded by saying:
To ignore the advice of experts and put these vital services at risk would be a dangerous, and a potentially fatal move. Only by creating a long-term and sustainable funding model for a national network of refuges can we ensure that every woman and child can safely escape domestic abuse.”
The government’s proposed supported housing funding model will remove refuges’ last secure form of funding – housing benefit – and devolve housing costs to local authorities to “fund services that meet the needs of their local areas”.
Refuges operate as a national network though and cannot be provided based on an assessment of local need alone: when women and their children flee domestic abuse, over two thirds flee to a refuge outside of their local authority so they can live without fear of being hunted down by the perpetrator (Women’s Aid Annual Survey 2017).
While 15% (12 out of 78) of refuge services who responded to our survey revealed that they currently receive no local authority funding; this is backed up from data in our 2016 Annual Survey which shows that one in ten of all domestic abuse services, including refuges and other community-based services, received no local authority funding.
This model will leave the refuges that can survive subsisting on shoe-string budgets, with no long-term guarantee of funding. This proposed funding model could mean the loss of specialist domestic abuse services, which are vital to women and children’s recovery, in favour of cheaper, generic short-term accommodation.
The government has promised to transform the national approach to tackling domestic abuse through their landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, and declared that the state “will do everything it can to both support [survivors] and their children.”
Women’s Aid calls on the government to follow through on its commitment by working with us to protect refuges. Women’s Aid wants to work with the government to create a long-term and sustainable funding model for a national network of refuges, which will increase the number of bed spaces and support provision available to match the level of need, to ensure that every woman and child can escape domestic abuse.
You can support Women's Aid by protecting women’s refuges and fight to stop dangerous planned changes to the funding of Women's refuges, which would put women & children’s lives at risk. Sign the petition here
Source: Women's Aid / The Guardian / C Ingram