Media briefing on threat to refuge funding

 

Single biggest threat to the future of refuges for abused women and children: Government’s proposed funding for supported housing

  • Hundreds of specialist women’s refuges could shut if the proposals are followed through
  • Local authorities are under no obligation to fund refuges
  • Generic emergency housing provision is not appropriate for the survivors of abuse
  • Currently, the majority of women seeking a space in a specialist refuge are turned away due to insufficient places, this situation will only get worse
  • The ‘local’ approach taken by some local councils means women, who need to be located in a different area to guarantee their safety, could be turned away and left with no safe option
  • Specialised services for women and children escaping domestic violence need dedicated funding and a source upon which they can rely

“The outlook for women and children escaping violence and abuse is very bleak. No country, no matter how developed its response to domestic violence, has ever removed the need for refuges. These safe houses provide a lifeline to thousands of women and children across the country every day and are much more than a roof over a head,” according to Sandra Horley, CBE, chief executive of Refuge.

More than 50 per cent of refuge funding comes from Housing Benefit, with local authorities under no obligation to fund refuges. Plans announced by the Government last October would take away the last guaranteed source of income for refuges, removing refuges and other temporary supported housing from the welfare system, essentially preventing women from paying with housing benefit.

Yet, the extent of the problem and current lack of funding for services meant that more than 180 women and children were turned away from refuges on a single day last year, according to sector figures.[1]  A situation that is set to get much worse.

If the Government goes ahead with these proposals, it is estimated that four out of 10 refuges will have to close and others will have to reduce the number of beds they offer, according to member organisations of Women’s Aid. This could mean an additional 4,000 women and children being turned away from the few remaining refuges.

Over half of the women who came to our refuges last year had suffered a life-threatening injury and more than 40% had had their lives threatened by their abuser.

It is well-documented that a woman is at the greatest danger of being killed and of abuse escalating at the time of trying to leave her abuser. The decision to leave is never taken lightly. Women who experience domestic violence often flee taking very little with them, sometimes without even essential documents or money, and leave family, friends and jobs, uprooting their lives and those of their children if they have them, in many cases after years of abuse.

“Under the Government’s proposals, housing benefit for a stay in a refuge will no longer be available to abused women, but will be paid to the local council to fund services. Over the past few years local councils, which have seen their budgets eroded, are increasingly turning to cheaper hostel-style accommodation to provide emergency housing support. This ‘generic’ provision is not appropriate for women and children escaping domestic violence. Specialist refuges offer more than just a bed for the night, they are a highly specialised, national network of safety and support services for women and children,” maintains Ms. Horley.

“Behind the walls of women’s refuges, lives are saved and transformed – specialist teams work with women and children to help them overcome the trauma of violence and abuse and rebuild their lives, from helping them to stay safe, to accessing health services, legal advocacy and immigration advice, and getting back into work or education. This could all soon be lost.”

For a woman’s greatest safety, places in refuges – if she can secure one – are, also, usually allocated some distance from where she lives, in order to minimise the risk of the woman being pursued and located by her abuser. More than 80% of all women given places in Refuge’s safe houses in 2017 were referred from outside of the area of the refuge.

“The ‘local’ approach increasingly being taken by local councils is equally worrying. ‘Local people’ are seen to be the priority; yet women who flee violent men are unable to stay in their local area and instead must move hundreds of miles to find safety,” Ms. Horley stresses. “If other councils won’t accept them; where will they turn?”

Domestic-violence services have been under threat for years – 80 per cent of Refuge’s services have seen funding cuts since 2011. During the same period, funding for the safe-houses Refuge runs has, on average, been cut by a third. Some areas of the country now have no refuge provision at all.

Such a service was invaluable to Sarah. “Refuge saved my life. After four years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from my partner, I finally escaped to a refuge with my two children, George and Eleanor. Without this safe haven to flee to, I would still be with him. Or worse, not be here at all.”*

It is ironic that these funding proposals have been presented precisely at a time when the sector is awaiting the Government’s Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill and, if followed through, they could pose a serious threat to its stated commitment to helping victims of domestic violence.

Refuge has submitted an official response to the government consultation on these proposals, which closes on 23.01.2018. We look forward to engaging with the government to develop an improved model that will put quality, specialist refuges on a secure and sustainable footing, as we have engaged to date with them on the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill.

[1] Figures from a Women’s Aid consultation of its members, to which Refuge is party.

*names have been changed to protect identities

For media queries email press@refuge.org.uk or ring 0207 395 7731 (out of hours and weekend enquiries: 07970 894240)