Service provision should not be at the discretion of local authorities, says Refuge’s chief executive
Refuge provision for those experiencing domestic violence is at crisis point in this country. Over the past few years, local authority funding for domestic violence services has been eroded as a result of ongoing austerity measures.
Refuge supports 3,000 women and children through our national network of services on any given day; since 2011, 80% of our services have experienced significant cuts in local funding.
We have also seen the emergence of a number of worrying trends in commissioning practices. For example, some commissioners are demanding that refuge spaces be reserved for women from the local area.This demonstrates a very poor understanding of domestic violence, which often forces women and children to flee across local boundaries in order to stay safe.
Some contracts do not include any refuge provision at all, while others are replacing refuges with dispersed accommodation. This means that abused women and children are housed in isolated units, with little support to help them recover from the trauma of experiencing horrific, and often prolonged abuse.
Other commissioners are imposing restrictions on the length of time women and children are able to stay in a refuge, with some contracts encouraging women to move on after weeks or even days. This is extremely concerning.
Last year, 55% of the women accessing our refuges had experienced death threats, and 55% had been strangled or choked by their abuser. These women are in fear for their lives. Empowering women and children to overcome trauma and rebuild their lives is highly specialist, intensive work; it takes a lot longer than just a few weeks.
Refuges are so much more than just a roof over a head. Our specialist refuge workers support women and children to rebuild every aspect of their lives, from helping them to stay safe, access health services, navigate the criminal justice system, receive immigration advice, and get back into work or education.
Cutting local funding for refuges will only generate knock-on costs further down the line to other statutory services. Last year a social return on investment study conducted by the New Economics Foundation found that Refuge’s specialist services generated £33m in social value in one year, by helping women and children to stay safe, improving their health and wellbeing, and reducing demand on the criminal justice system and health services.
Domestic violence is a national problem: it needs a national response. That’s why Refuge believes that ensuring the provision of refuges should not be at the discretion of local authorities.
Funding should be protected at a national level. Without adequate refuge provision, women experiencing domestic violence will be faced with a stark choice: flee to live rough on the streets with their children, or remain with their abuser and risk further violence – or worse.
Sandra Horley, chief executive, Refuge