Debate on Domestic Violence Refuges Funding

December 12th 2017

"Women who need to escape their fate at the hands of an abuser need somewhere safe to go, but the effect of the Government’s new funding model would be to block off those escape routes. Since 2012, a third of all local authority funding to domestic and sexual violence services has been cut. Many refuges have already closed and many women seeking refuge are turned away. Now the Government plan to remove vital funding for refuges, with changes to housing benefit. Those changes will no doubt see the closure of more and more refuges.

How can the Government seriously claim that they are supporting victims when their policies will force refuges to close? One woman murdered is one too many and one refuge closing is one too many. The Conservative manifesto claimed that the party would introduce a “landmark” domestic violence Bill and claimed that it would take action to support victims of domestic violence. Why, then, fiddle with the funding that provides that very support? There seems to have been no joined-up thinking about the possibility that housing benefit rules would have an adverse impact on the provision of refuges for survivors of domestic violence.

Just three days ago at my surgery I had a visit from a woman—I shall call her Nora—who is a survivor of domestic violence and is also going through the additional trauma of the legal system in the matters of access and divorce, with no representation. She has been at the ​local refuge for almost a year. After 52 weeks, her housing benefit will cease because she is no longer occupying her former home, and that is classified as a temporary absence under housing benefit rules. Nora is petrified that she and her two daughters, both under the age of eight, could potentially be street homeless in the run-up to Christmas. What sort of system have we created that allows that to happen?

The Bill will be toothless unless it gives funding for services, benefits and social housing. Labour, in its manifesto, pledged direct and stable central funding for women’s refuges and rape crisis centres, in stark contrast to the Government’s current plans to take refuges out of the welfare system and give a ring-fenced grant to councils that is not exclusively for refuges. The grant would also be for other short-term housing needs, and it sets up yet another barrier for women, who again have to prove their worthiness along with many other vulnerable people in society. This Government’s actions are creating a hostile environment for abused women, one laden with scrutiny, judgment, stigma and barriers to support. The Government are about to block off the last escape route for women in life or death situations. They should listen to Women’s Aid, revisit their funding proposals and secure the long-term future of refuges, the services of which we so desperately need."