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More cuts ahead for domestic violence services?

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sisters uncut, government cuts, funding, domestic abuse, woemn's lives,Conservative cuts threat to – already overstretched – domestic violence services.

The run-up to the national election saw headline-grabbing protests in London over cuts to domestic violence services, with hundreds of campaigners gathering to occupy a council rooftop and stopping traffic in the street with colourful flares.

Led by the Sisters Uncut collective, the protest highlighted cuts to local authority funding for domestic violence services – and warned that more of the same was likely.

Sisters Uncut member Lucy Strange said funding for domestic violence services had already been reduced by 30 per cent, and that all the major political parties had planned to continue these cuts if elected.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of the past five years has regularly come under fire for reducing funding for charities and other organisations involved in supporting those at threat from domestic violence and abuse.

The first two years of the last government saw a 31 per cent cut in funding for domestic violence and sexual abuse services.

Cuts have been exacerbated by the scrapping of the discretionary social fund in 2013; it was replaced by the £150m poorer local welfare assistance fund, leaving local governments with big gaps to fill.

This has led to an all-too similar story nationwide. At the start of 2014, for example, Worcestershire’s local authorities halved funding for domestic abuse, while in Devon support was cut by 42 per cent.

As a result of lost public funding, many charities have been forced to downsize. Insufficient resources have meant hundreds of women and children turned away from refuges each week.

In August last year, Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, joined those calling for a halt to this rapid withdrawal of such essential, often life-saving, services.

“We thought we had won the argument that refuges need to be a national network but we are having arguments of 40 years ago all over again,” Neate said. “There has to be a national network and national funding to support it.”

There has, in addition, been concern over changes made to the legal aid scheme since April 2013, which have made it harder for victims of domestic violence to access legal advice and representation in court.

And a report published earlier this year by the Justice Select Committee warned that more than a third of domestic violence victims are now unable to meet the requirements to access legal aid.

Emma Scott, director of the charity Rights of Women, has highlighted survey findings showing that lack of support is leading to many women staying in abusive relationships, and warned: “It is not over-dramatic to say that women will die.”

If there is a positive side to all this, it is that – as Polly Neate recently pointed out – domestic violence is now “on the political agenda as never before”.

From almost complete silence on the issue five years ago, this election campaign saw all three major parties make specific domestic violence pledges.

The Conservative Party manifesto included a promise to ‘prioritise tackling violence against women and girls”, stating, on its page 59: “We will now work with local authorities, the NHS and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure a secure future for specialist FGM and forced marriage units, refuges and rape crisis centres’.

But, with cuts (in)famously at the top of the new government’s agenda, it seems highly likely that domestic violence services will continue to be squeezed, as “saving” on public spending continues to be prioritised over saving lives.

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