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Supported housing funding vital for refuges


Refuge, Women's Aid, domestic violence, government cuts, supported housing, Government proposals mean an estimated that four out of 10 refuges will have to close.

The single biggest threat to the future of refuges for abused women and children is this government’s proposed changes to funding for supported housing.

More than 50 per cent of refuge funding comes from Housing Benefit, and local authorities are under no obligation to fund refuges.

But plans announced by the government last October would take away this last guaranteed source of income for refuges – removing refuges and other temporary supported housing from the welfare system, and essentially preventing women from paying via their housing benefit.

The extent of both the financial problem and the incidences of domestic abuse and current lack of funding for services has already meant that more than 180 women and children were turned away from refuges on a single day last year, according to sector figures.

And this situation is now set to get much worse.

According to member organisations of Women’s Aid, if the government goes ahead with its 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.

This could mean an additional 4,000 women and children being turned away from the few remaining refuges.

And if the proposals are followed through, and hundreds of specialist women’s refuges do shut, local authorities are under no obligation to fund refuges – and their generic emergency housing provision is not appropriate for the survivors of abuse.

The ‘local’ approach taken by some local councils also mean that women, who need to be located in a different council’s area in an attempt to guarantee their safety, could be turned away and left with no safe place.

More than 80 per cent of the women given places in Refuge’s safe houses in 2017 were referred from outside of the area of the refuge.

Specialised services for women and children escaping domestic violence need dedicated funding and a source upon which they can rely.

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

“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,” Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said.

“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,” Horley explained.

“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.”

“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,” Horley continued.

“If other councils won’t accept them; where will they turn?”

Domestic violence services have been under threat for several years now – 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.

But such a service was invaluable to Sarah, who, talking about the importance of refuges, said: “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 they are followed through, they could pose a serious threat to its stated commitment to helping victims of domestic violence.

Refuge submitted an official response to the government consultation on these proposals, which closed on 23 January 2018 and looks forward to engaging with the government to develop an improved model that will put quality, specialist refuges on a secure and sustainable footing, as it has engaged to date with them on the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill.

Please contact your MP and let them know that you do not support the government’s proposed action.


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