More women and children put in danger as safety net for those fleeing domestic abuse is 'dismantled piece by piece'

Despite a £10m injection, vital services for victims are being cut

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The Independent Online

The national safety net for women and children fleeing domestic abuse is being “dismantled piece by piece”, according to the charity Women’s Aid. This is despite a £10m lifeline pledged to local authorities to plug gaps in funding for refuge services that are in crisis because of austerity cuts.

The Government is expected to announce this week which local authorities in England will receive £100,000 from funds made available by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles. He is responding to the closure of refuges and other vital specialist services, such as support for children.

But Women’s Aid and Refuge, which both run networks of safe houses across the country, warn that the cash is only a short-term fix, and are calling for a long-term ring-fenced funding solution. “We know the statistics that two women are getting murdered every week and this is because there is a lack of bed spaces,” said Eva Bates from Nottingham Central Women’s Aid, which operates a six-room refuge that was forced to close in 2011, because of cuts, but reopened nine months later, with unpaid staff. It has been full since reopening.

“Domestic violence is a national problem that requires a national response,” said Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge.

Current funding is piecemeal. Some of the money comes from housing benefit, some from local authorities, charities, the Big Lottery Fund or through staff fundraising events. There is a huge shortfall in beds available; 155 women and 103 children were turned away in a single day in 2013, according to Women’s Aid. One in four specialist services has closed down between 2010 and 2014, and there have been protests wherever refuges have been threatened. Clydebank Women’s Aid in Scotland is currently at risk.

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Diana Nammi is the founder of women’s rights organisation IKWRO (Charlie Forgham-Bailey)

The only refuge in South Devon shut down last year, despite huge protests, after Devon County Council put out to tender the domestic violence service and the winning organisation offered no refuge provision. Exeter City Council did not bid for a share of the £10m fund, stating that there was no evidence “in terms of numbers of clients needing refuge provision”. There were also concerns that the refuge could be sustained beyond the current funding round, which is only for two years.

Chris Collier, a trustee from Safe (Stop Abuse for Everyone), which ran the Exeter refuge for 40 years, said: “Most of the women have relocated. One has gone back to her violent partner. Some women are not getting the support they need. They are getting what is called floating services. Many of us think that sooner or later there is going to be another murder around here.”

Diana Nammi, founder of women’s rights organisation IKWRO, said that the impact of the “devastating cuts to refuge places across the UK has been strongest on minority women”. Latin American Women’s Aid in north London is under threat of closure after Islington Council withdrew funding.

IKWRO is to open Europe’s first specialist refuge for women from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) within weeks in London, with private funding for a year.

 

Ms Nammi said specialist services were needed for women from Mena communities as they are often fleeing honour-based violence and may be at risk from a whole community, rather than an individual. “We have women who have been imprisoned at home and prevented from learning English, who have escaped and urgently need a bed in a refuge that night, but have been turned away because cash-strapped refuges have prioritised women who won’t need an interpreter,” she said.

In Hampshire, Simon Hayes, the county’s police and crime commissioner, has made tackling domestic abuse a priority and helps to fund the Southern Domestic Abuse Service, a charity with two refuges in Hampshire.

Katie (not her real name), originally from Nigeria, lives at one of the refuges with her four children. She was abused as a child by her father, who would stub cigarettes out on her. She later moved to the UK with her violent husband. “Right from the day I met my husband there was abuse, although I didn’t know it was abuse because I have been abused most of my life,” she said.

A violent incident witnessed by her four children led to their school calling social services and, fearing for their lives, the family went to the refuge.

“I was so scared that nobody would want to listen to me. Nobody would want to help me,” she said. “I really feel I’m blessed and I’m so happy I have come out of an abusive life so my kids don’t have to go through it any more.”

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