Cuts to domestic abuse services may make short-term savings, but the long-term costs are too high

Refuge's bases for South Asian women in Derby close in March. Here, the charity's chief executive explains why protecting frontline services is a matter of life and death
  • @sandrahorley

Imagine what life would be like if you weren’t allowed to go to the local shop to buy a pint of milk. If your every move was controlled, to the point where you couldn’t even do something as simple as post a letter. If you didn’t know how to use a telephone.

When women and children flee to our South Asian refuges in Derby, this is how they describe the lives they have left behind. Many have lived in extreme isolation, cut off from everything and everyone beyond their violent partner. Many have not been allowed to learn English, making them even more isolated. Some have been forced into marriage, or endured so-called ‘honour’-based violence as a result of bringing so-called ‘shame’ on their family.  A small cluster of refuges in Derby, run by a band of dynamic women, have been helping these women, and their children, to find safety for over five years. But from 31st March this year, the doors to those houses will close for good - the latest services to fall foul of brutal austerity measures.

It takes enormous courage for isolated and vulnerable women to break free from violent partners. In the last six months, 50 per cent of the women we supported in Derby were at risk of ‘honour’-based violence, and 36 per cent faced the prospect of being forced to marry someone against their will. Almost 50 per cent had been threatened with murder. 

Women flee to our Derby shelters from across the country. Once they have escaped, these women can never go back to their old lives.  They rely on our support to help them find new paths. Our refuge workers come from the same ethnic backgrounds as the women they support. They speak the same languages.  They find creative solutions to help women stay safe, sometimes not just from their husbands, but from multiple family members who may have perpetrated, or colluded, in prolonged abuse. Our team go the extra mile to protect the women and children in their care.

It fills me with enormous sadness to think that this important work will be lost when our Derby services close in March. What will happen to women who desperately need this kind of specialist support? Where will they go? To whom will they turn?

Derby Council, like councils up and down the country, has been forced to find savings on an impossible scale. The axe has fallen hard on the pot of money which is reserved for the most vulnerable members of society, such as victims of domestic violence. An astonishing 83 per cent of this budget will be slashed – amounting to £6 million in cuts between 2012 and 2014. At present, we have no idea whether any specialist domestic violence services will exist in Derby at all in the near future.

Last year, Derby Council undertook a series of Equality Impact Assessment workshops in order to gauge the reaction of local people and organisations to their drastic proposals. The most alarming finding from these workshops is captured by a phrase at the bottom of a page towards the end of the report: “Possible fatalities”.

“Possible fatalities”. A two-word euphemism for murder. Because this is what will happen when life-saving services close. Abused women and children will have fewer escape routes. They will be forced to make a hopeless decision: take to the streets, or stay with violent partners. For some of those who choose the latter, those ugly threats to kill could become a tragic reality. 

The death toll taken by domestic violence is already astoundingly high – two women are killed every single week by current or former partners. How far will this figure rise if budget cuts continue to carve up the landscape of domestic violence support?

Each domestic homicide costs the state £1 million. Think about what this covers. The legal costs of investigating and prosecuting perpetrators. The costs to social services of caring for mother-less children. And the health costs of repairing the collateral damage to those who have been robbed of their loved one.

Protecting frontline services – like our small cluster of refuges in Derby – makes financial sense. These services save money, and they save lives. In this difficult financial climate, the need to find immediate savings is, of course, critical. But let’s not forget that short-term solutions may only increase costs – and human misery – further down the line. 

Refuge’s need for public support has never been more urgent. It is a well-worn phrase in charity fundraising, but every single pound you donate to our work will make a huge difference to women and children escaping domestic violence. Your support will be nothing less than life-saving.