Women fleeing domestic abuse to be offered free train travel under new scheme

'The railway is much more than trains and rail track; it is about supporting the communities,' says GWR director Joe Graham

Sophie Gallagher
Tuesday 03 March 2020 17:34
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Women fleeing domestic abuse will be able to apply for free train tickets under a new scheme to help them get safely to refuge accommodation.

The “rail to refuge” programme run by Women’s Aid will allow women escaping situations of domestic abuse, who are often advised to seek shelter away from their local area.

This advice is given to help protect women from the perpetrator but can make leaving much harder given the financial barrier of getting transport.

This is especially true for women experiencing economic abuse, who may have no easy access to cash. Or accessing it risks exposing their plan to leave.

In a bid to address the issue Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and Imkaan (a charity dedicated to addressing violence against black and minoritised women and girls) are working with Southeastern and Great Western Railway (GWR) to offer free train travel.

The tickets will be available through bespoke booking services for networks across south Wales, Kent and London.

The initiative was first proposed by a station manager on the Southeastern line, Darren O’Brien, after he watched a Dispatches documentary about Women’s Aid in Reigate, Kent.

Adina Claire, Acting co-Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Access to cash is a major barrier for women escaping an abusive partner, and free train travel will be one less thing for these women to worry about at a time of acute crisis.”

“The railway is much more than trains and rail track; it is about supporting the communities that it serves,” said Great Western Railway Business Assurance Director Joe Graham.

He added: “Many of those trapped are unable to flee from their abusers because they have no means by which to do so. Now, with what is such a simple idea, we are able to help provide that means.”

Claire said she wanted to thank GWR and Southeastern for supporting the initiative and wanted to encourage other train operators to contact Women’s Aid if they want to join the scheme.

The Women's Aid 2019 audit, published in January, found last year nearly two thirds of referrals to refuges for victims of domestic abuse had to be declined last year because of a “sustained funding crisis”.

The number of bed spaces in England is now 30 per cent below the amount recommended by the Council of Europe meaning more people are being turned away.

And only 5 per cent of of refuge vacancies could accommodate women who had no recourse to public funds and less than 50 per cent could accept women with more than two children.

Claire said: “All too frequently, when survivors cannot access refuge accommodation, they are left with the impossible choice of either returning to their perpetrator or becoming homeless. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

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