Robyn Vinter 2nd October 2018
*This article was originally posted on 16 October 2017 — we’re republishing it in our “Best of The Overtake” as part of our first birthday celebrations!*
Thousands of abused women are being turned away from domestic violence shelters because of funding cuts.
Women’s refuges, many of which get most of their funding from local councils, have seen their budgets slashed by a whopping 24% since 2010, according to figures obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
This is despite cases of domestic violence rising dramatically during that time, with an average of two women now killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales, according to Women’s Aid.
The Overtake, which worked alongside the Bureau on the investigation, spoke to multiple shelter managers and found staff reported having trouble maintaining the same level of service and care with a smaller budget.
Some relied on private or corporate donors to make up the shortfall, some found innovative ways to increase funding – for example, one shelter sold surplus clothes donations through a charity shop – while others absorbed the cuts and reduced services.
More than three-quarters of councils had reduced women’s refuge funding in the last six years, Freedom of Information data shows.
Council funding for refuges across England has dropped from £31.2m in 2010/11 to just £23.9m in 2016/17, according to the 87 councils that responded.
Women and children are going to die
One refuge manager in the North East said their council was blaming cuts on the government while it was clear that it was due to the council de-prioritising women’s services.
“Women and children are going to die as a result, and tens of thousands more will suffer preventable harm, with lifelong consequences. It is stupid, short sighted, and will costs councils /the country far more in the short and long term, than it would to simply fund dv [domestic violence] services properly,” the manager said.
A total of 95% of refuges had turned women away in just the last six months, according to a survey of 40 refuge managers, carried out by the Bureau, The Overtake and many regional newspapers. This was either because the women had physical disabilities, complex mental health needs, too many children with them or simply because there were no beds available.
More than 1,000 women had been turned away from these shelters alone since the start of the year.
One survivor credits being able to stay on friends’ floors to saving her life when she was turned away from local refuges.
“I packed my clothes in a suitcase, and I went, and I said, I cannot go back, if he knows that I left, he will kill me.
“I called a helpline and I said that I need help now. The support worker wanted to put me in a refuge that day, which didn’t happen…it took longer than that…she said ‘call as many friends as you can’, she said ‘I know it’s embarrassing, call ‘em, call ‘em, just see who will pick up and that’s what I did, I spent weeks on friends’ floors before they found a refuge for me.”
While some women are unable to get a place in a refuge, others are staying longer than they need to because they’re unable to move on due to problems like having a poor credit history or outstanding County Court Judgments.
Picking up the slack
One manager told The Overtake that not only were they suffering the financial impact of funding changes, they were “picking up the slack” from other agencies which had faced cuts – particularly mental health services.
“We had one woman and we knew straight away that she had serious mental health problems. She’d threatened some of the other women she was living with – women who themselves are very vulnerable – and tried to harm herself.
“We called the mental health services and they came for an assessment and said she didn’t need to be sectioned, which we very much disagreed with.
“We separated her from the other women but one night we got a terrified phone call from one of them saying the woman had come back and put a brick through their window.
“After that, she was sectioned but I wish they’d have listened to us in the first place. There was no need for those women to be further distressed, after everything they’d been through and, of course, the refuge had to pay for an emergency window fitter. I think the decision not to section her initially was motivated completely by money – they were only taking the most acute patients because they don’t have a lot of space on the wards, because they’ve had enormous cuts,” the manager added.
Life or death
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, told the Bureau: “For survivors of domestic abuse being able to flee to a refuge is often a matter of life or death.
“On just one day in 2016, 78 women and 78 children trying to escape abuse were turned away from a refuge. This can leave them forced to return to their abuser or face becoming homeless – some stay with family or friends where they are at risk of being hunted down by the perpetrator, others end up sleeping on the streets.”
She called for the government to commit to the sustainable, long-term funding of a national network of refuges.
The Department of Communities and Local Government said: “Domestic abuse is a devastating crime and we’re taking action to make sure that no victim is turned away from the support they need.”
It highlighted a commitment last year to £40m of funding for domestic violence services, half of which has already been allocated.
“We know there’s still more to do to tackle domestic abuse, which is why we’ll be introducing a landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to protect and support victims and bring perpetrators to justice,” the spokesperson added.
Robyn Vinter 2nd October 2018