By Hallum Cowell
Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick recently confirmed additional local government support for survivors of domestic abuse through new legal plans.
These plans are aimed at making local councils more responsible for abuse in their area. Under the forthcoming legislation, local authorities are required to publish strategies which detail the range of support services available for abuse survivors of violent relationships. These measures would include specialist support, safety through independence, and refuge accommodation. In addition, statutory guidance now strongly encourages councils to prioritise domestic abuse survivors who are ready to move on from refuges when allocating social housing.
The Domestic Abuse Bill currently making its way through parliament will mark the first time a statutory government definition of domestic abuse will specifically include economic abuse as well as controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.
Women’s Aid responded to the announcement saying, “We warmly welcome this announcement, which shows the government’s commitment to the long-term funding of lifesaving refuges.” Yet, in the same press release, Women’s Aid acting co-founder Nicki Norman writes: “Despite welcoming emergency pots of funding from the government, short-term, uncertain budgets are failing to deliver a secure future for life-saving services.”
This announcement follows a pledge in November 2018 that announced a £22 million budget would be distributed between 63 projects working in the sector across England. The Government states that “Funding has helped to provide tailored support to more than 25,000 survivors and their families – including over 2,200 additional beds in refuges and other safe accommodation”. They also claim that these new plans “will end [the] postcode lottery of support for those fleeing violent relationships.” The Government also hopes to achieve this by amending the Domestic Abuse Bill to oblige local governments to provide support.
A press release for the new measures asserts that: “Ahead of this new duty coming into force in 2021, the government has also announced a further £15 million in funding to run these essential services in 2020 to 2021 – a 20% increase on 2019 to 2020.” Which is “for refuges and safe accommodation”. It is, however, important to remember that Refuge, a charity that advocates for women and children in refuges, claims there has been a “chronic shortfall [we have] seen following years of funding cuts. Refuge has experienced cuts to 80% of its services since 2011. This includes an average cut of 50% to refugees which provide lifesaving accommodation and support for women escaping abuse and violence.”
The government argues that this new method builds on a variety of other initiatives to end domestic abuse and tackle violence against women and girls. The press release points towards criminalisation of forced marriage, new anti-stalking laws, a national roll-out of domestic violence protection orders, a domestic violence disclosure scheme and the £15 million 3-year Violence Against Women and Girls Service Transformation Fund.
The charity Save Lives keeps a database named Insight, the UK’s largest national database of domestic abuse cases. In their published results they say that “Each year nearly 2 million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse – 1.3 million female victims (8.2% of the population) and 600,000 male victims (4%)” and that “130,000 children live in homes where there is high-risk domestic abuse.”
The new government plan is certainly being welcomed as a start to improve refuge services. However, many charities are pointing to the fact that the funding is not new money and that while any money is welcome, more funds are still needed in order to provide the best possible help.