Closures of specialist domestic violence refuges will cost lives
Specialist domestic violence refuges, like the ones Women’s Aid members run, are without doubt indispensable and irreplaceable. They are the invisible, anonymous and yet life-saving services that operate under the radar in society in order to keep women and children survivors of domestic violence safe.
Our local communities and the lives of the many hundreds of thousands of women and children they support would not be the same without them.
In England we are privileged to have a world-leading national network of specialist domestic violence refuges. These vital services allow women and their children to escape from abuse, come to terms with their experiences in safety and start to rebuild their lives. We have a safety net that catches women and children when they are at their most vulnerable and helps to pick them back up again whilst in a safe, supportive and nurturing environment.
Yet, currently our amazing national network of specialist refuges is facing a crisis that could see the end to this network and ultimately may cost lives. As highlighted in the 2012 False Economy report domestic violence services are facing catastrophic cuts. Since 2010 17% of specialist refuges have been lost. In the first financial quarter of this year alone 10 specialist services have closed parts of their operation. Across England there is a growing situation where specialist domestic violence services who are part of the backbone of the local community being squeezed out of local authority competitive tendering processes and their expertise being overlooked.
The causes of the cuts to, and closures of, specialist refuges are twofold. Firstly, local authority funding cuts as a result of austerity measures. Secondly, poor quality commissioning being carried out by local commissioners who lack an understanding of what constitutes good quality care for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Increasingly Women’s Aid member organisations are having to take part in competitive tendering processes which focus on low cost rather than a quality service.
These changes have already had dire consequences for women’s refuges around the country. From the 1st April this year three Women’s Aid member organisations in Devon, with over 100 years of local experience between them, lost 100% of their local authority funding. Devon County Council released a new tender to provide domestic violence services across Devon, the three local services collaborated to submit a joint bid but were undercut by a generic, non-specialist service from a neighbouring county. One of these specialist services has closed completely and the other two are continuing to operate a scaled back service until the end of the year using their Reserves. The future of both of these specialist services currently hangs in the balance. The new organisation operating in this area is not providing any refuge accommodation.
That is why Women’s Aid has launched the SOS: Save Refuges, Save Lives campaign. The campaign is calling on the Government to commit to preserving the national network of specialist refuges and to exploring a new model of funding and commissioning that supports sustainable services and high quality care.
We need to act now to prevent further closures and to support these vital services so they can continue to survive, thrive and be a life-line for the women and children who so desperately need them. Visit www.womensaid.org.uk to take part in the campaign and https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/SOS to sign the petition.