Women’s Aid to deliver their SOS signal to Downing Street
Since 2010, 17% of specialist women’s refuges have been lost. In the first financial quarter of this year alone 10 specialist services have closed parts of their operation. These hazardous closures are predominantly due to local authority budget cuts and some extremely poor local commissioning practices. Inappropriate commissioning practices reported to Women’s Aid include: competitive tendering processes; tenders that only include funding for outreach support and do not include any refuge provision; and, imposing a ‘local connection’ restriction on refuge residents.
These ‘local connection’ restrictions can be as much as 20% or 30% caps on non-local women accessing refuge. This policy epitomises the basic misunderstanding that local authority commissioners can have around the role that specialist refuges play across England.
In one recent case reported to Women’s Aid, a Housing Officer was trying to find refuge accommodation for a 19 year old woman with twin babies late at night. The only refuge space available for her across England was in a specialist Women’s Aid service, in a neighbouring county, that was subject to a local connection rule. The available space matched all the woman’s and children’s needs but the service was unable to accept her as she had no local connection. The woman was instead placed into less-safe emergency accommodation and the refuge was left with several empty bedrooms. This is just not acceptable and undermines the very principle of having a fluid national network of refuges.
The issue of domestic violence has been creeping up the political agenda over the past year. We have seen full scale HMIC investigation into the police response to domestic violence, mandated by the Home Secretary; a consultation launched into criminalising coercive control and psychological abuse after campaigning from Women’s Aid, Paladin and the Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation; challenges to the Government on legal aid changes that restrict survivors of domestic violence access to justice; and, a national outcry at the crisis facing specialist domestic violence refuges. We are seeing domestic violence becoming an increasingly hot-topic for politicians, both at the local and national level.
Recent polling carried out for Women’s Aid by YouGov shows that domestic violence services are a measure against which the public understand political parties’ attitudes towards women. More than 70% of potential voters of the three major parties feel that policies to protect survivors of domestic violence reflect how much a party genuinely cares about women’s interests. This includes 76% of those intending to vote Conservative, 73% for Labour, and 84% for the Liberal Democrats.
The public clearly recognise we can’t go on seeing two women a week murdered by their current or former partner, while the services which exist to protect them are being wiped out by funding cuts and substandard commissioning practices. The debate around protecting women and children from domestic violence is increasingly coming to the fore, and with a general election around the corner in which women’s votes will be decisive, politicians have every reason to take action now.
This week Women’s Aid are delivering the SOS Save Refuges, Save Lives campaign petition to No.10 Downing Street. The petition is being delivered with a clear ask that the Prime Minister commits to protecting our national network of refuges by the end of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence on 10 December. Alongside delivering the SOS campaign petition to Parliament Women’s Aid are holding a candle-lit vigil to take place outside of Downing Street on Thursday 20 November from 6-7pm. The vigil is an opportunity for all SOS campaign supporters to come together to stand in solidarity with women and children living in refuges, and the staff that support them. All SOS campaign supporters are invited to join us.