So far, you have heard some harrowing real life experiences of victims. I’ve also dealt with some common misconceptions and also discussed the all-important police and legal aspect. As well as the search for justice though, there also needs to be enough support in place to help the victims feel safe and get them back on their feet after suffering a great trauma with long lasting effects.
Refuges are, as Women’s Aid puts it:
“Support services that provide safe accommodation for women and children escaping domestic abuse. As such, the specialist staff play a vital role in supporting survivors of domestic abuse and moving them on to independent living and the next stage of their recovery.”
They are so valuable, but they are only one part. There’s also a huge array of advice services, helplines, places that provide training housing services and more. But, are there enough of these for the amount of victims out there; are they suitable and are they properly funded?
Seeking refuge from trauma
The steady increase over the past few years looks good and last year the number of bed spaces was 4,332. However, in the year ending March 2021 61.9% of refuge referrals were declined. This was mainly due to capacity. In Wales, 40.2% were declined and this was mostly due to them not being able to meet the needs of victims. In one shocking example from 2017, a Midlands-based support service had no spaces available for one victim and the closest they could find was 600 miles away in the Orkney Islands!
We are also over 23% below the number of spaces recommended by the Council of Europe (one bed for every 10,000 of the population). Based on census information, England alone should have at least 5,654.
A funding problem
It gets worse though. In 2020, 20% of refuge services were not commissioned by local authorities. This means they do not receive vital statutory funding and have to seek potentially less-regular sources on their own – essentially having to survive on scraps. In 2019/20, 59% of local authorities cut funding for refuge services. Without these non-commissioned services, the existing shortfall of spaces could rise to over 42%.
Research conducted by the Centre for Regional, Economic & Social Research found that:
- • £4.1bn in grants were awarded to charities in 2021
- • Services for women and girls only received 1.8% of that funding
- • Of that 1.8%, 50% of the grants were for £10,000 or less
- • One third of funding for women and girls related activities went to organisations where that wasn’t their focus
- • Funding for organisations focused on people of colour is far lower.
A lack of funding isn’t just a recent development though. Back in 2011, the charity CAADA (now known as SafeLives) warned that a reduction in funding given to local government could lead to “an increase in domestic abuse homicides and escalating costs to the public purse”. The article also mentions that services were (at the time) facing cuts of anywhere between 23% and 100%.
The Domestic Abuse Act mentioned in part 3 introduced a statutory requirement requiring local authorities to provide refuges and a variety of accommodation types for victims. However, how can they ever provide enough and give vital statutory funding to all support services when the national government fails to help them?
Case study: Hull Sisters
You will remember my visit to the excellent, nationally recognised Hull Sisters from part 1. They help a large community of women which features 18 languages. 65% are victims of violence and 60% are victims of economic abuse. There are also victims of sexual abuse and mental abuse. Sonia (the founder) gave me a tour of their facilities and a detailed explanation of the huge issues they’ve had to deal with.
At the start of the pandemic, they were evicted from their first building. Fortunately, they eventually got a lease for the building I visited. It was for two years (despite submitting a business plan for five) and I was told this has caused difficulties because some funders are more likely to consider organisations who are guaranteed a longer stay. Sonia also said that many national funders often work with groups that are supported by the council for things like building renovations, but this has not been the case for them.
Although they received 80% relief from the business rates bill, they were not awarded discretionary relief for the remaining amount. This, in addition to an increase in the rent, means they still have significant bills to pay.
It’s vitally important to remember that there’s only so much a local authority can do (for example, the percentages for business rates relief are set nationally), but it’s clear the building and lease have caused problems.
There are more issues with the building (previously empty for approximately 20 years):
- • No kitchen and requests for one have been refused
- • A struggle to get a fridge freezer
- • Many places where air gets in. They need portable heaters, which increases energy bills
- • Additional expenses for fire safety measures
- • Very poor lighting, which causes problems for victims with sight issues
- • There are regular plumbing issues and when they arise, bills can be around £300.
They could buy the building. However, this is a significant expense and Sonia says additional fundraising would be essential. The Land Registry shows the property has been owned by Hull City Council since (at least) 1994, but the title deed covers multiple properties and there is no individual valuation publicly available.
I asked Sonia whether she blames local or national government more for the funding situation for support services:
“A bit of both but local government more because there is funding which has gone to other organisations but we’ve been left alone.”
Despite the issues, they have done amazing work and created a wonderful space. Over 1000 victims have been helped, more than 239 taught English (they are a centre accredited by NOCN) and over 1500 families using their foodbank. There’s also a library, activity spaces and more. They have won awards and have secured support from organisations like RoSA and the Smallwood Trust. In addition, they are the first organisation in the area to be a member of the End Violence Against Women coalition.
Images from Hull Sisters Refuge, used with permission
Nowhere near enough support
More than one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. In the year ending March 2022, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline delivered 50,791 support sessions online or over the phone. In that same year, calls to the Women’s Aid helpline in Wales increased by over 18%. These statistics could also be much higher if more felt confident enough to report.
It’s reported that most victims will not get what they need and that there’s a postcode lottery. 49% of BAME victims who wanted specialist support had no access to it. Only 19% of the LGBTQ+ community could get help and this falls to 7% for deaf and disabled people.
Why is there so little investment in vital support services? Why are sections of the public so criminally underserved? There needs to be urgent change.
In the final part of this series, I will take a look at the politics. What are the politicians saying and what are the chances that lasting improvements will be made?