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Funding crisis for domestic abuse sector with 64% of refuge referrals declined

28th January 2020

The domestic abuse sector is facing a sustained funding crisis, with the Women’s Aid Annual Audit showing that 64% of refuge referrals were declined last year. The number of refuge bed spaces in England is now 30% below the number recommended by the Council of Europe.

Only 5% of refuge vacancies listed last year could accommodate women with no recourse to public funds, and less than half had the capacity to accept women with more than two children.

In the survey, which 120 domestic abuse organisations in England responded to, service providers cited the funding crisis as the biggest issue facing the domestic abuse sector. They identified four key problems: problematic competitive tendering; uncertainty over future funding; funding not covering full costs of delivery; and running an area of work with no dedicated funding.

Nearly half of the service providers who responded to Women’s Aid Annual Survey 2019 were running an area of work without any dedicated funding. Of this group, 48% ran community-based services (such as outreach, floating support or advocacy) without funding, 37% ran prevention/educational work without funding, 34% ran refuge accommodation without funding and 31% ran therapeutic support services without funding.

For services running an area of work without any dedicated funding, 74% had to use reserves to cover costs, 36% lost staff as a result of job insecurity, and 32% relied on volunteers to deliver the service.

Demand for all domestic abuse services continues to exceed available provision. This has led to a number of dangerous outcomes, including survivors of domestic abuse being turned away from refuge services, long waiting lists for community-based services, and staff being unable to cope with extremely high workloads.

Adina Claire, Acting co-CEO of Women’s Aid, said:

“Last year, 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse, and every fortnight three women are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. While increased public awareness has led to more women seeking support for domestic abuse, for too many women, the specialist support services they need to cope and recover are not available.

All too frequently, when survivors cannot access refuge accommodation, they are left with the impossible choice of either returning to their perpetrator or becoming homeless. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Our recent research found that providing sustainable funding for specialist domestic abuse services in every community would cost the government just £393 million per year, a fraction of the £66 billion estimated cost to society of domestic abuse. The new government now has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to supporting survivors of abuse by making a clear pledge to guarantee this funding.”

A representative for a service provider in the Midlands, which lost a proportion of local and central government funding in 2018-19, said:

“It’s massively important that we have these independent organisations, such as us, available to members of the community. And it’s just depressing the number of us that are on the brink of closure because we get no support from local councils, despite the fact that we’re supporting the councils… if they’re in refuge, they’re not in temporary accommodation or they’re not on the street. We’re providing accommodation to these families but at a much cheaper rate than it would be for councils to provide a B&B.” 

A representative from a specialist ‘by and for’ BME service provider said:

“Black-led feminist women’s services are crucial to the survival and recovery of black and minoritised women because of the multiple imposed barriers women, especially those without recourse to funds and insecure migration status, face – they have to be accessing a service that not only meets their holistic needs and supports their access to justice, but one that is able to firmly challenge the discrimination they face along the way.”

Notes to Editors

The Annual Audit is being launched today at Women’s Aid’s public policy conference ‘Domestic abuse: the hidden housing crisis?’ in central London. #WAConf2020 #HousingCrisis

If you are worried that your partner, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling and abusive, you can go to www.womensaid.org.uk for support and information, including Live Chat, the Survivors’ Forum, The Survivor’s Handbook and the Domestic Abuse Directory.

For more information, please contact the Women’s Aid press office: 020 7566 2511 / [email protected]

© 2020 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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