“This could be a matter of life and death”: refuges under threat
Monday 13th February 2017
· The proposed ‘one-size fits all’ funding model for supported housing threatens refuges
· Despite assurances of a specific new funding model for refuges, the Government has included refuge funding in a model for all ‘supported housing’
· Refuges must have a separate system, says Women’s Aid, which is easily affordable as refuges are only 1% of supported housing sector – but save thousands of women’s and children’s lives every year
· The proposed model does nothing to change local authority decisions to close refuges and is “letting down survivors of domestic abuse and their children,” says Women’s Aid Chief Executive Polly Neate
· Women’s Aid calls for a specific funding model for refuges and permanent exemption from changes to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap
The proposed new funding model for supported housing threatens the future of domestic abuse refuges, warns the national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid. The Government consultation on the new model closes today, Monday 13th February.
The new model lists specialist domestic abuse refuges as ‘short-term accommodation’, and will bring back the LHA cap for refuges too, reversing the exemption from the cap only recently agreed. It ignores the specialist nature of refuge services for women and children, and could force many to close. In seeking a way of administering Universal Credit payments for refuges, alongside other types of supported housing services, the Government risks undoing the commitment and support it has shown for refuges over the last three years. This will ultimately put the lives of vulnerable women and children at risk.
Under the proposed funding model, local authorities will have a ‘top-up’ fund for all supported housing, to divide between different services as they choose. Many local authorities are already refusing to fund refuges – partly because they inevitably accept women from outside the local authority area. Many women are forced to flee their abuser many miles across the country. This is why it is vital for refuges to operate as a national network; the way they are funded must enable them to do this.
Women’s Aid is concerned that nothing in the proposed new model will prevent local authorities from continuing to close refuges down. Refuges have already been disastrously weakened: between 2010 and 2014, more than one in six refuges in England were forced to close. Meanwhile the need for support remains extremely high: on a typical day in 2015, 92 women and 75 children were turned away from a refuge. The Government’s commitment to ensuring ‘no victim is turned away’ will only be met if the funding model allows new services to develop.
Since the launch of its SOS: Save Our Services campaign and Give Me Shelter campaign (in partnership with The Sun), Women’s Aid has called for a long-term funding solution for specialist domestic abuse refuges, in order to secure their future. The Government has shown commitment to protecting refuges through investing £33 million since 2014 – and this has been a life-saving move. Women’s Aid also recently welcomed the Government’s decision to exempt refuges from changes to the LHA cap until 2019.
In a statement in September 2016, Damian Green MP, said: “As the Prime Minister made clear, we are working to ensure that vulnerable people in refuges are not adversely affected as a result of the LHA rates. While we are confident that this model will meet the needs of the majority of the sector, we recognise some particular challenges may remain for…refuges. We will work with the sector to develop further options to ensure that providers…continue to receive appropriate funding for their important work…funding for this type of accommodation will benefit from the same protection as supported housing in general.”
However, what happens from 2019 will be critical. A ‘one-size fits all’ model is now what the Government is proposing. The Government gave assurances on the safety of refuges in the future – but without a separate system to protect them, the investment since 2014 will go to waste.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said:
“The Government promised in its Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy that, by 2020, they will ensure ‘no victim is turned away from accessing critical support services delivered by refuges’. If a specific long-term funding model for refuges is not found, many more will be forced to close. This could be a matter of life and death. We are deeply concerned at the destruction of refuges that the new funding model could cause.
“It is less than six months since Women’s Aid campaigned to have refuges exempted from changes to the housing benefit cap that would have forced two-thirds to close – yet here we are again, facing another crisis. Refuges are not just ‘short-term accommodation’; they are a specialist service where women and children receive support from experts to recover from their trauma and rebuild their lives. Without them, there can often be no freedom from abuse.
“So yes – a refuge will cost more than a bed in a hostel. But in the long-term, a refuge is far more economical. It seems pertinent to remind the Government that two women a week are killed on average by an abusive partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. Each domestic homicide costs the Government about £1.8 million, with domestic abuse on the whole costing over £15 billion a year. And, as the Femicide Census proves, women are at significant risk at the point of separation from an abusive partner. Between 2009 and 2015, 76% of women killed by their ex-partner were killed within the first year that followed separation. So, investing in the long-term future of refuges makes economic sense too. Cost-cutting costs lives. We were assured that there would be a safe future for refuges, and for the women and children they support. We urge the Government to rethink this funding model.”
Charlotte Kneer, refuge manager at Reigate & Banstead Women’s Aid, said:
“We are constantly fighting to keep our services available to the women and children who need them most. We simply could not operate under this new model. I would like the government to consider where these women and children will go if there are no refuges. Many will die, and many will be forced to endure abusive relationships that will affect them for the rest of their lives. “
Mandy Thomas, survivor of domestic abuse, whose life was saved by a refuge, said:
“A refuge is a safe haven for survivors on the run from perpetrators. A refuge keeps you alive at the time when it is most dangerous. A refuge saved my life. It saved my children’s lives. We must save refuges, save lives.”
How would the Government’s proposed new model of funding work?
● The proposed new funding model for supported housing means that both rent and the cost of support services will be funded through Universal Credit (UC) up to the relevant Local Housing Authority (LHA) cap. The difference between the LHA cap and the total cost of both rent and services will be made up through a ‘top up’ fund, which local authorities will distribute to local services.
● Domestic abuse refuges are being treated as ‘short-term accommodation’ and the separate long-term funding solution for refuges expected is now not being developed.
● Women’s Aid calls upon the Government to urgently develop a separate model of funding must be developed for refuges. No refuge services must close or have to turn away women or children as a result of this change.
● The ‘top-up’ fund, designed to bridge the gap between the LHA cap and the actual cost of rent and services, will be based on the current level of provision – and not ‘guesstimates’ of cost in the future. As many refuges are already chronically underfunded, this will mean that they will no longer be viable.
● In addition, the ability of refuges to operate as a national network will be damaged. Refuges must be able to accept women fleeing abuse from any part of the country; many have to leave their local area for their own safety. It is vital for refuges to operate as a national network, and the way they are funded must enable them to do this. The Government’s commitment to ensuring ‘no victim is turned away’ will only be met if the funding model allows new services to develop.