Over half of domestic abuse support services were running areas of work without dedicated funding  

The domestic abuse sector continues to face funding challenges, according to Women’s Aid’s The Domestic Abuse Report 2021: The Annual Audit. The report reviews how support services have fared during the financial year 2019 – 2020 and the findings will be announced at the Women’s Aid Winter conference today.

Over half (54.5%) of the survey respondents said they were running part of their service without dedicated funding in 2019-20. The most common area of work run without dedicated funding was domestic abuse prevention and educational work, followed by community-based domestic abuse services for women including outreach, floating support, and advocacy, and therapeutic support services such as counselling and group work.

The report shows that the domestic abuse sector is significantly propped up by a large proportion of services running outside those commissioned by local authorities. These services are vital to the provision of support services and refuge bed spaces across England. Even where services were commissioned by local authorities, the funding often did not cover all or most of the costs of running the service.

To continue providing life-saving support for women and children, services have to look elsewhere to fill these funding gaps. Seventeen organisations responding to the survey reported relying on volunteers to deliver services and 29 had used their financial reserves to cover the costs of services – a practice which cannot be sustained long term.

These non-commissioned domestic abuse services and the support they offer are essential. Even with them supporting the sector, demand continues to exceed the capacity of provision available. Women and their children continued to be turned away from refuges, according to the report, which showed that over half (57%) of all referrals to refuge services were declined.

The number of refuge bed spaces in England continues to be about 30% (31%) below the number recommended by the Council of Europe.

Furthermore, not all spaces in refuges are available to all women. Just under half (43%) of refuge vacancies in 2019-20 were suitable for a woman with two children. Less than one in five vacancies (15.7%) could accommodate a woman with three children. Migrant women face significant barriers to accessing refuge – only 4% of refuge vacancies listed could accommodate women with no recourse to public funds during the year 2019-20.

Women’s Aid Annual Audit presents information on the provision and usage of domestic abuse services in England in the financial year 2019 –2020. This year it also includes a section on the impact of Covid-19.

Key findings

  • Local service providers continue to support large numbers of women and children. In 2019-20 Women’s Aid estimates that refuge services in England supported 10,592 women and 12,710 children and community-based services supported 103,969 women and 124,762 children
  • Only 73.5% (50 out of 68) of the respondents providing refuge and 67.8% (40 out of 59) of those providing community-based support services were commissioned by their local authority
  • Demand is still higher than the provision available, with 57.2% of refuge referrals declined during the year – 18.1% of all referrals were turned down due to lack of capacity in the refuge
  • The number of spaces in refuge services in England still falls short of the number of spaces recommended by the Council of Europe by 1,694 spaces, which represents a 30.1% shortfall. An additional increase of 361 to 4,251 spaces by 1 November 2020 is due to temporary emergency funding which will soon come to an end
  • Less than half of all vacancies posted on Routes to Support for England in 2019-20 were in rooms suitable for a woman with two children; only 4.0% could consider women who had no recourse to public funds.

Nicki Norman acting chief executive 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. Tragically, without sufficient refuge spaces, survivors are left with the impossible choice of returning to their perpetrator – or becoming homeless. Survivors subjected to additional forms of discrimination – including Black and minoritised women, disabled women, and LGBT+ survivors – face further barriers to safety and support.

The domestic abuse bill’s statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in “safe accommodation” is welcome. But the word “refuge” is missing from the bill. The bill must require councils to fund specialist refuges – not general forms of housing – in order to give women and children the expert support they need to recover from the trauma of abuse and rebuild their lives.

This duty must apply to protect all women and children at risk. Families experiencing domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status remain completely excluded from the domestic abuse bill altogether. Women and children escaping abuse continue to experience hunger, homelessness and destitution because these conditions bar them from accessing refuge services and other forms of safety. We urge the government to accept the amendments proposed by Southall Black Sisters and the Step-Up Migrant Women campaign to ensure the domestic abuse bill delivers equal protection and support for migrant survivors.

It is heartbreaking how our hard-working sector is going into their reserves to run essential services such as prevention, and counselling. It does not need to be this way.

We estimate that £393m is needed annually for a safe and sustainable national network of women’s domestic abuse services, including £173m for refuges. Compared to the government’s estimated £66 billion cost of domestic abuse to society, this is value for money. More importantly, it is a vital investment to provide expert support to help women and children recover from the trauma of domestic abuse – and save lives.”

© 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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