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Domestic abuse accommodation: Tories shift - but safety is more than a bed
Amy Cousens, Women's Lives Matter
The government has announced new changes to place a legal duty on local authorities to deliver 'accommodation-based services' to victims of domestic violence.
The Women's Lives Matter campaign at its national meeting on 8 December 2018, made the legal responsibility to fund services one of its core demands. We welcome this legal protection but the fight must definitely go on to end cuts to the services women need to be safe.
Prior to this new law, part of the domestic violence bill consultation, councils had no statutory responsibility to fund services which meant that, in a climate of cuts, local councils were choosing to cut back or stop funding altogether anything which they are not legally obliged to fund.
Local authority spending on refuges has been cut from £31.2 million in 2010 to £23.9 million in 2017 despite no corresponding reductions in incidents of domestic violence.
However, as can be expected from a government that has proven it is not genuinely interested in supporting domestic violence victims, it is grossly below what is needed. We need an end to austerity and investment in council homes and all the public services required to give women routes out of abusive situations.
Instead the government boasts that it has already 'increased' refuge provision for domestic violence victims. Statistically, between 2010 and 2017 there has been a 10% increase in bed spaces for those fleeing domestic violence. However, provision has decreased in real terms. 20 refuges have been lost in that time.
There is a cost-cutting trend for local authorities to commission 'catch all' services which are larger, more generic and therefore cheaper. In reality, this means a decrease in services and more work and higher caseloads for the same number of staff.
More than a bed
Specialist domestic violence services are vital. But even worse, in some cases, women and children are being housed, unsafely, in generic homeless hostels.
Refuges need to be far more than beds. They provide specialist advice, support, advocacy and therapy including for children. Funding these specialist support services saves money in the long run. More importantly it saves lives.
What the Tories have also done, which they have made no promise to amend, is strip back community service provision, outreach support and therapy services. Supporting domestic violence victims and survivors takes much more than providing a bed.
The government has said it will accompany the law with funding, but that the exact levels will be determined by 'stakeholders'.
The local government secretary estimates around £90 million will be needed to make this enactable by local authorities. But it has only promised £22 million for domestic abuse projects in England. If Tory austerity has taught us anything, it's that any money put out by the Tories will be far less than what is needed.
We cannot trust the Tories with women's lives. Corbyn's Labour Party shouldn't be waiting for a general election to bring in measures to ensure women's lives are safe. Labour councils can and should be funding domestic violence refuges and community services sustainably now. Women's lives are at risk now. Labour councils should be mobilising the labour movement and wider communities to fight for no-cuts budgets to secure all our public services.
John McDonnell needs to act now and use his power to mandate councils to use their reserves and borrowing powers to fund these vital services.
- Appeal to John McDonnell to help end the destruction of domestic violence services and refuges: https://www.change.org/p/john-mcdonnell-stop-the-cuts-to-domestic-violence-services-and-refuges .
- For a model trade union motion to build the campaign to defend refuges, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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