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Domestic Violence bill: We still need to fight to save our services
Amy Cousens, Bradford Socialist Party
The new domestic violence bill, first introduced by Theresa May, has supposedly been improved under Johnson's leadership. It shows the pressure on the Tories to be seen to act on women's oppression, but it is a drop in the ocean of what is needed to protect women.
The bill will implement some legal changes which, in the context of a legal system that retraumatises victims, should improve their experiences in court. But this bill in no way marks an end to the turbulent landscape of support and service provision for victims of domestic violence.
Local authorities will now have a statutory responsibility to fund domestic violence services. While this is a welcome point, it comes with no promise of sufficient funding. Local authorities will fund these services on already stretched budgets. The need to fight for no-cuts budgets and the money stolen by the Tories from our communities remains.
In areas where domestic violence services haven't been cut altogether, this has led to a trend of stopping funds for specialist charities like Women's Aid, and giving funds to charities which are non-specialist. In that way they can tick the box of 'supporting victims' while getting 'more for their money'. The bill reinforces this trend.
A recent example of this is in Bradford, where the council cut funding for a Women's Aid's refuge and adult provision, and has, instead, funded a charity called 'staying put'. If the name isn't enough to ring alarm bells, the charity declares that it provides a "holistic family approach". "Together we can give you the right support at the right time", it says, "to make you safe, sooner, and help your family to recover and heal."
This is a dangerous trend. It moves away from recognition of the origins of domestic violence and that women are disproportionately the victims - which women fought for in the 60s and 70s. It is cheaper for local authorities to fund non-specialist services, which support the whole family, with leaving the family home coming as a last resort. No doubt, the fact that this lowers demand for social housing is a factor.
There is an issue with 'bed blocking' in refuges, because there is not enough affordable accommodation for women to move on to. This is a dangerous approach to an issue caused by austerity. There is also a trend countrywide, where women's refuges have been decommissioned in favour of generic homeless hostels. The bill only promises refuge accommodation and "other safe accommodation".
We support all victims of abuse regardless of gender in getting the support they need. But this trend is a veiled cut, where more victims are given support with the same or fewer resources. Men need support to flee violence. But we must also protect women's refuges and community services from closure. They offer more than a bed, providing much-needed advocacy and therapy.
So the bill will not tackle the lack of support for victims. A renewed fight is needed to win sufficiently funded specialist support services for all, and for council housing to provide long-term security for victims fleeing violence and abuse.
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