More than 4,000 vulnerable women and children fleeing domestic abuse will be unable to access a refuge if government plans to remove guaranteed funding for the service go ahead, an emergency survey has found.
In a survey of refuge services in England by Women’s Aid, 39% said they would have to close for good if they lost the funding, while a further 13% said they would be forced to reduce the number of bed spaces available.
This would result in around 2,000 more women and 2,200 more children trying to escape domestic violence and psychological torture being turned away from refuges, which can help them rebuild their lives and regain independence, the charity said.
The survey was conducted urgently after the government published plans to remove refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system, which would prevent women paying for their place with housing benefit.
On average, housing benefit makes up 53% of refuge funding and, as there is no obligation on local authorities to fund refuges, is the last remaining guaranteed source of income.
The predicted losses highlighted in the findings come at a time when demand for refuges outstrips supply. On one day this year, 94 women and 90 children were turned away from a refuge, while 60% of referrals to refuges in 2016-17 were declined.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Demand for refuges already far outstrips supply and the proposed funding model could be the breaking point. Refuges will be faced with the awful reality of either turning more women and children away or closing their doors forever.
“On average, two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. A refuge is not just a bed for a night; it is a lifeline for thousands of women and children. To ignore the advice of experts and put these vital services at risk would be a dangerous and a potentially fatal move.”
Over the last year in England and Wales, about 1.9 million adults – 1.2 million women and 713,000 men – experienced domestic abuse, according to official estimates.
Women’s Aid and other campaigners, as well as survivors of abuse, have also called for a funding model for a national network of refuges.
The shadow cabinet member and former chief prosecutor Keir Starmer called for mandatory funding for refuges following coverage of the issue in the Guardian, joining a chorus of voices criticising the plans. The Labour MP and member of the women and equalities committee Jess Phillips has sponsored a Commons debate on the issue for 12 December.
The latest proposals, drawn up by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for Work and Pensions, are seen as contradicting the prime minister’s pledge to prioritise tackling domestic abuse.
Theresa May this year unveiled plans for a major consultation across government which would result in a domestic violence and abuse bill, consolidating relevant legislation and introducing new measures to help victims.
A government spokesperson said: “Until 2020, the government is providing £100m of dedicated funding for tackling violence against women and girls. This includes a £20m fund to support refuges and other accommodation-based services, providing 2,200 additional bed spaces.
“We will publish a landmark draft domestic violence and abuse bill to protect and support victims, recognise the lifelong impact domestic abuse has on children and make sure agencies effectively respond to domestic abuse.”
Women’s Aid surveyed about a third of 270 refuge services in England. There are 305 refuges in England and Wales.
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