Refuges provide vital support for victims of domestic abuse. Since 2014 we have invested a total of £33.5 million in services to support victims of domestic abuse, including supporting our refuges.
The Minister will recognise that refuges are places of safety for women and children in flight from domestic violence and that in extreme cases they are literally life-saving, but does he understand the concern of organisations such as Women’s Aid that the changes to supported housing can have the effect of putting refuges under real pressure? Will he talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure we get the answer right, so we have a national network of refuges?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Knowing his experience with the police force, he will understand that this is an extremely complicated area. The Government are absolutely determined to get this right, because it is of vital importance that we do so. There is no question but that refuges provide a life-saving role in our community and that is why we are currently consulting on the best way to ensure their future funding is right to make sure they are supported as permanent parts of our community.
Further to my hon. Friend’s question, will the Minister agree to meet Women’s Aid and other relevant organisations to ensure that we properly discuss their concerns about the new funding model for refuges?
I reassure the hon. Lady that those discussions are already taking place. Ministers in my Department have already met Women’s Aid. I know that it, and other organisations, will be playing an active part in the consultation on the future of funding for women’s refuges. That consultation closes on 23 January and I encourage all organisations, and Members, to take part.
Newark Women’s Aid is without question one of the most inspiring organisations I have visited in my constituency. Its finances, however, are fragile. When considering future financial settlements for women’s refuges, will the Minister ensure that the settlements are as long as possible—three or five years in length—to ensure the brave and brilliant people who run refuges have the security they need to continue?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I encourage him and Newark Women’s Aid to take part in the consultation. On the long-term funding of women’s refuges, it is fair to say that nothing is off the table. The Government have not ruled out a national funding scheme, if our consultation shows that that is correct.
The Government’s recently announced proposed reforms of supported housing suggest that entitlement to housing benefit when women enter a refuge will be paid directly to local authorities. This is effectively pulling the plug on secure funding and jeopardising the security of life-saving refuge organisations. Given the comments the Minister has made this morning, and the assurances that he will work with the refuges, will he meet me and refuge organisations to discuss their grave concerns about the sustainability of this model?
Representing the Department for Communities and Local Government, I find quite offensive the idea that giving funding direct to local authorities to support women in crisis in their community is in some way pulling the plug on them. We have been absolutely clear that we will continue to review the funding for care and support, and whether housing costs should be paid direct as grants to local authorities or not. We continue to explore all the options, including a national model for refuge provision.