The Government are fully committed to protecting victims of domestic abuse and to improving sustainability of funding for refuges. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—formerly the Department for Communities and Local Government—has launched a £20 million domestic abuse accommodation fund, which is supporting 76 projects, creating 2,200 new bed spaces over the next two years and supporting more than 19,000 women. Some of that money is coming to Manchester.
A constituent described to me a loved one’s search for a refuge to protect her from domestic violence as hell on earth. Thankfully, they eventually found a space, but 60% of referrals to refuges were declined in 2016-17. The proposed new funding model risks creating a postcode lottery, so how will the Minister ensure that the refuge provision in her constituency is no different from in mine?
May I, with respect, correct the hon. Gentleman? It is precisely because we want to ensure that areas across the country share the same best practice that the Ministry of Housing is consulting on how to fund refuges sustainably. The point of the new housing model is to try to ensure that victims, who are in vulnerable situations when they go to refuges after fleeing violence, do not have to fill in housing benefit forms while in the middle of a crisis.
I declare an interest as my wife volunteers at a refuge. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that Ministers have met organisations such as Women’s Aid to ensure that their views on the new funding model are properly listened to and considered?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and thank his wife and everyone who works in domestic abuse refuges. We are of course meeting Women’s Aid and other organisations. Along with other colleagues, I am determined to ensure that the future of refuges is funded sustainably, and I urge anyone with an interest in this area to respond to the consultation.
The proposed changes to housing benefit will leave refuges in a vulnerable position, and the already underfunded specialist refuges will be most affected. If the Government are serious about protecting women victims of female genital mutilation, domestic violence, forced marriage and trafficking, they have to put more money into specialist services. What commitment will they make to looking seriously at increasing funding for specialist refuges?
We have the £20 million domestic abuse fund, which the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is overlooking. As the hon. Lady knows, we are also consulting on the draft domestic abuse Bill this year. I hope that consultation will start soon, and the Government would welcome responses from people who are interested. I make it clear that we are absolutely committed to funding refuges properly, and I am pleased that we have had a 10% rise in bed spaces since 2010.