The Government recognise that rape crisis centres face significant challenges.
In the longer term, we need to consider what more can be done to assist in increasing their capacity and stability, but we need also to respond to the funding crisis in the short term. The Government announced an emergency funding package of £1 million on 18 March to enable centres to stay open while we consider what more can be done to build capacity and stability in the sector.
We also want to ensure that mainstream agencies and generic counselling and support services, such as Relate, are also equipped to deal with sexual violence disclosures.
The Government have invested around £10 million over the past four years in specialist services for victims of sexual violence; this supplements funding provided locally. This year alone we have already invested £3 million; this includes more than £1 million to rape crisis centres and a further £1 million to support the establishment of sexual assault referral centres and independent sexual violence advisers.
We have also provided £150,000 core funding to umbrella organisations, Rape Crisis England and Wales and the Survivors' Trust.
The Government are committed to tackling all forms of violence against women, and we recognise the difficulties that women who have no recourse to public funds face. We have been working within the statutory and voluntary sectors to find solutions to provide adequate support for this group of women.
In February 2006, a letter was sent out from the Home Office to all local authority chief executives outlining the position of women who have no recourse to public funds and how local authorities can help and support these women within existing legislation. This was accompanied by a fact sheet, the purpose of which was to spell out the specific dynamics of domestic violence to assessors so that they are aware of the factors and circumstances that women can find themselves in.
This was followed by an announcement, at the Home Affairs Select Committee this month, of a new scheme under which victims of domestic violence whose applications for indefinite leave to remain are successful may qualify for a contribution towards their housing and living costs. The proposals under the new scheme will strengthen the way in which domestic violence cases are considered, enabling those victims who are vulnerable to access additional support. Further details on this programme of work will be available later in the spring.
In relation to women who are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, the Government recently made a commitment to ratify the Council of Europe Convention Against Trafficking in Human Beings by the end of 2008. This will enhance existing measures and provide victims of trafficking with support, including access to temporary residence permits.
The Government will continue to work with agencies in order to find a long-term solution to support this group of women.