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Women: Refuges

Volume 765: debated on Thursday 5 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to secure sustainable and long-term funding for women’s refuges in England when the emergency funding for refuge services ends on 31 March.

My Lords, the Government recognise how vital refuges are. That is why in the summer Budget we announced a further £3.2 million of funding for refuges, in addition to the £10 million announced in 2014. We are committed to secure funding for refuge provision, as set out in our manifesto. We are determined to ensure that no victim is turned away from the support that they need. Future funding arrangements are a matter for the spending review.

My Lords, we all know that every week, on average, two women are murdered in this country by their partner or ex-partner. That is one of the reasons why the Government’s £2.1 million crisis funding was so warmly welcomed. Women’s Aid has taken 40 years to build up a network of refuges that save lives every day, yet they and other refuges—those that have not yet closed—have to turn away hundreds of women and children. Therefore, will the Minister assure us that in the forthcoming government spending review a long-term funding solution for refuges will be found? Does she agree that we need ring-fenced funding as well to help women and prevent murder?

The noble Baroness makes a very powerful point. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that no woman will be turned away from the help she needs. Clearly, I cannot pre-empt the spending review, but we have provided additional funding. We committed in our manifesto to securing future funding for refuges, but we have also provided funding to UK refuges online—UKROL—so that victims calling the national domestic violence helpline looking for refuge can get additional help to find the support they need.

My Lords, on the subject of the comprehensive spending review, have the Government undertaken any cost-benefit analysis, either formal or informal, of the benefits of providing good—or at any rate adequate—refuge provision, taking into account both local authority and central government spending?

The cost of domestic violence, both to the individual and to society, is immense. The estimated cost of domestic violence to employers is some £3.1 billion. The total cost is an estimated £23 billion when all the various factors are taken into account, including the human and emotional suffering and the subsequent suffering of children. So the costs are immense, and the benefits of addressing this issue are obviously incalculable.

I welcome the fact that the Minister takes this issue so seriously and that there will be some additional funding; let us hope it will be even more than the Minister indicated. I declare that I am a trustee of Refuge, the oldest of the movements providing assistance to victims of domestic violence. The costs, as she has described, are huge, yet over the last few years we have seen a reduction in additional services of up to 80% for some of the organisations that are providing support. Refuge sees 3,300 women and children coming through its doors every day. So the problem is enormous and the sums involved are very small. Can more money be made available for all the other services that are needed, such as the trauma and legal services, as well as accommodation? Most of the organisations are providing that full gamut, and the money available is simply not enough.

The noble Baroness makes a very valid point; it is not just about refuges but everything else that the woman fleeing domestic violence needs. In fact, we made it clear that the £10 million fund is for additional support services that such women need. Independent domestic violence advocates have proved incredibly helpful and effective, as have the MARAC teams, and there are other forms of provision, such as the additional support services. The Department for Education has provided £138,000 to the Behind Closed Doors programme, which supports children affected by domestic violence. We must not forget all the work that is also going on in the troubled families programme, which has unearthed domestic violence in its work with families. That has been a great success story.

My Lords, if a woman who is fleeing domestic violence has more than two children, her child tax credit element will be cut. As I said yesterday, I would really appreciate the Government looking into this issue. There are also other real and serious issues, such as the complexity of mental health services. Are the Government thinking of putting money into dealing with those complex issues and needs?

My Lords, as I said in answer to a previous question, domestic violence is a very complex issue. For the people, mainly women, who experience it there are more complexities than just the domestic violence they suffer. As the noble Baroness says, they may have children and suffer mental health problems, often as a result of the abuse they have suffered. So yes, we are thinking very clearly about that.

My Lords, given that about 30 of the refuges have had to close, a lot of this need then falls back on local government, which is not able to offer the same specialist, trained advice. Does the Minister accept that this is not just about having a plethora of places? There must be specialist, trained people to provide help and direction, whether to legal aid or to other forms of help.

My Lords, UKROL data show that bed spaces actually rose from 3,216 in 2013 to 3,350 in 2015, but—it is a huge “but”, and I am not at all dismissing what the noble Baroness says—demand is increasing massively. She is right that it is absolutely crucial that we think about the support and other services that are needed. Those services will be provided not just by local authorities and housing associations, but by all the providers who have been so active in this area for so long.