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Women’s Refuges: Funding

Volume 794: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2018


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the sustainability of funding for women’s refuges.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Donaghy, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, since 2014 the Government have invested £33.5 million in domestic abuse services. On 10 November we announced a further £22 million for 2018-20. My department is also conducting a review of how domestic abuse services are locally commissioned and funded across England. We are working closely with domestic abuse key partners to develop future sustainable delivery options for domestic abuse services, including refuges.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but he will know that applications by cash-strapped local authorities far exceeded the money available, which is simply not enough to deliver what the Government have promised, especially in the light of the forthcoming domestic violence and abuse Bill. This also creates a cliff edge in 2020, which threatens the sustainability of services. Will he support calls by Women’s Aid, the House of Commons Select Committee, the Home Affairs Select Committee, and others, to make refuge provision a statutory obligation, backed by national ring-fenced funding, and to make long-term sustainable funding a priority in the forthcoming spending review?

My Lords, it is worth noting that the recent announcement I referred to funded 63 projects around the country, involving 254 local authorities, and has provided not just security for the 25,000 existing beds but an additional 2,200 bed spaces. The noble Baroness is right about the challenges. That is why I referred to the ongoing review of how we fund these services across England. She is also right about the importance of the domestic abuse Bill, which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister referred to in Prime Minister’s Questions today, pledging that it would be brought forward in this Session.

My Lords, across the United Kingdom support for refuges is funded in numerous complex and insecure ways. It is a postcode lottery, and refuges are spending an inordinate amount of time bidding for money to keep going, instead of caring for the traumatised women and children who they have been able to admit. In 2016-17, 60% had to be turned away. Will the Government commit to work with Women’s Aid and other organisations to create a new model of sustainable funding for a national network of specialist women’s refuges?

My Lords, first, we do, of course, work with Women’s Aid, which is a key partner. It welcomed—with reservations, to be fair—the recent announcement of the 63 projects that I have referred to. We also work with other organisations in the sector—Refuge, SafeLives and Imkaan, for example. I again refer to the ongoing review, which is important—but as things stand we fund quite a range of different ways of providing refuges: it is not one size fits all. This is ongoing work, and that important review is forthcoming.

My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register. May I remind the Minister of the importance of looking after a particular group, the victims of forced marriage, many of whom are under 18 and need rather more specialist care than many refuges can give them?

My Lords, the noble and learned Baroness is right about the complex needs of victims of forced marriage. They are catered for in those 63 projects, as are other groups with complex needs. The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely right.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that any plans to fund accommodation-based services will focus not only on emergency provision, such as in a refuge, but on move-on accommodation? There are too many women, particularly in London, who cannot move on from a refuge because of a lack of move-on accommodation, and therefore women who need refuge urgently cannot access it.

My Lords, my noble friend, who has done much work in this area, particularly with SafeLives, is right about the importance of the range of different ways, which I just referred to, of providing refuge services. She is right about the particular needs that need to be catered for, and we have sought to do that in the current funding round. For example, we are funding a three-borough initiative—Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham—which is providing a range of different ways of providing protection for victims of domestic abuse. My noble friend is absolutely right.

My Lords, what specific measures are the Government taking in regard to Muslim women? I declare my interest as the honorary president of Muslim Women’s Network UK. Not only do they have to be protected from violence; they need specific arrangements and specific spaces which they consider clean for praying, as well as protection from the men in their own families. What arrangements are made for them?

The noble Baroness is right about the particular needs of that community, which she has just outlined. It was a group specifically identified in the bids that we have just been honouring in the 63 projects. I will write to her on the specifics of that, but the BME and the Muslim communities were identified as being in particular need in those bids.

My Lords, I refer to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the LGA. Since 2010, specialist refuges have been cut by one-fifth. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, 60% of referrals to refuges by Women’s Aid are refused due to lack of bed space. That means that 90 women and their dependent children are turned away every day. Is the Minister saying that the money he referred to in his earlier answer will replace those cuts? If not, why are the Government not doing more?

My Lords, I said that there is work still to be done—I think I used those very words. Part of that is, of course, the funding review that is going on at the moment. I also said that an additional 2,200 bed spaces have been created and there have been some specific projects. The noble Lord mentioned women turned away. There is a No Woman Turned Away project which ensures that people have caseworker support. There is still more to be done—I would not argue with that point—but progress has been made on these projects, and progress will be made with the funding review.