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Women’s Refuges

Volume 802: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the financial sustainability of women’s refuges.

My Lords, this Government are committed to ensuring that victims have access to support within domestic abuse safe accommodation, including refuges. After extensive engagement with the sector to ensure sustainable funding, MHCLG is introducing a new duty on local authorities to assess the need and commission support for victims and their children within safe accommodation. Meanwhile, 75 projects across England will share £16.6 million, supporting up to 43,000 victims until this duty comes into force.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer, but the shortage of accommodation in refuges has worsened since I last asked this Question. More than 21,000 referrals to all refuges in England, about 60% of the total, were turned away in 2017-18. That includes women and children. The organisation Refuge has had its accommodation services cut by 50% since 2011 and local authorities are barely able to carry out their essential services. Apart from warm words, what are the Government actually doing to ensure sustainable funding for women’s refuges?

I acknowledge the noble Baroness’s long-standing huge commitment to this issue, but I believe that her specific concerns will be addressed in the new Domestic Abuse Bill, which includes a duty on local authorities to research and find all the possible outcomes we can give to these victims of abuse. The sustainable funding provided in the Bill will be confirmed in the spending review which we will announce by the summer. In the meantime, we will have this emergency funding until the Bill comes into effect.

It is nearly 50 years since I went to the first women’s refuge in Chiswick High Road, started by Erin Pizzey. At that point the grim statistics were that 1.5 women a week were killed in the UK by their partners or their husbands. That figure is now nearer to two per week. This is International Women’s Day and I find it unbelievable that over these years the situation is even worse. It is horrific that refuges are closing down. I urge the Government to follow up on the previous point. What systems are in place to help women afterwards and to help children who are orphaned in this awful way? If we put all these women being killed together in one place, there would be a national outcry, yet it never appears on the front pages of newspapers. This crime goes on and on.

The Domestic Abuse Bill will focus on providing new money for refuges. We also provide significant funding for community-based services, because we recognise their importance, including perpetrator programmes and community-based independent domestic violence advocates. Support services for victims of domestic abuse are currently provided through a whole range of organisations, including police and crime commissioners, local authorities, direct government grants and voluntary and community sector organisations. I am very pleased that the designated domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has agreed to lead an in-depth exploration of the current support landscape in 2021. The former CEO of the charity Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, she said she had no quarrels with this Bill at all.

Can my noble friend tell us what we are doing to help men who are in abusive relationships? It is not only women, regrettably, who suffer on such occasions.

My noble friend raises a very good point, because although in three-quarters of domestic abuse-related offences the victim was female, a significant 25% were male. Between April 2018 and March 2019 in England and Wales, 80 females and 16 males were killed by their partner or ex-partner.

There are refuges, or other forms of domestic abuse safe accommodations, dedicated to supporting male victims fleeing domestic abuse, a small number of which were funded under our recent £16.6 million emergency funding round. The new duty on safe accommodation will require authorities to conduct a needs assessment of all victims in their area, and to develop and publish a strategy based on this assessment.

My Lords, I return to the provision available after victims and their children are able to move on from refuges. Substantial, important and fragile ground has been moved and gained through the provisions in this Bill. But the provision after victims leave refuges is very patchy indeed, offered in only one in seven local authorities. Can the Minister say when provision will be available everywhere, for all victims and survivors?

The Bill endeavours to prevent the postcode lottery that has existed for victims of abuse. We are working closely with local authorities, and we have set up a ministerial-led national steering group; we will evaluate all the responses to this, including the expansion of community-based services.

As the Minister said, the requirement to provide refuge funding will be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill, and that is extremely welcome. Will the Minister clarify whether refuge facilities will be provided without discrimination to all domestic violence survivors, including children, young people and those with insecure immigration status?

The noble Baroness raises a very good point, because until now people who have not been eligible for public funds have been unable to access entry into these refuges. The Government introduced the destitution domestic violence concession some years ago to support people who could not access any other form of help at this time of crisis. They have now started a review and will publish their overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse, including those with no recourse to public funds. This review will specifically consider the committee’s recommendation to extend the period of time that support is offered for, and how this relates to a victim’s ability to access refuge accommodation at all.

My Lords, funding to refuges has been ravaged by over a decade of austerity in local government funding. The Communities Secretary has announced some additional funding, but front-line service providers have argued that it will not help tackle the funding gap faced by refuges because it does not provide money that could be spent on day-to-day cost of service provision. Will the Minister ask the Communities Secretary to think again about this provision so that money can be used for day-to-day costs and to increase the allocated budget so that it begins to address the huge shortfalls that have been built up over the past decade?

I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, to her first outing at the Dispatch Box. I will certainly take that back to the department. The whole point of the funding announced by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State, was to fill the gap that has been built up over the last decade.