One in five domestic violence centres has cut services in the last year due to funding problems – despite many refuges already having to turn women away because they are full, Channel 4 News learns.
In the UK, an incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every single minute. On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
With numbers as shocking as these, you would expect it to be easy to access help if you felt in danger.
But in fact, the services which do exist are so oversubscribed that every single day between 275 and 300 women seeking help have to be turned away from the first refuge service they approach because of a lack of space.
And there are concerns this could only get worse as a result of funding gaps and cuts.
New figures given to Channel 4 News by leading charity Women’s Aid showed that one in five of its member services is facing severe funding difficulties and have had to close some or all of their services for vulnerable women and children.
Nicki Norman, deputy chief executive of Women’s Aid described the problems as “devastating”.
She told Channel 4 News: “The most dangerous time for a woman experiencing domestic violence is when she is trying to leave her abusive partner, so funding refuge services that keep women safe during this time is not just saving lives but saving the government money,” she said.
Ms Norman said cutting domestic violence funding was a “false economy” when domestic murders cost the government £1m.
The most dangerous time for a women experiencing domestic violence is when she is trying to leave her abusive partner. Nicki Norman, Women’s Aid
The majority of refuge services – for women and children who need somewhere to get away from their abusive partners – operate at capacity, as do other services like outreach programmes. Helplines are also very busy.
Women who are turned away at first often can find help elsewhere, for example in other temporary accommodation.
However, as the first moment women try to seek help is often the moment at which they are most vulnerable, any obstacle risks putting them in more danger, particularly if they are forced to return to their abusive partner.
Domestic violence services in the UK are funded through a number of different schemes, many of which are channelled through local councils by central government. There are also donations and national funding schemes for domestic violence services for men, women and children.
A Home Office spokesman told Channel 4 News: “Domestic violence is a dreadful crime and this government is serious about tackling the abuse suffered by women, girls and men across the country.
“That’s why we have ring-fenced nearly £40m of funding for specialist domestic and sexual violence support services and help-lines until 2015. We are also constantly looking at new ways of protecting victims and today we announced two new stalking offences have come into effect.”
However, while this money is ring-fenced, many of the other government sources of funding for domestic violence services like refuges are not.
This means that cash-strapped councils, which have seen big drops in the amount of money they get from central government across the board in this “age of austerity”, turn to this extra cash to fund other services, like rubbish collection or social care.
Central government has warned councils domestic violence is not an “easy cut”, but the reality is that budgets are still being slashed as councils struggle to make ends meet.
Councillor Ann Lucas, the Local Government Association’s spokeswoman on domestic violence, said: “There is no place in society for violence against women and girls and no local politician or professional takes decisions on reducing these services lightly.
“Councils work extremely hard with police, health, voluntary and other organisations to prevent this violence and ensure victims get the help they need.
“Even though government has reduced council funding by 28 per cent, many local authorities supported the same or a greater number of victims over the last year as they did in the year before.”
She said councils were trying to bring funding together from across the public sector – but this was difficult when fundamental reforms of the police and health services were under way.
“Central government needs to be encouraging other public services to come together with councils to jointly fund and commission services in new and different ways so victims can continue to be supported while budgets reduce,” she said.
Victims and charities hope that there is some improvement soon – otherwise many already overstretched domestic violence services will face a struggle for survival, putting even more women at risk of being turned away and ultimately, back in harm’s way.
National Domestic Abuse 24hr Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Women’s Aid website: www.womensaid.org.uk
In an emergency, always dial 999 and ask for the police
For domestic violence perpetrators, there is the Respect helpline, open Mon-Fri 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, on 0808 802 4040
Respect phoneline website: www.respectphoneline.org.uk