Women’s Aid SOS signal to Government
Women’s Aid celebrates its 40th anniversary later this month but domestic violence services are facing their toughest challenge yet. Women’s Aid is calling on the Government to commit to protecting the national network of specialist domestic violence refuges during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Join the candle-lit SOS vigil on Thursday 20 November to stand in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence and the specialist refuges that support them.
Over the last four decades Women’s Aid and its member services have been working tirelessly to protect women and children survivors of domestic violence. Despite 40 years of support, awareness raising, campaigning and activism Women’s Aid are today seeing their world-leading national network of refuges being dismantled due to vicious funding cuts and disastrous commissioning decisions.
In September Women’s Aid launched the SOS Save Refuges, Save Lives campaign to tackle this crisis head on. The campaign is calling on the Government to commit to preserving our national network of specialist refuges and to exploring a new model of funding and commissioning that supports a sustainable service and high quality care.
Since 2010 Women’s Aid has seen a 17% reduction in the number of specialist domestic violence refuges available for women and children fleeing domestic violence. This hazardous decrease is due to huge local authority budget cuts and problematic local commissioning practices. Specialist refuges have reported many counter-intuitive and damaging commissioning processes to Women’s Aid. These include: competitive tendering processes; tenders that only include funding for outreach support and do not include any refuge provision; and, imposing a ‘local connection’ restriction on refuge residents.
These ‘local connection’ restrictions can be as much as 20% or 30% caps on non-local women accessing refuge. This policy eptiomises the basic misunderstanding that local authority commissioners can have around the role that specialist refuges play across England. One Housing Officer from a local authority Emergency Duty Team made a late night call to the 24 Hour National Domestic Violence helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge). He was trying to find refuge accommodation for a 19 year old woman with twin babies. The only refuge space available for her across England was in a specialist Women’s Aid service in a neighbouring county that was subject to a local connection rule. The available space matched all the woman’s and children’s need but the service was unable to accept her as she had no local connection. The woman was instead placed into emergency accommodation in the area she was trying to flee which was a significantly less safe option. The refuge is now left with several empty bedrooms as they are unable to accept out-of-area referrals. This seems utterly ridiculous when in other areas women and children are being turned away from refuges every day due to lack of available spaces.
The strength of the specialist refuge network has always been that is enables women to flee from one end of the country to another if they need to, in order to be safe. It gives hundreds of thousands of women and children in England access to a life free from fear and violence every year.
We are in danger of losing this powerful and life-saving service completely if funding and commissioning processes continue to fail to understand the needs of survivors of domestic violence and the true value of these services. The importance of acting now to protect these services can not be over-stated.
Women’s Aid will be delivering the SOS campaign petition to No.10 Downing Street Thursday 20 November. Women’s Aid are calling on the Government to commit to protecting their world-leading national network of specialist domestic violence during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence from 25 November to 10 December.
Alongside delivering the petition Women’s Aid have organised a candle-lit vigil to take place from 6pm – 7pm outside Downing Street. The vigil is an opportunity for SOS campaign supporters to come together and stand in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence and the specialist refuges that support them.
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