May's help for domestic violence victims is too little too late

"Women's Aid say that since 2010 17% of all refuges in England have closed"
"Women's Aid say that since 2010 17% of all refuges in England have closed"
Natalie Bloomer By

Imagine the fear a woman feels at the moment she leaves a violent or abusive partner. It can take months or even years for her to build up the courage to leave. Some will make plans beforehand, secretly moving possessions out of the house little by little so their abuser doesn't notice. Others are forced to leave quickly, literally fleeing for their lives. Now imagine those same women turning up at a women's refuge, desperate for a place where he won't find her, only to be turned away.

This is the reality for many victims of domestic violence in the UK today. According to Women's Aid, on a typical day 155 women and 103 children are turned away, usually because of a lack of space. Women's organisations, like many charities, have always had to fight for funding, but following cuts imposed since 2010, it has become much harder. And the government has been slow to respond.

Earlier this month, Theresa May approved £20 million of additional funding for refuges. While this is welcome, for some areas it is too little too late. Just take a refuge run by the Wellingborough and East Northants Women's Aid in Northamptonshire. It's been helping women for 40 years but, at the same time that the government announced this extra funding, they were making an announcement of their own: they are to close.

"We've been surviving on a kind of hand-to-mouth existence for a while now, but we've reached a point where we just can't continue," a spokesperson for the organisation said.


"We've tried the Big Lottery Fund, Children in Need, and local businesses, but there's just not the money out there."

The group say that while the extra £20 million will help some refuges to keep going, it has come too late for them. They're also concerned that it's not a long-term solution. This is a view which is shared by the feminist activists Sisters Uncut, who staged a day of action in various cities around the UK yesterday. Ahead of the Autumn Statement this week, the protesters blocked bridges in London, Newcastle, Bristol and Glasgow to call on the government to provide secure long-term funding for domestic violence services.

"Austerity has decimated many services around the country, especially specialist services for women of colour," one of the protesters in London told Politics.co.uk yesterday.

"Theresa May has announced this extra pot of cash but it's very temporary, there's no security or guaranteed provision for specialist services."

Services dedicated to helping Black and minority women (BME) are rarely discussed, but a report by Imkaan, a black feminist organisation dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls, suggested that nine out of ten BME survivors prefer to receive support from a specialist service. An understanding of culture and the communities women come from can make all the difference to victims. Marcia Smith, who herself has escaped an abusive relationship, attended the Newcastle protest yesterday.

"When I went to the police with bruises, they said they couldn’t see my bruises because I was black," she said. "People don’t see black women as victims, and we get racism instead of help. With black services, you don’t have racism, you have the trust and support you need"

Southall Black Sisters, who provide support for BME victims of domestic violence in London, say they face an ongoing battle for sufficient funding.

"Not enough funding is given to specialist services," Meena Patel, operations manager, says. "There have been major cuts right across domestic violence services but it's often specialist services that are hardest hit.

"The government really needs to commit themselves to permanent funding."

Women's Aid say that since 2010 17% of all refuges in England have closed. For those services and the women who relied on them, the additional funding from the government has come too late. For others, it may be just enough to help them keep going. But without a long-term plan, the uncertainty hanging over women's refuges will continue.

Natalie Bloomer is a journalist for Politics.co.uk. You can follow her on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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