13th May 2019
Today, the prime minister’s announcement on the future of funding for refuges takes us one step closer to securing the future of our life-saving services. The government has set out proposals to place a new legal duty on local authorities to provide support in ‘secure accommodation’ for survivors of domestic abuse and their children, creating a new statutory system for the funding of refuges and other services within the community.
This new statutory duty on local authorities will have four parts:
A duty on ‘upper-tier’ local authorities to convene a multi-agency partnership, which will have to undertake needs assessments of survivors in their area, oversee the provision of support in accommodation-based services to meet these needs, and develop and publish a local strategy to deliver this support.
A requirement on ‘lower-tier’ local authorities to cooperate with the upper tier.
A requirement on local authorities to monitor and assess the provision of support, and report back to government.
A duty on the secretary of state to provide statutory guidance that will underpin this new funding model.
Nicki Norman, acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“We warmly welcome this landmark announcement, a major step forward for our SOS: Save Refuges Save Lives campaign, which was launched in 2014 with the aim of securing a sustainable future for the services that provide a lifeline for women and children who need to escape abusers. Whilst we’ve welcomed emergency funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government since, the national network of refuges remains under threat from damaging local commissioning practices and short-term, shoestring budgets. 60% of all referrals to the refuge services who responded to our Annual Survey in 2017-18 were declined, and over one in ten received no local authority funding at all in that year. In the past decade we’ve seen a ‘race to the bottom’ on costs within competitive tendering processes which too often favour larger scale, generic provision and not the expertise of women’s services.”
“A sustainable future, that ensures services with the expertise to meet women’s needs are resourced to meet demand, remains an urgent priority. This new legal framework is a significant step in the right direction, and should help to ensure consistent refuge provision across the country to end the postcode lottery that survivors currently face when seeking safety. There remain many questions with this announcement, however, which we look forward to working with our members to consider, including:
Safeguards to ensure that local areas are providing refuge services, not generic ‘accommodation-based’ provision which do not provide the holistic support and safety that survivors and their children need when fleeing abuse. It will be crucial that quality standards, such as those developed by Women’s Aid and Imkaan, are at the heart of the model.
Real oversight to ensure the national network of refuges can operate safely. Around two thirds of women flee to a refuge outside of their local area, yet we continue to see local authorities imposing unsafe ‘local connection’ restrictions in their contracts and commissioning of refuges. It will be crucial for the model to go further than ‘monitoring’ local practices and to have the powers to hold local authorities accountable in this area.
Specific protections for the highly specialised services, including those led by and for black and minority ethnic women, disabled women and LGBT survivors, who have lost out most under localism. These services are unique and deliver tailored support to women and children who face multiple forms of discrimination, tackling the barriers they face to accessing help. It is unclear how the current model will ensure the sustainability of services which deliver specialist support for BME, LGBT and disabled survivors. It has to be taken into consideration that some of these organisations are often national specialists that run services across different local authorities and across the whole country.
The level of spending which will need to underpin these plans if they are to be sustainable, for which the government has set out no detail on yet. Through our SOS campaign Women’s Aid is currently leading a programme of work to establish the true ‘cost of provision’ for refuges and domestic abuse services, which will be essential for ensuring that funding is sufficient to meet demand. Funding must be drawn from the range of government departments and statutory agencies which accrue cost savings from refuges – not only MHCLG, but the Department for Education, Department for Health, Home Office, Ministry of Justice and many more.
The government will be consulting on these proposals for 12 weeks, and Women’s Aid looks forward to working closely with our members during this time to ensure that the new funding model is safe, sustainable and delivers the resources that services urgently require to support all women and children fleeing domestic abuse.”
Women’s Aid Patron Melanie Brown says:
“I’m so happy to hear that Theresa May has listened to Women’s Aid who provide a voice for the millions of women in this country who are suffering from abuse. I’m even more happy to hear that she has actioned local authorities to fund refuges to help women and children in need because this provides vital support on so many levels. I have been to a refuge in my home town of Leeds. I’ve spent time with the women there and the support staff there and it changed my life just like it can change the lives of so many who are suffering from this epidemic of abuse which we need to acknowledge and deal with.”