We need mandatory funding for refuges

By John Freeman

| 29 November 2017

We all know that domestic violence and abuse is a scourge on families. The women and children, and the few men, affected suffer both short term and immediate trauma and long term negative impacts, both physical and mental. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is insidious partly because it is invisible, but the impact on families and on children's futures is often deep-rooted and highly damaging.

So we must do all we can, as members of society, and as professionals, to discourage, deter and prevent abusers, and when abuse takes place to take action as soon as humanly possible.

But things still go wrong. That is when abused women and children need a safe, secure, secret place of refuge. Make no mistake, this is not a soft option for so-called 'benefits scroungers' or for people whose relationship has simply broken down. Refuges are life-saving and can help abused women and their children to start to put their lives back together.

Under the present arrangements, about two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a partner or ex-partner. And places are so tight that Women's Aid found that 94 women with 90 children were turned away from refuge services on a single day due to lack of spaces.

So the low-profile announcement by the government that refuges will be removed from eligibility for housing benefit is mean and pernicious. At present, about half of the costs of refuges are met through housing benefit, and councils meet most of the rest. The notion that councils can just pick up the slack is delusional.

So please support Keir Starmer's call for mandatory funding - not as a party political issue but out of simple humanity. In the meantime, protest the removal of housing benefit from this most vulnerable group.

The government's actions - £20 million to 2020 - is a mere PR token against the scale of the cuts.

John Freeman is a children's services consultant and former DCS

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