Thousands of survivors fleeing abusive and violent relationships will receive greater protection under a new package of support, announced today (13th May) by the Prime Minister.
Under the proposed requirements, councils across the country will be legally required to provide “life-saving” support in accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse and their children.
The consultation comes as part of a wider government drive to bolster protection for survivors, including a Domestic Abuse Bill which is due to introduce a statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and non-physical abuse.
The legislation is also said to establish a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner and prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts.
Local authorities will also be required to develop and publish strategies that set out the range of support services available for survivors and their children – including refuge accommodation and specialist support from safety through to independence.
Charlotte Kneer, who runs Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, said having a safe place to go is a human right, adding: “For me and many other women, having a refuge is literally life-saving.”
She added that people fleeing domestic abuse had to seek refuge in a place outside their hometown, to avoid seeing their attacker or their acquaintances. Because they weren’t services for local people, refuges had often been “easy cuts” for local authorities to make.
In November 2018, Minister Wheeler confirmed that 63 projects across England were to share £22m to help domestic abuse survivors.
Minister for Housing and Homelessness Heather Wheeler MP said: “It is our duty to ensure survivors of domestic abuse can access the support they need to restart their lives – we owe it to everyone who has experience of this terrible abuse.
“I know from meeting with brave survivors when I recently visited a newly opened refuge the worth of such facilities and the important work they do.
“That’s why the measures announced today are so crucial and will help ensure that survivors are supported right across the country.”
Local government secretary James Brokenshire said it was estimated an extra £90m a year would be needed for local authorities to provide accommodation for victims.
Councillor Simon Blackburn of the Local Government Association welcomed extra support but said councils could not tackle the issue alone.
“Our ambition must be to reduce the number of victims, with greater investment in early intervention and prevention schemes that helps stop domestic abuse occurring in the first place,” he said.
Commenting on the announcement, Sandra Horley CBE, CEO of Refuge, added: “Refuge is delighted by the government’s decision to place a legal duty on local authorities to provide funding for accommodation-based support for survivors of domestic abuse.
“This has the potential to end the postcode lottery for refuge places and could put these life-saving services on a secure financial footing for the first time.
“It could provide vital protection to tens of thousands of women and children who experience violence and intimidation in the home. Women and children deserve and need to live in safety.”
The consultation will last for 12 weeks, with the government due to set out its response in due course.
Following the announcement, Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP said that the committee welcome the government’s intention to implement the new measures.
He added, however, that simply placing a new obligation on local authorities will not “be enough” without adequate funding, adding that if it results in further financial pressures on front-line services, and reduces the ability to fund preventative programmes, then it will “not be as effective as it should be.”
“In our report, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee called for dedicated funding to support a national network of refuges for women and children, separate from other forms of social housing.
“In the consultation announced today, we expect the Government to work with refuge providers to provide a robust system that tackles these unique challenges.
“No victims should be turned away from accessing critical support and this must be the starting point of all their policy and funding decisions”, he said.