The next government urgently needs to commit to funding domestic abuse services, writes Adina Claire of Women’s Aid.

The next government urgently needs to commit to funding domestic abuse services, writes Adina Claire of Women’s Aid.

The UK’s domestic abuse sector is in the grip of a funding crisis. Local authorities in England cut spending on refuge accommodation by 24 per cent between 2010 and 17, with one in 10 refuges and one in five community-based services now receiving no state funding. Many women fleeing domestic abuse are facing homelessness. This clearly can’t go on – the lives of women and children are at risk.

Earlier this year, the government committed to delivering a statutory duty on local authorities to fund refuge services, alongside sustainable funding for wider specialist domestic abuse services. This is yet to happen.

At Women’s Aid, we recently published a report that shows how much it will cost the government to keep its promise and properly fund specialist domestic abuse services in every community, for every survivor who needs them. Financially, it makes sense. To provide sustainable funding for all specialist domestic abuse services – including refuge and community-based services – the sector needs £393 million per year. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the £66 billion annual cost to society of domestic abuse.

When specialist domestic abuse services are not properly funded, the police and NHS have to pick up the slack. They are already under extraordinary pressure to meet demand, and cannot provide the needs-led, trauma-informed support that specialist domestic abuse services offer. This situation is not sustainable.

So the real question is, do our political leaders value women’s lives enough to provide these services? We know that domestic abuse is undoubtedly a feminist issue. Three women are killed by a male partner or ex-partner every fortnight in England and Wales, and nearly all-female domestic homicide victims (women killed by partner/ex-partner or other family members) are killed by men. Last year, 92 per cent of defendants in all domestic abuse-related prosecutions were men, and 74.5 per cent of the victims were women. Female survivors of domestic abuse experience higher rates of repeat victimisation, and are far more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims. They’re more likely to experience high levels of fear, coercive and controlling behaviour, and sexual violence. Women also have less economic power than men, which is one of many reasons why it is so difficult to escape an abusive partner. Nearly one in three women will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime.

The lack of investment in domestic abuse services has not happened in a vacuum. Women make up less than a third of MPs, and 96 per cent of local councils are male-dominated. The gender pay gap means that women effectively work for free from mid-November to the end of the year. Sexual harassment, unfair pay, pregnancy discrimination and unaffordable childcare are pushing many women out of the workplace altogether. The End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Centre for Women’s Justice are taking legal action against the CPS for its failure to prosecute rape, with campaigners questioning whether rape has been decriminalised. The Young Women’s Trust has criticised the government for promising to spend more on potholes than fixing the childcare crisis.

We do not live in a gender-equal society, and this is reflected in the lack of expenditure on specialist domestic abuse services. Women and children fleeing domestic abuse have been forgotten. This is something we can change.

At Women’s Aid, we are calling on all voters to write to their election candidates and ask them to commit to tackling domestic abuse. As our report shows, the cost of providing specialist services for every survivor is tiny compared to the £66 billion cost to society of domestic abuse. We need the next government to commit to funding specialist domestic abuse services in every community, for every survivor. They must work with the domestic abuse sector, local authorities and commissioning bodies to make this happen. It’s time for our political leaders to show that they do value women’s lives.

Adina Claire is Acting Co-Chief Executive of Women’s Aid.

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