Where can abuse victims go?

Where can abuse victims go?

Where can abuse victims go?

by Charlotte Kneer 


Those of us who work in the sector know there will be more victims of domestic abuse needing help after lockdown ends. Situations that were already abusive will have escalated. Isolation has handed abusers more power. So we know we will need more accommodation. What we don’t know is how we will provide it.

As the Chief Executive Officer of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, I am all too familiar with the gruelling work of trying to secure funding for a refuge. Contrary to popular belief, refuges are usually independent charities and are not funded by larger membership organisations like Women’s Aid. Instead, they must scrabble for a patchwork of different funding sources at local level, including discretionary grants from Local Authorities.

This model is a problem. Local authorities are not legally required to fund refuges and have had their budgets slashed. As a result, refuge funding has often been one of the first things to go. While the Domestic Abuse Bill - which returns for its second reading in parliament today - will introduce a statutory duty on councils to provide accommodation, the funding that is so urgently needed is still not guaranteed. Some refuges have been able to raise enough money without local authority funding. But refuges are by necessity secret places in order to protect the people who live there, making fundraising extremely difficult.

As a result, many refuges have closed over the years, meaning those left are usually full to capacity. At RBWA, our occupancy rate was 98.8% last year, with the remaining 1.2% mostly rooms being held for a victim waiting to escape. Our figures are not unusual and throw light on why (according to the Women’s Aid Federation) six out of ten women were not able to get space in a refuge when they needed it before this pandemic even started.

Clearly, we urgently need to provide more spaces. During lockdown, France is offering hotels as a solution. This is problematic for several reasons (related to support provision and safety), but at least they recognise the need and are providing a nationally steered solution. Meanwhile our government has been silent and that silence is costing lives. So I want to suggest a solution:

I am calling on the government to issue a requirement for Local Authorities to work with specialist services in their area. Authorities could be paying the rent for self-contained units of accommodation to house families fleeing abuse. They could pay specialist services to provide support, remotely if necessary. They could commit to housing those families at the end of a three month period. Very quickly, we could have thousands of extra refuge spaces supported by specialist providers and accessible even to those women who have no recourse to public funds.

I have already suggested this idea to Surrey Council and they said yes straight away. And while there may be teething issues, their example proves that this solution can work. But it will only work at a national level if the government dictates it and funds Local Authorities to do it.

We know that they can get homeless people off the streets, because they did it. We know they can provide additional capacity for hospital beds, because we’ve seen it with Nightingale Hospitals. So if it’s just a matter of political will, why can’t they do this too?

Priti Patel’s #YouAreNotAlone campaign is just empty words without the funding to ensure that sector workers like me no longer have to turn desperate women away from safety. Without more support, many more women and children will die. People want victims to be safe, why doesn’t our Government?

Charlotte Kneer is the CEO of Reigate and Banstead's Women's Aid and is joining Mandu Reid and Dr Akima Thomas OBE In Conversation on Wednesday 29th April at 7am. 

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