If government cuts go ahead as planned, then over 66% of women's refuges in the UK will be forced to shut down - and that's going to have a huge impact on women's lives across the country.
When Sarah*, 34, was in her 20s, she found herself trapped with nowhere to go. Her boyfriend of five years was assaulting her on a near daily basis, but she couldn’t afford to leave. She was unemployed and couldn’t afford the deposit for a new flat, and she’d lost touch with most of her friends. She felt completely alone – unsupported, and unable to leave. Every day brought fresh bruises. And every day, she says she wanted to die.
It was only when she called a helpline and was offered a place in a secure women’s refuge, far away from her partner and with 24 hour support, that Sarah was able to finally escape. These days, she’s open about its impact. She unequivocally believes that she owes the refuge her life.
Sarah’s not an anomaly. It’s thought that one in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. That’s a quarter of your female friends. Similarly, on average, it’s thought that two UK women will be killed by their male partners every single week, and domestic violence accounts for 16 per cent of all violent crime in Britain.
And domestic violence is the single most reported reason for women becoming homeless.
So the news that proposed government cuts will force two thirds of women’s refuges in the UK to close isn’t just horrifying – it’s unacceptable. Not least because it’s thought that if the cuts go ahead, 87% of women’s refuges will have their services reduced, even if they manage to stay open.
On the off chance you just glossed over that statistic, allow us to pop it on its own line:
Approximately 87 per cent of women’s refuges will have their services reduced.
It all comes down to a governmental plan to cap housing benefit within the social sector at the same level as it plans to cap the benefit paid to private landlords – even though they’re entirely different. As it stands, women’s refuges receive housing benefit from every woman that they take in, working out at about £300 per room per week – which goes to cover all food, bills, 24 hour psychological support, security, counselling and rehabilitation for the women themselves. But if the cuts go ahead, the amount that the refuges would receive would plummet to about £60 per week instead. That’s a loss of approximately £240 a week, per room. If a refuge has ten rooms, then that equates to a loss of about £10,000 a month.
Within an already struggling sector, this is a really big deal. For women like Sarah, refuges provide a last ditch alternative to living on the streets – or staying with abusive partners until it’s too late. As it is, most refuges are so in demand, there are already lengthy waiting lists and reports of overcrowding. There isn’t any spare money lying around to make up the shortfall – and women’s lives are at stake as a result.
Julie Walters, patron of Women’s Aid England, agrees. ‘Refuges save lives: it is as simple as that,’ the actress explains. ‘The government must exempt them from these welfare reforms – or live with the consequences of more women being killed and more families traumatised by domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is a human rights issue, and women and children need the specialist support that refuges provide to reclaim their dignity and strength.’