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Domestic violence: Refuges forced to turn away women as Camden and Haringey cut funding

PUBLISHED: 16:45 26 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:46 27 October 2017

Mary Mason, CEO of Solace Women's Aid, said only one in three women in need is given a refuge bed. Picture: Polly Hancock

Mary Mason, CEO of Solace Women's Aid, said only one in three women in need is given a refuge bed. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Councils are spending on less on domestic violence refuges. Solace Women’s Aid chief exec Mary Mason tells investigations journalist EMMA YOULE about the pressures – and what happens when women can’t get help

Victims of domestic violence are struggling to access services. Picture: Laura Dodsworth Victims of domestic violence are struggling to access services. Picture: Laura Dodsworth

For years Joanna suffered degrading abuse at the hands of man who terrorised her.

He smashed her phone, threw objects at her face and choked her while banging her head repeatedly against a wall.

Violence had been a way of life for the young Camden woman as her mother was also physically abusive. 
Yet, despite this history, she was never offered a place in a domestic violence refuge.

When Joanna finally fled, she was placed in a hostel in Haringey within close proximity to her ex-partner.

“From my experience there is little to no intervention available to single women without children as a direct result of cuts,” she said. “Services are being forced to prioritise who gets help.”

Today a Ham&High investigation, in partnership with the Bureau of Investigation, can reveal women are being turned away from refuges - with one charity saying it can only get one in three women a bed.

Mary Mason, CEO of Solace Women's Aid. Picture: Polly Hancock Mary Mason, CEO of Solace Women's Aid. Picture: Polly Hancock

Our research has shown Camden Council has slashed money for domestic violence services by 21 per cent in five years, as local authorities struggle to cope with the scale of cuts to their own funding.

In Haringey refuge funding has fallen by 75 per cent. National funding is down by a quarter since 2010.

Solace Women’s Aid runs refuges in Camden, Haringey and Islington and CEO Mary Mason said it has faced pressures on services.

“As a percentage figure we think at the moment that we have one refuge space for every three women who are seeking it,” she said. “That’s roughly the figure.”

Although the charity’s funding has not decreased, the ratio of money per service user has fallen.

This has impacted directly on domestic violence counselling and advice line services in Camden and Haringey.

The number of domestic violence cases handled by police in London has doubled in a decade. Picture: Laura Dodsworth The number of domestic violence cases handled by police in London has doubled in a decade. Picture: Laura Dodsworth

“At the moment our counselling waiting list is closed in the majority of our boroughs,” said Ms Mason. “And we miss at least half the calls that come through to our general advice line, because we don’t have the resources to have enough people on the advice line.”

Behind the figures is the reality of woman going back into violent homes.

Last year a woman with mental health issues and drug problems was unable to be moved into a refuge because she had no recourse to public funds due to her immigration status.

“We couldn’t find her a refuge space and in the end she was found dead in a flat,” said the CEO. “Obviously there are cases where somebody does get killed.”

She also gave the example of another women she met at a refuge last week who had gone to a council housing team saying she was fleeing domestic violence but was sent away.

“She went back home and stayed another year in an abusive relationship and in that time her arm was broken in front of her child by the perpetrator,” said Ms Mason.

Tulip Siddiq MP said domestic violence victims were 'often frustrated by the limited access to services'. Picture: Supplied by Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq MP said domestic violence victims were 'often frustrated by the limited access to services'. Picture: Supplied by Tulip Siddiq

“She said that she had lived in fear for an extra year and felt quite angry that she wasn’t told about refuge spaces.

“But even if she had known we don’t know that she would have found one, because its quite difficult to find them.”

She called for more ring-fenced funding and longer funding contracts, saying: “Local authorities fund street lamps for 15 years and yet they fund us for two, so it’s nonsensical.”

The London Black Women’s Project (LBWP), which has refuge beds in Haringey and Newham for black or ethnic minority women, said it was also forced to turn away women.

“Last year I think it was 46 women who couldn’t be accommodated because we didn’t have bed spaces,” said Baljit Banga, director of LBWP. “Without that their safety is in jeopardy.”

Meanwhile, the number of domestic violence cases handled by the police and councils has increased.

Catherine West MP said it was 'deeply worrying that less money is being made to stretch further in the provision of refuge beds'. Picture: Geoff Wilson Catherine West MP said it was 'deeply worrying that less money is being made to stretch further in the provision of refuge beds'. Picture: Geoff Wilson

In London last year more than 150,000 cases of domestic abuse were reported to the police and crime figures show incidents have almost doubled in the last decade.

Haringey and Camden councils both say they have invested heavily in services and that “tackling domestic violence is a key priority”.

The government says it is taking action to ensure no victim is turned away from the support they need.

A spokesman said: “We’ve secured £40million of dedicated funding for these domestic abuse services over four years up to 2020, and so far allocated half of this to local authorities to support 76 projects across England, which will create more than 2,200 bed spaces and support to over 19,000 victims.”

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Councils’ respond to concerns about refuge funding

Camden and Haringey councils both say tackling domestic violence and abuse is a key priority.

In Haringey funding for all domestic abuse services has doubled in the last five years and its spend was the highest of the London boroughs that supplied data for our research.

Rather than focusing solely on refuge beds, Haringey says it has increased other provision.

The borough has twice as many independent domestic violence advisors as it did in 2011-12 and has almost tripled its floating support service, which helps survivors stay safe without resorting to a refuge.

Cllr Eugene Ayisi, Haringey cabinet member for communities, said: “Through our dedicated support services, we continue to work tirelessly to provide genuine, innovative ways of helping those in need.”

Our figures showed Camden’s funding for domestic violence services has fallen by 21 per cent in five years. But the council said funding had risen to £1m annually.

It has run two innovative campaigns, including videos on You Tube that won 1,000s of views, which the council says has increased self-referrals by 95 per cent. It also pays for domestic violence officers based at the Royal Free and University College Hospitals, and has commissioned Solace Women’s Aid to carry out training with GPs on recognising abuse.

Cllr Angela Mason, Camden cabinet member for best start in life, said: “Despite huge funding pressures, our investment in frontline domestic violence and abuse services has actually increased. This means we are able to employ more frontline specialist trained officers, with a team of 12 staff who provide safety advice and support to victims and their children.”

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What did local MPs say about the pressures on refuges?

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said: “Since being elected in 2015, I have dealt with a number of domestic violence cases. Victims are often frustrated by the limited access to services, and their vulnerability is exacerbated by a housing crisis which sees them placed in emergency accommodation for months on end. Until serious action is taken by the Treasury to equip councils with the funds they need, the situation will only worsen.”

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said: “The government made some of the right noises on stamping out violence against women and girls, but despite vacant promises is simply not funding services adequately. It is deeply worrying that less money is being made to stretch further in the provision of refuge beds as councils have seen a 40 per cent cut in funding since 2010.”

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Need help? Advice lines

If you’re seeking support relating to domestic or sexual violence:

- Solace Women’s Aid runs a free advice line on 0808 802 5565

- Nia’s referral line for services in Haringey is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, on 0300 012 0213

- You can contact Camden Safety Net on 0207 974 2526 or visit camden.gov.uk/notlove

- The National Domestic Violence Helpline number is 0808 2000 247 and operates every day

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