Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East, has written to the Home Secretary and Minister for Women to highlight the funding cuts forced on domestic violence refuges across the region.
The letter to Sajid Javid and Victoria Atkins comes amidst the annual 16 days of activism against gender-based violence which began on November 25 with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on December 10 with International Human Rights Day and the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The senior Green MEP also released a statement alongside the letter condemning the effect of austerity on the provision of support and services for domestic abuse survivors across the South East.
In the statement, Mr Taylor says:
"Despite the positive initiatives launched to mark the 2018 16 days of action against domestic violence - including the new ‘Work to Stop Domestic Violence’ charter - the figures speak for themselves. We are not doing enough to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society - and things are getting worse, not better. Globally, domestic violence kills 50,000 women a year, two million adults in the UK experienced domestic violence last year alone.
"As we wait for the draft Domestic Abuse legislation, it is clear there are a number of issues that need urgent attention. Women’s Aid has set out a ‘Bill of Survivors’ that will ensure the law provides for those most in need. To adequately respond to growing domestic violence figures (23% rise in reported cases in the year to March 2018), more resources must be allocated to the places that provide survivors with vital refuge. Every day across England, 200 women are turned away from refuges due to a lack of space.
"Domestic violence against men is also on the rise. The number of men reporting the incidence of violence has risen to almost 15%. While one in six men experience violence in some way, only one in 20 cases gets reported. At the same time, the provision of male refuges is almost non-existent; there are just 20 beds in the whole of England for male survivors of domestic abuse
"My constituency in the South East has its own unique challenges. Shockingly, demand is such that, outside of London, the region has the highest number of refuges and the number of beds has grown faster than anywhere else in the country. Despite this, there is still a 40% shortfall in the number of beds actually required (against a national average shortfall of a 31%). We have the second lowest provisions for children, with only 57% of refuges having children’s workers. And there are numerous examples where funding to provide such beds is under threat or has already been removed.
"Just this week, Safe in Sussex has been fighting to halt West Sussex County Council’s plan to cut 100% of supported housing, which would see at least two out of four refuges in the area close.
"In September last year, Berkshire Women’s Aid lost funding for 40% of its beds from Reading Borough Council, despite turning away more than 70 survivors the previous year.In 2016, for every person they helped, three were turned away.
"These two examples could have been taken from countless locations across my constituency. While councils have control over where the scythe swings, it is the government’s ideological austerity programme, slammed by the UN as cruel and unnecessary, that has seen local authorities forced to cut vital services.
"The shortage of refuge space and resources is unlikely to improve in the coming years as the UK prepares to leave the European Union. Not only will the uncertain economic situation make funding even harder to come by, but the UK will also lose access to the EU funding streams and projects from which it has so far benefited. Between 2014 and 2020, Britain has been allocated over €5.5 million from EU funding dedicated to combatting all forms of violence against children, young people and women—in particular, those at risk of violence in close relationships.
"Funding cuts are a huge issue, but so too is the way in which the services are provided. On introducing the cuts to Berkshire Women’s Aid, Reading Council called on the Government to centralise support for domestic abuse survivor services. Given the nature of the situations in which victims of domestic abuse find themselves, they often look to services a safe distance away from their former home for fear of being found or tracked down. It begs the question of whether putting the onus on local authorities to support services in the first place actually makes sense when those services may be primarily used to support people from out of the area.
"But while the government’s rhetoric is warm on protecting domestic abuse survivors is warm, the reality of its actions is anything but. Ministers have shown a continued apathy and contempt for those in society most in need of safeguarding. We can hardly celebrate the decision against removing housing benefit for people living in refuges earlier this year as positive action. The truth is active support to improve the lives of survivors is still a distant priority for a government consumed with infighting and austerity.
"It is shameful that the UK government is also dragging its feet over ratifying the Istanbul Convention, an international agreement that lays out the legal minimum standards for countries to combat violence against women and girls. Ministers signed the agreement back in 2012 and pledged not to ‘actively work against the provision of support and protection services to victims’ - a bare minimum, surely! But that is where its commitment stopped. Under international human rights law, the UK cannot be held accountable for implementing the full terms of the legal framework until the treaty is ratified. What are they waiting for?
"So during these 16 days of action, I am joining those calling for a comprehensive, national support programme to better fund and provide resources for domestic abuse survivors. I am also calling for a domestic abuse bill that is fit for purpose. A worsening national crisis demands a better national response. More and fairer support is needed. The government needs to take a stand. We must protect domestic abuse survivors at their most vulnerable and offer them the resources they need; not just to survive, but to thrive."