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Domestic violence: Women turned away from refuges as Newham Council cuts funding by half

PUBLISHED: 15:50 26 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:07 26 October 2017

Baljit Banga, of the London Black Women's Project, says its refuges in Newham and Haringey turned away 46 women last year. Picture: Ken Mears

Baljit Banga, of the London Black Women's Project, says its refuges in Newham and Haringey turned away 46 women last year. Picture: Ken Mears

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With beds in domestic abuse refuges massively oversubcribed and the council cutting funds, investigations journalist EMMA YOULE learns how battered women are being turned away from safe houses or asked to wait for longer for beds... increasing the risk they will return to violent homes

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

Life saving refuge services for women fleeing domestic violence have been hit by huge funding cuts in Newham forcing vulnerable women to be turned away.

Following a joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Recorder can reveal Newham Council has cut refuge funding by half since 2010 as the local authority copes with severe cuts to its own funding by central government.

Charities providing services in the borough say women are waiting longer to move into refuges, which can increase the risk of them returning to a violent partner.

One refuge provider, the London Black Women’s Project (LBWP), said it was forced to turn away women because it did not have spaces available at its refuges in Newham and Haringey.

Baljit Banga, director of LBWP, said: “Last year I think it was 46 women who couldn’t get accommodated because we didn’t have bed spaces, and I think that’s consistent with the national picture.

“The general issue is about women’s safety. The refuge for many women is the one place where they can get safe accommodation when they leave domestic violence.

Baljit Banga (right) and her team at London Black Women's Project, (from left) Parm Bhambra, Frida Loney and Camille Rouse, provide vital services to domestic abuse victims. Picture: Ken Mears Baljit Banga (right) and her team at London Black Women's Project, (from left) Parm Bhambra, Frida Loney and Camille Rouse, provide vital services to domestic abuse victims. Picture: Ken Mears

“Without that their safety is in jeopardy and that could mean that their lives, and the lives of their children, could be at risk.”

Research carried out by the Recorder and the Bureau has shown councils in London have cut spending on domestic violence refuges by up to 75 per cent since 2010-11.

Nationally refuge funding has fallen by nearly a quarter over that time.

Yet Newham’s total funding on domestic violence services is among the highest in London.

The council has increased this budget by 20 per cent in the last five years and it spends 40 per cent more than neighbouring Barking and Dagenham.

Newham commissions a pioneering “one stop shop” service for people experiencing domestic violence, which is run by the organisation Aanchal Women’s Aid.

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

Sudarshan Bhuhi MBE, CEO at Aanchal, said they had never been forced to turn a women away but said “it was taking a lot longer to find refuge places”.

“When it takes a lot longer, that time creates the gap for women and children, who could be in a police station with luggage or they could be anywhere, and that time gap gives them the opportunity to think I’m going to return back to the perpetrator,” she said.

Heather Harvey, research and development manager at Nia, which has two specialist refuges and the East London Rape Crisis Service working with women from Newham, said there was not enough refuge space generally and a lot of refuges did not take women with high needs.

These include mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, or women with no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status.

“If the women can’t access benefits, or public funds, then she can’t actually stay in the refuge,” she said. “So you will have women who are destitute, on the street, or staying with violent abusive partners because they’ve got nowhere to go, and their lives are at risk.”

Newham Council said government guidelines set out how many refuge spaces a local authorities must provide based on one per 10,000 of the borough’s population. In Newham this equates to 31 refuge spaces.

The council said it exceeds this number with 25 refuge spaces commissioned directly and another 14 provided by the London Black Women’s Project, which is funded via other charitable sources.

Newham also delivers a comprehensive range of frontline domestic violence services, including advice and support 24 hours a day.

A spokesman said: “Newham Council has a zero tolerance approach to domestic and sexual violence and is committed to ensuring those in these situations receive the support and advice they need. We have secured funding from a number of sources to ensure we provide a year round service to those at risk or who are experiencing domestic violence.

“We ensure that our high risk victims are placed away from the borough for their own safety. The number of refuge places available in the borough is higher than the local authority is required to provide and has no bearing on the number of victims deemed at high risk.”

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The London-wide picture

One woman who ended up being placed in a London refuge told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

“I called a helpline and I said that I need help now. The support worker wanted to put me in a refuge that day, which didn’t happen... it took longer than that.

“She said: ‘Call as many friends as you can’. She said: ‘I know it’s embarrassing, call ‘em, call ‘em, just see who will pick up’, and that’s what I did.

“I spent weeks on friends’ floors before they found a refuge for me.”

Another placed in a London refuge said: “We’ve been abused, day in, day out, day in, day out.

“We are all going to have complex issues. There’s just not the resources [to support us]. There’s not the money.”

One London based refuge manager said: “Because of cuts we have had to reduce the number of activities for children, and we rely on donations and fundraising for welcome and children packs.”

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MP blames government, but government says ‘We’ve invested £40m’

West Ham MP Lyn Brown has hit out at the government over the pressures on domestic violence funding.

She said: “With reports of domestic violence on the increase it is absolutely wrong that the Tory government continues to underfund the council services that can help them.

“Labour councils like Newham make the most of the funds they have, but the only way victims will get the level of support they deserve is with Labour’s national policy to fund town halls properly.”

But the government told the Recorder it was 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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If you are seeking advice or support related to domestic or sexual violence, you can call the Newham One Stop Shop helpline on 0845 451 2547. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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