Osborne’s got a plan for potholes but no permanent plan for domestic violence services

By Sisters Uncut

In his last two budget speeches, George Osborne has made a point of mentioning domestic violence services. Yet, as we warned in November, his austerity measures are catastrophically failing these services and the women they support. With each budget he announces, the chancellor plunges the domestic violence sector into further funding chaos. This Wednesday, when he delivers his 2016 budget, we demand a long-term economic plan for women’s safety. It’s simple: women are not safe if funding is not secure, and the only way to secure it is to ring-fence it.

Domestic violence services are funded by local councils. Since Osborne has halved local authority budgets, these services and the women they support face a precarious future. The political gesture he made to domestic violence survivors – £15million raised from the "tampon tax" would go to women's sector charities – was completely negated, if not outweighed, by the devastation caused by local council cuts.

Currently, the safety of women facing domestic violence depends on their postcode. Life-saving refuges are disappearing across the country, and no region is safe. In Devon, the local authority no longer funds any refuges at all: a refuge in Exeter closed completely and the single refuge in the whole of North Devon is run entirely through charitable funding. Doncaster Women’s Aid is set to close, after 40 years, at the end of this month when its funding ends. This will leave the whole of South Yorkshire without a Women’s Aid. South Gloucester council recently threatened to balance its books by closing all its refuges. And it’s not just refuges that are at risk – Portsmouth City Council currently plans to cut £180,000 from its Early Intervention Project, which supports women and children in the community. The list goes on and on, and the solution is clear: the government must ring-fence funding at the national level.

For years, domestic violence services have warned they are at breaking point. As we get deeper into Osborne’s austerity agenda, many of them have actually broken. Highly specialist, local services that support victims from specific communities have been the first to go. Specialist domestic violence services that support Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) women decreased by 17% between 2010-2014. Imkaan, an organisation which campaigns for specialist BAME services for women experiencing violence, report that 2 out of 6 specialist BAME refuges have closed. And while the founder of Apna Haq, a specialist refuge for Asian women in Rotherham, received an MBE in December, Apna Haq itself will close in the next few months due to the local authority awarding its contract to a non-BME specialist service.

As Anita Brown, a sector worker at a specialist BME refuge, said recently, vulnerable women are being turned away at the very moment they need help the most.

"Cuts to local council budgets are destroying life-saving services that it has taken my community decades and decades to built," Brown said. "We are turning away vulnerable women everyday. It’s like we’re being sent back to a time before these refuges existed."

Temporary, short-term or one-off funds cannot bring services back from the brink, let alone enable them to make a long-term plan. The Home Office waited until the last possible moment to guarantee future funding for Broken Rainbow, the UK’s only LGBT-specific domestic violence helpline – and then they only promised one more year’s worth of funding. This kind of uncertainty puts the future of services – and the lives of survivors – on the line.

Services across the country are closing their doors or fighting to keep them open. In Osborne’s Britain, domestic violence services are having to fight for their own survival, rather than concentrate on protecting victims. As long as the chancellor refuses to prioritise women’s safety by ring-fencing funding for domestic violence services at a national level, a woman’s ability to flee life-threatening violence will continue to depend on her postcode.

Last year, Osborne announced a permanent, national fund for fixing potholes. This week Sisters Uncut blockaded the Treasury building with fences to visually communicate our demand for the government to ring-fence funding for domestic violence services. In the words of Sarah Morelli, a member of Sisters Uncut who took part in disruptive action on Monday: "George Osborne continues to fail women. His funding priorities are ideological. How can we have a permanent pothole fund but no permanent plan for domestic violence services?"

Two women a week are murdered at the hands of a current or ex partner in England or Wales. 1 in 3 women who approach a refuge for safety are turned away due to lack of space. We demand that George Osborne gets his priorities straight. The chancellor prides himself on his supposed 'economic competence', but the UK desperately lacks a long-term economic plan for the funding of domestic violence services. Without secure funding, women will not be safe.

Sisters Uncut are a feminist activist group. You can follow them on Twitter here.

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