Two women a week are killed by their current or former partner in the UK. And domestic abuse affects two million people – mostly women – every year, writes Camberwell and Peckham MP, Harriet Harman…
Over the years I’ve been MP I’ve supported women and children in Camberwell and Peckham who’ve suffered this terrible violence. I’ve heard their devastating stories and made their voices heard in Parliament.
Women suffering domestic abuse need to know how they can get help and a safe space. Refuges provided by councils and charities are vital places of safety for women fleeing violent homes. Refuges save lives.
Yet victims of domestic abuse face a dangerous postcode lottery of access to refuges because of deep government cuts to local council funding.
I asked every local authority how much they had spent on domestic violence refuges since 2010. What I found was shocking. At least 34 refuges have been forced to close their doors since 2010 because of cuts. Every council in London has been forced to cut spending on refuges since 2010.
Locally Southwark Council has worked hard with Solace Womens Aid to prioritise and protect vital DV support services. And last year Southwark was the first council housing service in the country to receive accreditation by the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance.
But despite their best efforts because the council has faced cuts of almost half of their total budget since 2010, they have had to cut services.
After years of struggle to improve domestic violence services, with refuges living hand to mouth, the publication of the Domestic Abuse Bill this week represents a historic opportunity to put refuges on a sustainable footing and ensure victims can get the support they need wherever they live.
There are many welcome measures in the Bill – it creates a wider definition of domestic abuse, it establishes a domestic abuse commissioner to champion victims and survivors, it will end the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts, it gives new powers to courts and places new duties on councils, and extends protection to women in Northern Ireland.
Refuges save lives and they need to be on a secure footing. I am urging the Government to set aside a percentage of gross national income to safeguard refuge funding and end the hand-to-mouth existence of these vital places of safety. Southwark Council and over 40 councils are backing this.
The important thing is to establish the principle – the money would be a tiny percentage of government spending overall but be hugely important for women and children fleeing violence.
Boris Johnson has not been what you might call a champion of the cause of tackling domestic violence. I am urging the new Prime Minister to commit to taking this Bill forward, properly funded.