The coronavirus crisis has highlighted and exacerbated the need for a bold policy response to ensure that all those experiencing domestic abuse can access the support that they need.
That’s why the Domestic Abuse Bill (primarily covering England and Wales), which is currently making its way through parliament, is a welcomed opportunity to deliver a vital change to our response to domestic abuse.
What are the key changes needed?
- Funding: Whilst the bill has proposed statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for domestic abuse survivors, no commitment has been made to ensure that local authorities have access to emergency cash or sustainable funding which will allow them to provide this support.In fact, Women’s Aid estimates that an annual commitment of £393 million is needed to sustain domestic abuse services and prevent women and children from being turned away from refuges . The bill must include increased funding to domestic abuse services to ensure they can keep providing their vital, lifesaving services.
- Giving survivor’s priority need: The domestic violence bill primarily focuses on a criminal justice response to protecting survivors and largely fails to consider the need for a more wider societal response such as housing provision. Survivors of domestic abuse are not automatically considered as being in ‘priority need’ for accommodation if they become homeless and local authorities will only consider survivors as ‘priority need’ if the authority is satisfied that they have met an additional ‘vulnerability’ test. There are concerns that by leaving it down to the local authorities discretion, women who need help will be turned away. Women’s Aid ‘No Woman Turned Away’ Project has highlighted this concern. In 2016-17, their research found that 19% of the survivors supported by the project has been prevented by local housing authorities from a valid homeless application . To ensure domestic violence legislation supports the safety of all survivors, it is imperative all individuals fleeing abuse are considered to be in priority need of housing.
- Protecting migrant women: Receiving the necessary help to escape abuse should not dependent on immigration status. Migrant women who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) face significant barriers to accessing support services. This includes refuges. The costs of refuge services are largely met through housing benefit, which those with NRPF are unable to access. Women’s Aid identified that over a quarter of women supported by their ‘No Woman Turned Away’ project had NRPF . The bill must extend support to women with No Recourse to Public Funds to ensure that all women can access the support they need, regardless of their immigration status.
You can read Josie’s blog talking about why these changes are needed here: