More than one in five refuge services running in November 2020, were not funded by their local authority, and most of those that were saw a real-terms cut in their funding last year.
Sixty out of 269 refuge services were surviving on emergency government funding pots, charitable grants, trusts and other fundraising activities, according to a new report published by Women’s Aid.
In 2019, the government announced plans to introduce a new legal duty on local authorities to fund safe accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse and their children.
The Fragile Funding Landscape: The Extent of Local Authority Commissioning in the Domestic Abuse Refuge Sector in England 2020 report looks at the levels of local authority commissioned funding for refuge services in England.
It looks at the amount of funding available through local authority domestic abuse contracts and finds that, when inflation is taken into account, 59% of local authorities implemented a real-time cut to their domestic abuse funding in 2019-20.
There were 269 refuge services with a total of 4,251 refuge spaces available in England on 1 November 2020.
There was a 24.5% shortfall in the number of refuge spaces that should be available and without the non-commissioned spaces, the existing shortfall would increase to 42.5%.
Services for Black and minoritised women ‘disproportionately impacted by cuts’
Specialist ‘by and for’ domestic abuse services for Black and minoritised women “have been disproportionately impacted by cuts and competitive tendering processes”.
There were 18 refuge services run by specialist ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women’s organisations running at November 2020.
A much higher percentage, 57.5% (146 out of 254), of spaces in these services were provided by non-commissioned refuge services, compared to an overall 18.5%.
At least two of the six ‘by and for’ refuge services that did receive local authority commissioned funding were run by providers that were part of a consortium or working in partnership with other providers.
“By and for organisations can face unequal resource allocation in partnerships, because often the non-BME organisation is larger and more visible, has more influence with funders and commissioners and is, therefore, better able to make the case for receiving a higher proportion of the available funding,” the report states.
Sarika Seshadri head of research and evaluation at Women’s Aid, said “There is a competitive tendering crisis which pits specialist women’s domestic abuse services against large, business-like organisations who can compete on cost, but never on quality. With the cuts we’ve seen over the past decade, this has been toxic combination for domestic abuse services and has disproportionately impacting organisations led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women.
“Services that are de-commissioned by local authorities are now propping up the national network of refuges for women and children. While the new statutory duty is a welcome step forward in securing a sustainable funding settlement, it is vital that the value of all specialist domestic abuse service providers, including non-commissioned services and in particular, specialist ‘by and for’ services for Black and minoritised women, is recognised by councils when delivering the duty.
“Once funding for the new legal duty comes in, local authorities must reach out to non-commissioned services to ensure they are part of the new local funding and partnership arrangements. These services will also still need their alternative funders to continue to invest in their life-saving support, meaning it is essential other funding streams continue to be available.”
‘Covid-19 pandemic has led to increased demand’
Maia Samuel senior research and evaluation officer at Women’s Aid and report author said: “Refuges are a vital lifeline for those fleeing domestic abuse. As well as safety, they provide specialist support to empower survivors to recover and rebuild their lives free from abuse. The current system for funding refuges is not sustainable, with the national network of refuges being propped up by a significant number of non-commissioned services.
“Without these non-commissioned services, the current shortfall in the number of refuge spaces would increase, and greater numbers of survivors would find there are no suitable spaces available. Refuge services have continued to offer their life-saving support amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to increased demand for their help. Now more than ever, secure funding is urgently required.”