The horrific murder of Sarah Everard brought national attention to the issue of women’s safety, which was further exacerbated by the police’s heavy-handed response to the peaceful vigil at Clapham Common.
Many new voices called for more funding to tackle the root causes of violence against women, but those of us in local government are, sadly, all too aware that resources have actually been reduced in recent years.
Over the past 11 years, government cuts to local authority funding have had a devastating impact on services aimed at tackling violence against women and girls, particularly in the context of a surge in reported cases over the past year.
A report released by MPs last April revealed a worrying trend, as domestic abuse killings in the first 21 days of the first lockdown were double the average.
“Cuts to local authority funding have had a devastating impact on services tackling violence against women and girls”
Women’s Aid has calculated an estimated shortfall of £400 million in funding of specialist women’s domestic abuse support services. The £19 million pledged by the Government in the Budget is welcome, but will hardly make a dent.
And this is not a new problem. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s 2017 survey of 40 refuge managers across England revealed that 95 per cent of refuges had turned women away in the previous six months, either because they had physical impairments, complex mental health needs, or too many children with them, or simply because there were no beds available.
Women’s Aid has highlighted that it is specialist services, aimed at protecting some of the most vulnerable women, that will bear the brunt of this underfunding. This includes services for LGBT+, black, Asian and minority ethnic, and disabled women.
The Government’s reopening of the Violence Against Women and Girls consultation is a positive step towards understanding the scale and nature of the problem. But the Government cannot claim to be serious about tackling violence against women without giving local authorities the funding they need to provide vital services.