Yorkshire councils cut spending on domestic violence refuges by 40 per cent

Local councils across Yorkshire have cut their spending on domestic violence refuges by around 40 per cent since 2010, new research from The Yorkshire Post and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found.

Several councils across Yorkshire have substantially reduced spending on domestic violence refuges.

Of the four Yorkshire councils to provide comparable figures on spending between 2010/11 and 2016/17, combined spending dropped from £1.3m to less than £800,000 – a fall of 39 per cent.

It comes after an investigation revealed hundreds of women and children are being turned away from full refuges in Yorkshire. Bradford Council reduced spending on refuges by 55 per cent, a £440,000 cut, while Wakefield and York cut spending in this area by 41 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. However, Rotherham Council increased spending in the same time period by 28 per cent.

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Leeds Council cut spending by 49 per cent from £462,879 in 2011/12 to £234,351 in 2016/17, with Sheffield Council spending falling from £657,140 in 2011/12 to £373,000 last year.

Louise Harrison, a domestic violence support workers, says she is concerned but not surprised by the findings of the investigation. Pic: Scott Merrylees

But councils today insisted that spending changes were a result of greater efficiencies and changes to contracts rather than cuts to frontline services.

Spending has increased in Calderdale and Kirklees since 2013/14, while a new form of contract in Doncaster meant no comparable figures were available.

Nationally, more than three quarters of councils have reduced the amount they spend on women’s refuges since 2010, with the number of domestic violence incidents reported to police increasing by a third.

Louise Harrison is from South Yorkshire Women’s Aid, which is facing the prospect of the closure of its support service after Doncaster Council said it would not be supporting it with any further funding following a one-off £30,000 grant last year.

Louise Harrison, a domestic violence support workers, says she is concerned but not surprised by the findings of the investigation. Pic: Scott Merrylees

The organisation did run a refuge service in Doncaster up until December 2013 when the council contract was instead awarded to Riverside Housing Group and now provides a support service.

Speaking in a personal capacity, she said was not surprised by the findings. “Every time you ring through for the last two to three years for a place at a refuge you are always racing against time, whether it is locally or nationally. There are less refuges and less refuge workers and less specialist refuges for people with mental health issues or disabilities.

“From April 2016 to December 2016 in the town of Doncaster, the police recorded 6,623 incidents of domestic violence. That is just eight months in one town. That figure frightens me, especially when you consider it takes a woman on average 35 times of being attacked before she goes and asks for help.”

Sheffield Council said the opening of a new purpose-built women’s refuge had allowed it to “significantly reduce spend”, while maintaining bed numbers. Money has also been saved by changing from using three providers to a single organisation.

A spokeswoman said: “We opened a new, purpose-built women’s refuge in 2014 to replace older facilities and this significantly reduced spend. However this did not result in fewer beds, and we increased the number of council-funded refuge places last year.”

A spokesman for Leeds Council said the way support services are commissioned has been changed, while key contracts have been renegotiated.

“Leeds City Council is totally committed to supporting individuals and families who face domestic violence and our ongoing work on the issue demonstrates this," he said.

“We have changed the way support services are commissioned and renegotiated key contracts for support services and this has allowed Leeds City Council, in the face of significant reductions in central government funding, to maintain our investment in services and ensure there is help and support available

“We will continue to work in partnership to tackle the issue of domestic violence, to encourage those suffering to speak out, to enable the friends, family and colleagues of victims to spot the signs of abuse and to provide help to those who perpetrate domestic abuse.”

Councillor Sam Lisle, executive member with responsibility of community safety at York Council, said contract costs had lowered as a result of the authority’s provider reducing its overheads.

“These are vital services to some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

“We have managed to reduce costs but have categorically not cut the service and support we offer to victims of domestic violence.

“There has been no reduction in the services we provide or number of people we support. The number of frontline staff and units available remain the same.

“The contract cost has been reduced as our provider has been able to reduce overheads as they work with more local authorities. We have further reduced the contract cost after reviewing the value of staffing costs eligible for housing benefit, which is paid directly to the provider.

“We’re committed to maintaining this vital service and to making sure more victims aware that they can and should live without abuse, and that we can support them to get there.”

A spokesman for Bradford Council said budget savings “have been made through streamlining of services and back office functions rather than cutting frontline services”.

“Bradford Council is committed to doing all it can to tackle and prevent domestic violence.

“Our budget for domestic violence services have been prioritised and largely protected despite the pressures on funding the council faces.

“From 2010/11 to 2016/17 it has decreased from £1,390, 000 to £1,099, 447 and these savings have been made through streamlining of services and back office functions rather than cutting frontline services.

“The number of people that receive support from us has not reduced. The council has taken a more pro-active approach than in the past; offering more than one option for women and families. This includes accommodation based services like refuges but also floating support and crisis support.

"When women flee a situation we have a statutory and moral obligation to house them and their families in temporary accommodation. This is not necessarily communal refuge accommodation but can be an independent flat or house. On top of this we do prevention and outreach support. We offer services which can make their homes more secure; installing new locks and early warning systems. Everything we do is geared up to break the cycle of domestic abuse.

“Bradford Council is to be accredited as a White Ribbon Local Authority in recognition of our commitment to this issue having committed to a wide-ranging two year action plan.

Andrew Balchin, Corporate Director for Adults, Health and Communities at Wakefield Council, said: “Domestic abuse will not be tolerated in this district.

“Since 2011/12 although there has been a change in the way services are commissioned, support has been maintained for the women’s refuge service together with a range of other support services which are being provided by the Council’s domestic abuse team.

“We also work closely with community and voluntary services to provide support to victims of domestic abuse, and to raise awareness and encourage people to report it.

“In recognition of the commitment to addressing domestic abuse, the district was awarded ‘White Ribbon status in 2015.”

More support needed for victims

More support is needed for domestic abuse victims, the Government has admitted.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government says £40m in funding is being made available to domestic abuse services, while new legislation is planned to bring perpetrators to justice.

“Domestic abuse is a devastating crime and we’re taking action to make sure that no victim is turned away from the support they need," he said.

“We’ve secured £40 million of dedicated funding for these domestic abuse services over four years up to 2020, and so far allocated half of this to local authorities to support 76 projects across England, which will create more than 2,200 bed spaces and support to over 19,000 victims.

“We know there’s still more to do to tackle domestic abuse, which is why we’ll be introducing a landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to protect and support victims and bring perpetrators to justice.”