Spare a thought for women’s refuges on International Women’s Day

Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by abusive partners. International Women’s Day this week (8 March) offers an opportunity to reflect on the hugely valuable services provided by women’s refuges and shelters in the community. But these safe havens are struggling to survive. Since 2010, 17% of all refuges in England have closed while domestic abuse-related crimes were reported up by 61% between 2013 and 2016.

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According to national charity Women’s Aid, which is fighting to end domestic abuse, two out of three referrals to refuges and shelters are rejected. In a typical day, 103 children and 155 women are turned away from a refuge because they cannot accommodate them. The latest figures from 2015 show that a quarter of these refusals are due to lack of space. A further 10% are declined because the refuge is unable to meet their individual needs. Some women – such as those with mental health issues or from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities – may require specialist support.

Funding cuts

In recent years, there have been major cutbacks in funding for shelters and refuges. While they are commissioned and funded by local authorities, a lot of their daily bread-and-butter income comes from the rent paid by their residents from housing benefit. But this money is not nearly enough to provide the wide-ranging support services vulnerable women and their children often require to be able to move on with their lives and function independently.

These safe havens desperately need money to continue their life-saving work. As private individuals, local businesses and organisations, there’s a lot we can do to help them. Women and children fleeing abuse often arrive at a refuge with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. They need donations of clothing, toiletries, toys, furniture, toys, bedding – essential everyday items.

But as well as practical help, many women require specifically tailored services to help them rebuild their lives, especially in dealing with the loss of confidence and lack of self-esteem which are often part of life in an abusive relationship.

Initiatives which help build self-esteem and develop empowerment are key to helping victims of abuse break out of their situation. My organisation, Longleigh Foundation provides grant funding to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups across the country. We are currently funding an innovative six-month ‘Recovery Toolkit’ programme at Southampton’s Women’s Refuge which is managed by social and supported housing provider Stonewater. The toolkit is designed to help women build self-confidence, understand their situation and find ways to develop positive lifestyle coping strategies. We expect that over the course of the six months this project will support about 15 women, at a cost of around £2,300 per candidate, enabling them to gain a Level 1 certificate in Developing Personal Confidence and Self Awareness. The funding will also help Southampton Women's refuge remodel its support facilities to accommodate more women with complex needs, an investment which is vital to the refuge’s long-term sustainability.

Refuges and shelters urgently need assistance to deliver programmes like this and other vital support services which will save more lives. Longleigh Foundation welcomes funding from corporate partners in the community who can help us provide women with the support they desperately need and enable them to continue on their journey to a better life.

For further information: www.longleighfoundation.org or email contact@longleighfoundation.org

By Sue Terry, Longleigh Foundation Chair